vegetarian

Muffins for spring: Ramp Pesto Muffins and Carrot Purée Muffins

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Spring is the time for one of my favorite vegetables - the mildly garlicky wild greens known as ramps, wild garlic, ramsons and so on in English. Ramps are still too obscure to be cultivated much, so you can only get them for a short time - which is not a bad thing really, because then you can look forward to them for the rest of the year. Carrots on the other hand are available year-round, but locally grown spring carrots just seem to be sweeter and tastier.

The best way in my opinion to capture the essence of ramps is to turn it into a pesto, a very easy thing to do if you have a food processor. And I’ve recently discovered the joys of carrot purée - finely shredded carrots that are steam-braised with a little butter just until they are tender, then mashed. And then, you can turn the concentrated vegetable paste in either case into a delicious savory muffin.

These little muffins take a bit of effort to make, since you need to make a pesto or a puree of vegetables first. But they are worth it. The muffin batter itself is very easy. Make a batch at a time and freeze the extras. If you make them small enough, you can pull one out of the refrigerator in the morning and it will be defrosted and fresh-tasting at lunch time. continue reading...

Bento filler: Raw Asparagus, Radish and Parmesan salad

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I had never tried raw asparagus until just a couple of weeks ago. I just assumed that aspagarus needed to be cooked. But if you have fresh, tender asparagus, and slice it very thin, it actually makes an excellent and unusual salad. The texture stays crisp for a few hours after making, so it’s a great springtime bento side dish. It’s paired with thinly sliced radish which adds more crunch, color and a spicy kick, plus small chunks of Parmesan cheese for saltiness and body. A very simple lemon dressing brings it all together. 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...

Bento No. 71: Tiger Corn Muffin and Soup Bento

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Bento contents:

Total calories (approx): 510 (how calories are calculated)

Time needed: 25-30 minutes to decorate the muffins (muffins are pre-made and frozen)

Type: Not Japanese, theme bento, vegetarian 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...

Miso, tahini and nut paste for broiled or baked root vegetables

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From the archives. This is a terrific vegan condiment of sorts, that can be used as described here on top of vegetables and roasted, or even as an onigiri filling. Originally published in January 2008.

I’m always looking out for interesting vegan sources of protein, and I think this one is really a winner. It’s a rich paste that contains miso, walnuts, and tahini - three great protein-rich foods. But never mind the nutrition aspect - it tastes terrific! Even the confirmed omnivore in our house loves it. It is a wonderful topping for firm, sweet root vegetables like sweet potatoes, squash, turnips and so on. I’ve used it as a topping for carrots here. It looks rather meaty in a bento box, and is quite filling too. continue reading...

Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or white beans (Ingen no nimame)

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Nimame (煮豆 にまめ), or stewed beans, are a standby item for bentos. They are usually rather sweet, though not dessert-level sweet, and serve the purpose of a hashi yasume or “chopstick rest” (see anatomy of a Japanese meal), a little something that contrasts in flavor and texture from the rest of the bento.

While it takes rather long to cook these, like most bean dishes, this is a terrific staple item. The beans keep for at least a week in the refrigerator, and freeze well in small batches too. Tuck in a spoonful in any bento for something a little sweet, a little salty, and good for you.

You can make nimame with any kind of dried beans, but here I’ve specified white or navy beans, or haricot beans, which are widely available and inexpensive. You could use cannellini beans instead.

You’ll notice that the only remotely exotic ingredient used here is soy sauce, so anyone can make this! Yes it’s still authentically Japanese. (It’s another one of my mom’s recipes.) continue reading...

Homemade furikake no. 11: Spicy radish leaves

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This furikake may not even look like furikake, since it’s wet, but it can be used in every way dry furikake can. You can keep it in the refrigerator for a week or so, or freeze it in small batches. And since it’s using radish leaves (leftover from making radish pickles for example), it’s very frugal and nutritious too. It’s a vegan variation of the first furikake recipe I posted, and just as delicious. continue reading...