washoku

Bento filler staple: Walnut miso paste for cooked vegetables

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A delicious fall-like walnut-miso paste that makes any bland cooked vegetables taste great. It’s easy to make and stash in your refrigerator. continue reading...

A very Japanese bento featuring stewed herring

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Here is a bento assembled mainly with leftovers and stocked items from my mother’s Japanese kitchen. continue reading...

Homemade Sakura Denbu - sweet, pink, fluffy fish flakes

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Sakura denbu (桜田麩) is a sweet-salty, fluffy pink flaked fish condiment - a sort of fish furikake - that is used in sushi rolls as well as to decorate various rice dishes. It’s used quite often in spring, because of its dainty appearance and cherry-blossom pink color. (Sakura means cherry blossom or tree.) You can buy it in little packets at any Japanese grocery store, but commercial sakura denbu usually has MSG and various preservatives in it. Plus, it’s rather expensive at my local Japanese grocery store. So, here’s a homemade sakura denbu recipe to use in your springtime bentos.

It’s not that difficult to make, but there are some key points to pay attention to to produce the desired fluffy texture, so I’ve included a lot of procedural photos. Make sure to choose a fairly low-fat white fish for this; a high fat fish like salmon will clump up and not produce the fine flakes that are characteristic of denbu. continue reading...

Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento filler)

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There are many recipes for stewed or simmered beans in Japanese cooking, but this is one of the simplest, and I’m fairly sure, one of the oldest recipes in existence. It traditionally only uses three ingredients — soy beans, sugar and soy sauce — but I’ve added a little salt too since I like the saltiness to be a bit more assertive to balance the sweetness. The beans have a unique, chewy texture that is unlike any other bean dish I’ve ever had. The soy beans become almost caramelized, yet are not cloyingly sweet.

The name budo mame means ‘grape beans’. I’m not totally sure what it means, but it probably means that the beans take on a shiny appearance rather like grapes. They do indeed look like black grapes when made with black soy beans (kuromame), but here I’ve made them with regular white or light brown soy beans, which are a lot easier to get for most people.

Just a spoonful or so tucked into the corner of your bento box makes a nice change of pace, even a mini-dessert of sorts. And of course, it’s packed with protein. continue reading...

Root vegetables and tofu stewed in miso sauce (a vegan one-pot meal)

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(On the forum and elsewhere, I frequently hear vegans lamenting the lack of vegan protein-rich dishes. Such dishes do exist in traditional Japanese cooking, and I try to introduce them to you. Not all dishes are that simple to make, though if you read through the recipes they aren’t really that hard. Anyway, here’s one vegan one-pot dish that is good hot or cold, so is very suited to bentos.)

There are all kinds of stewed dishes in Japanese cooking, called something-ni (煮). Collectively these are called 煮物 - ninomo. This is sort of a vegan variation on a classic nimono called chikuzen-ni (筑前煮), which is a staple of the New Year period and the winter months.

Chikuzen-ni gets its umami from chicken pieces and a rich dashi made from konbu seaweed and lots of katsuobushi, dried bonito flakes. Here I’ve skipped the dashi (though you could use vegan dashi for even more flavor), but I’ve used one of my favorite vegan proteins, atsuage or thick fried tofu, and added a lot of umami by using shiitake mushrooms, leek, and miso to finish. There are three kinds of root vegetables in this: taro root (satoimo 里芋 in Japanese), lotus root (renkon 蓮根)and carrots, so it’s full of fiber and nutrition and is a fairly complete vegan meal. I used it for a bento last week, and found it very filling. (I meant to use the leftovers for another bento round at least, but it got eaten up by someone…)

If you can’t get a hold of taro roots or dislike the slightly slimy texture, substitute boiling potatoes (the kind you use for potato salad, not baking potatoes). If you can’t get lotus roots, just leave them out and use more carrots.

This is not a quick recipe, but you can make a potful of it and can last you for several days of bentos and other meals. continue reading...