staples

Basic taco meat mix

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It’s hard to believe that I have never posted this really basic basic, but looking though my archives I have not. So here it is, a ‘taco meat’ mix that I make all the time in some quantity, freezing in portions. It can be used in tacos of course, as well as a sort of Western-tasting soboro to top rice. I try to get as many vegetables as I can into it. This most recent batch was made by The Guy by the way, proving that it’s quite fuss-free…provided your Guy (or Girl, whichever designation fits the non-cooking partner in your household) doesn’t mind chopping vegetables, or else can use a food processor. continue reading...

Two-color namasu, a make-ahead daikon radish and carrot salad

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Here’s a recipe for a classic vegetable dish that is served at New Year’s in Japan. It actually gets better after some time in the refrigerator, and is a great bento side dish that may even bring you some luck! continue reading...

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...

Sweet pepper and carrot confetti

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I am calling this colorful dish confetti, because it’s not quite assertively flavored enough to call it furikake. It is sort of a no-sugar (low-carb) and much lower calorie variation of Cooked to Death Hot and Sweet Peppers, though I have made the hot peppers optional. Even with no added sugar or sweetener, I think the natural sweetness of the vegetables comes through nicely. It’s a really useful vegetable side dish, to just pack on the side or sprinkle on top of rice or other things. You could also fold in a spoonful into tamagoyaki to make it really colorful. It can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days, or frozen. continue reading...

Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

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I have posted a recipe for char siu, or Chinese style roast pork, previously. But that was way back in 2004, and my standard go-to recipe has changed a bit since then. Plus, it makes a great staple for bentos, so here it is. 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...

Torihamu or Homemade Chicken "Ham"

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Torihamu (鶏ハム)or chicken ham is a recipe that was born and made popular on the internet. It was first popularized around 2001 or 2002, on an extremely popular and often wild and woolly Japanese community/forum site called 2ch or 2-channel (2ちゃんねる), sometime in 2001 or 2002.

Torihamu is a method of cooking chicken breast meat so that it supposedly resembles ham. Nowadays torihamu has entered the mainstream of Japanese culture; there are many recipes for it in regular cookbooks, and the (very mainstream) Cookpad community cooking site has (as of April 2013) nearly 1250 recipes for making torihamu or where torihamu is a main feature

I didn't try making torihamu for a long time, since I was skeptical that it would actually manage to turn low-fat, bland and often dry chicken breast meat into something ham-like. But I've been experimenting with different methods proposed on the Japanese internets, and am now convinced that it's well worthwhile making, especially for bento lovers. It is low in fat, has no chemical preservatives, and really lengthens the refrigerator shelf life of chicken. There's not much difference time and effort wise between making one or several, so it's really best to make a batch and freeze the extras. I make some when there is a sale on chicken breasts. continue reading...

Stewed winter vegetables with kouya dofu (freeze dried tofu)

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Salads and such are fine in the warm months, but now that it’s cold outside here in the northern hemisphere, I tend to prefer cooked vegetables. This homey stewed vegetable dish is rather typical of Japanese ‘mom’s cooking’ - seasonal vegetables all cooked together in a dashi based broth. (I know that green beans are not exactly seasonal, but they are added just for the color; use any green vegetable instead.) It does take a while to assemble and cook, but once you have a big potful it lasts for a few days, so it’s a great refrigerator stock dish.

I’ve tried to use ‘ordinary’, non-exotic vegetables as much as possible, but I did add a little lotus root since it adds visual flair as well as a nice crunchy texture. This is a one-pot meal due to the addition of potatoes for carbs, and meaty-textured kouya dofu or freeze dried tofu (for which you can substitute extra-firm tofu or even chicken pieces) for protein. You can just pack this into a bento box on its own, or accompany it with rice and pickles. continue reading...