In my quest for a tasty and nutritious lunch (instead of the canteen’s pasta salad…) I have discovered Bento
‘O-bento’ is what the Japanese call a packed meal, usually lunch. Bento boxes have internal dividers, and sometimes several stacked layers, so different kinds of food sit in their own little compartments. The lunches are often very attractive, and I gather Japanese housewives get really competitive about giving their child the cutest Bento to take to school! I’ve seen some startling ‘Hello Kitty’ and ‘Totoro’ lunches on the web…
A traditional Japanese lunch would be assorted sushi on rice, simmered aubergine, pickled vegetables and fresh fruit. The Bento take-aways in London tend to favour Yakisoba and tempura vegetables. You can use any left-over food from an evening meal. There are loads of recipes for Japanese food on the web, so I’ll just list the websites I’ve found useful, where appropriate
Sushi - means “vinegared rice” and is easy to make at home. The following site explains the different types and how to make them with easy diagrams imakesushi.com/ Sticks of cucumber, carrot or firm avocado can be used as fillings for rolls. Steamed pepper, vegan japanese omelette (see later) and Yuba (tofu skin) make good topping for Nigiri.
Onigiri - means “rice balls.” If you can’t be bothered rolling sushi, these are a good alternative. Some people mould them into animal shapes or footballs for children.
Yakisoba - means “fried noodles.” Soba noodles usually contain egg, but vegan buckwheat soba are available (or you could just use cheap wheat instant noodles). A simple Yakisoba dish can be made by stir-frying mixed vegetables and boiled noodles in sesame oil. A more authentic recipe (and this is lush!) is here: wagamama.com/members_recipes … 7§ion=
Use tofu and mushrooms instead of chicken and prawns, and replace the egg with a splash of sesame or nut oil.
Mori Soba - is chilled buckwheat noodles, and is a simple, low-fat alternative to Yakisoba. The noodles are boiled, drained and chilled. They are garnished with shredded spring onion and Nori, and served with a dipping sauce (combine 600ml vegetable stock, 100ml Soy Sauce, 60ml mirin and 1tsp sugar) and a dollop of wasabi.
Kaki Age (Tempura Vegetables) - this is a classic deep-fried dish. Make a thin batter out of flour and chilled water - don’t worry if it is lumpy - and use it to coat an assortment of vegetables. Carrot sticks, french beans, chopped onion, whole mushrooms, and small broccoli florets are all suitable, but should be cut small so that they cook quickly. Heat some vegetable in a wok or pan to 170degC (375degF) and fry the vegetables for a minute on either side. Serve with a dipping sauce (soy, or sweet chilli)
Yakitori - are miniature skewers or kebabs. I’ve seen them made with boiled pinto or soy beans.
Tokyo Omelette - Japanese omelettes are thin and made in a large square tin. They are then rolled up and sliced like sushi rolls. Obviously they are made with eggs, but there are several versions on the internet that use tofu. I haven’t had much luck, I’m afraid…
Curry Japanese curry is different to Indian curry. It’s usually made using a pre-mixed spice ‘block’ or roux like this: tokyocube.com/lifestyle.php? … le%20Curry
Korokke are Croquettes (adopted from the French). A simple vegan version is ingredients (such as hydrated soy mince and onion) mixed with mashed potato. Roll into little sausage shapes, roll these in breadcrumbs, and fry. You could use left-over colcannon (mashed potato and cabbage) for a sort-of Irish croquette
Gyoza are dumplings (like the Chinese, and always remind me of the film… ) These are nice, with veggie mince instead of the ground pork. The first link assumes you can obtain wanton wrappers, and the second includes a recipe for the dough:
thetasteofasia.com/recipe_co … ipe=130322
Soup: Miso for making soup can be bought in sachets. Most of the basic Japanese soup recipes I’ve seen are vegan, incorporating wild or shiitake mushrooms, chunks of tofu, and often other vegetables (leeks, carrots and green beans) or wakame seaweed. A broth is made using Dashi, but this is not vegan (it contains fish) so vegetable stock can be used instead, with a small piece of kombu seaweed (to taste). The vegetables and tofu are boiled in the stock. Then add the miso and ladle into bowls or containers immediately. Miso can be ‘white’ or ‘red:’ the red miso is thicker and saltier than the white.
Yakiniku are just meatballs - I just make these out of left over soy sausage or veggie-burger mix, and fry them.
Umeboshi are pickled apricots, and keep the rice fresh. You can buy them from asian supermarkets
Fruit cut into bite-size pieces, to finish your meal.
Vegetable Sculptures I have seen too many photographs of birds and flowers carved out of carrots and radishes. I guess if you’re really bored…
Sauces You will need some soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger flakes to enjoy your sushi. For fried dishes, sweet chilli sauce is nice. You can also make a simple dipping sauce by heating 100ml/3½fl oz rice vinegar, 75g/3oz sugar, and 1 small red chilli (finely chopped) in a pan until the sugar dissolves.
You will need an assortment of plastic or tupperware containers to transport your meal - I recycle those plastic containers you get from indian and chinese take-aways. Bento lunch boxes can be bought on ebay, amazon or at jbox.com/ - these have different compartments, and often sealed containers for soup or sauces.
Finally, the following sites were helpful in describing Japanese food in general.
veganlunchbox.blogspot.com/ (lots of vegan kids’ lunches)
cookingcute.com/ (more grown-up Bento)
bento.com/ (Japanese regional dishes, festivals, and where to eat if you go to Japan)
I also consulted “Japanese Cooking” by Lesley Downer and Minoru Yoneda