johbisai

Two types of savory vegan muffins: Pumpkin-miso and Carrot-onion-hazelnuts

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I think mini muffins are great for bentos. They are tiny, easy and fast to make, freeze beautifully, and defrost naturally by lunchtime if you take them out of the freezer in the morning. They are handy snacks to eat when your energy is running low but you don’t have time to stop and eat properly, and are also great accompaniments to a soup or salad.

Here are two savory muffin recipes that also happen to be vegan. continue reading...

Cooked to death hot and sweet peppers

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Greenhouse grown peppers are available year round, but summer is when peppers are really in season. I picked up a bushel load of colorful hot and sweet peppers at a market last week, and some of them turned into this item which is great for bento.

It couldn’t be easier to make, but does take a little time. A mixture of mildly hot chili peppers and sweet peppers are briefly stir fried in sesame oil, then simmered for about half an hour or more. The peppers are falling-apart soft, spicy, sweet and salty. It’s great to tuck into the corner of a bento box, and, well drained of the cooking liquid, also makes a great and unusual filling for onigiri (rice balls).

My grandmother used to make this kind of ‘cooked to death’ or until very limp (kuta-kuta ni) vegetable dish quite a bit. It’s a great way to reduce a big pile of vegetables to a manageable eating amount. This method works well with green beans too. I think it’s rather similar to the way some vegetables such as greens are cooked for a long time in American Southern cooking. I’m no nutrionist, but you do eat all of the ‘cooking liquor’ alongside the vegetables, so nutrition loss may not be so bad, though raw-food advocates may shudder.

The key here is the selection of peppers. The spicy chili pepppers should only be mildly spicy. In Japan you would use shishito peppers. Here I used a variety from Italy that I’m not sure of the variety name of, but it is similarly thin-walled and mild enough not to burn my mouth. Jalapeños or anchos might be good choices too. For the sweet peppers, I used the long red peppers that are called banana peppers, Hungarian peppers or paprikas, depending on who is selling them and where. continue reading...

How to make shuumai / shumai dumplings

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Shuumai or shumai dumplings (焼売)are a standby for dim sum, and are very well suited to bentos. They are small, taste good cold, freeze very well, and are a lot easier to make than gyoza dumplings.

You’ve probably encountered shuumai dumplings in the freezer section of Asian or Japanese grocery stores. Frozen ones are usually pretty good, but if you make them yourself you know exactly what you put in them. I just make a double batch whenever I decide to make shuumai for dinner. Just follow along with the photos and you’ll be turning out lots of shuumai yourself. continue reading...

Quick tip: Frozen fruit cups

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This is such a simple thing to do, and there’s no better time to do it than in the summer when so many fruits are in season. Cut up any soft ripe fruit, and put them into silicon cupcake liners or wrap in plastic film. Then stash each cup or bundle in a freezer safe plastic container. You can then take out a cup or two and tuck them into your bento box. They act as an edible cooler for your bento. The container here has a cut up nectarine (divided into two silicon liners) and 2 small bananas (divided into 4). continue reading...

Roasted carrot spread

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I do love carrots. They are full of nutrients and fiber, inexpensive, available year around, and durable. And their bright orange color (or other colors, if you delve into the exotic varieties) add instant cheer to any dish or bento box. So when I saw that my favorite vegan author Yumiko Kano was coming out with a new book of just carrot recipes, I reserved it in advance without a second thought.

This is a recipe adapted from that book. It’s a soft, light carrot spread or paste that is sweet, salty and a bit spicy. It has tahini (sesame seed paste) in it, which adds richness as well as protein. The spiciness comes from cumin and red chili pepper powder, and the sweetness comes from the carrot itself, which is roasted to intensify the flavor, and a tad of raw cane sugar. It is great as a spread on crackers or rice cakes or toast, or as a dip. The soft texture means it can’t quite substitute for peanut butter in a pb and j sandwich, but it’s fantastic in a wrap sandwich. It is of course totally gluten-free and nut-free too, so if your child’s school has a “no-nut” policy, which seems to be increasingly common these days, this is great. continue reading...

Individual portion frozen shepherd's pies (or any kind of casserole dish)

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This is more of a tip than a recipe, but I’ve put it here because it’s a handy way of building up your bento freezer stash. When I make something that is baked in a casserole for dinner such as shepherd’s pie, I try to make a few individual portions in cupcake liners. continue reading...

Homemade furikake no. 9: Green tea

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We used to have a neighbor lady in Japan who came from Shizuoka, a major tea growing region. She used to say that at her parents’ house they used to eat tea leaves sprinkled with salt as a snack. At the time, the cynical kid that was me thought that sounded disgusting! But then I was recently surfing around some Japanese sites and stumbled upon the home page of a tea producer, who mentioned the same thing. They also said that they enjoyed tea as furikake.

The site didn’t have a recipe, but they mentioned putting in chirimenjako (tiny salted fish, which I used in the hijiki seaweed furikake) and sakuraebi (tiny dried shrimp), used in Furikake no. 1, radish leaves.) Both are dried or semi-dried products that are packed with umami, and are also high in calcium. You can get them at any Japanese grocery store, and very similar products are available at general Asian or Chinese stores too. In case you can’t get a hold of them though, I’ve given some variations below, including a vegan one.

The tea furikake definitely has the taste and fragrance of tea (with a hint of bitterness), enhanced by the umami of the other ingredients. It’s really very pleasant. Tea furikake is not available commercially as far as I know (at least not outside of Japan). And if drinking the extract of tea leaves is so healthy, surely eating tea leaves has to be as good, if not better! continue reading...

Basic meat and tofu mixture for mini-burgers, meatballs and more

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I spent about an hour on Sunday making and cooking up a big batch of a basic burger mixture. The mix is very versatile, so I made four different things from it. Now I have enough mini-burgers, meatballs and more in my freezer for at least 20 or more bento portions. It was an hour well spent! I love just knowing that my freezer has a nice stock of ready-to-go bento items - it takes the pressure off considerably on busy mornings. continue reading...