Mr. Bento

The month is over today, but I still wanted to show you my favorite lunchbox, Mr. Bento. And if you think I’m crazy for naming my lunchbox, I should tell you that he already had a name when I got him :)

Bento is a form of packing a variety of lunch items into small compartments of a lunchbox, ideally for a lunch that is nutritionally and colorfully-balanced. If you order a bento box at a Japanese restaurant, you’ll get something like this;

This was a sushi bento box that I ordered at Momoyama’s Restaurant for lunch earlier this month.  On the left side is a variety of nigiri sushi, rice covered with thinly-sliced raw fish. Though I find that I still don’t enjoy the texture of raw salmon and the other firmer fish, the tuna was quite tasty. White tuna (the middle one on the bottom with the red dot of hot sauce) was a revelation to me, the fish is so tender and buttery that it just kind of melts in your mouth, it’s a new favorite!  In the middle top container are gyoza dumplings, top right is a lettuce salad with carrot-ginger dressing, and the bottom right is tempura vegetables with a dipping sauce.

There are many portable Bento box options for taking a homemade bento lunch to school or the office. The more traditional types are boxes or bowls with lids that stack and are held together with a band or tied with a scarf.  Many don’t have the built-in segmentation, but leave that up to the creativity of the cook – as this blog photo from the blog Just Bento illustrates nicely. Other boxes that have recently become popular for kids lunches are brightly colored and segmented, with totebags, like the laptop lunch concept. There are a lot of cool ideas for kids’ lunches, using Japanese methods of coloring rice and cutting fruits and vegetables into fancy shapes – what a great way to get kids to enjoy a healthy, colorful and balanced meal!

I considered a number of options for a bento lunchbox of my own, but arrived at Mr. Bento because there are 4 separate compartments that can all be sealed. Each of the 4 containers fits into a type of thermos that can actually keep the meal hot or cold until lunch, without needing a refrigerator or microwave. And of course, the stylish and ever-useful spork (with it’s own cover) is also a plus!  It all zips up into a drawstring pouch with a shoulder strap for easy toting.

Here’s a lunch bento that I packed for myself, not as exciting as some of the options I’ve seen out there, but easily do-able on a weeknight to use up some of the Japanese ingredients left in my pantry. There is spinach with the same sesame dressing that was used in the eggplant dish from earlier this month, it can be used with green beans as well. I also made a few more cubes of fried tofu (also in the eggplant post), as well as fried kabocha squash in honey with black sesame seeds, as demonstrated in the bento video from the Cooking with Dog series.

There is a green salad with carrot-ginger dressing – which still isn’t quite like the restaurant recipe, but I’m getting closer. Finally, I had purchased a frozen burdock root and carrot mixed vegetable bag at the Asian market which I stir-fried with mirin, soy sauce, sugar and sesame seeds (recipe below). Burdock root is a popular Japanese ingredient that I hadn’t yet tried, and I can’t say it was top on my list of things to try this month. You can see in the picture that it’s a grey-brown color, it had kind of a peppery flavor which I wasn’t expecting.

Burdock & Carrot Stir-Fry
1 c. burdock and carrot, julienned
1/2 Tbsp. mirin
1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Stir fry the vegetables for about 5 minutes until tender. Add the remaining ingredients and stir for another minute to combine flavors. Garnish with additional sesame seeds to serve.

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