Review of Saisai Lunch, a new vegan bento and quick lunch book by Yumiko Kano
I’ve mentioned quite a few times both here on Just Bento and on Just Hungry about my admiration for the work of Yumiko Kano (or Yumiko Kanoh), who has written several vegan cookbooks. When I found out that she was coming out with a new book in her “Saisai” series dedicated to bentos and one-dish lunches, I knew I had to get it. The book, titled Saisai Lunch: Quick bentos and at-home lunches made with vegetables （菜菜ランチ 野菜でつくるクィック弁当＆おうちごはん） came out on Monday and I received it yesterday, and it looks very good.
Yumiko Kano specializes in “no meat, no eggs, no dairy products, no sugar” vegan cooking. (‘No sugar’ means no added white sugar; she does use maple syrup quite a lot, especially in her dessert recipes. She also has a disclaimer that sugar may be present in some flavoring ingredients. Otherwise, she uses the natural sweetness of vegetables, dried fruits, sweet wine and so on.) She uses vegan konbu seaweed based dashi stock (though she uses commercial granules or concentrate) instead of the more usual bonito flake based stock. And unlike most other Japanese cooks, she doesn’t put mirin or sake in every single dish. Most of her recipes are very easy to make, since she only uses a few ingredients.
The bentos in Saisai Lunch have one or maybe two okazu (side dishes) besides the main carb (mostly rice, but she sometimes uses noodles or pasta, and there are a few sandwiches). This keeps things very simple and quick, and it’s the approach I take with my bentos too most of the time. The presentation of each bento is beautiful yet simple - no trace of kyaraben-style cuteness here! And most of all, everything looks so delicious that even the resident diehard omnivore (or as he calls himself, the “bovo-vegetarian”) around here is drooling over each page.
The catch? Well, it’s in Japanese. Also - and this holds true for all of Yumiko Kano’s books - she does rely on many ingredients that are easy to get in Japan but not so much outside of Japan, though that situation is slowly changing for the better. I do find that I need to adapt her recipes to suit the ingredients I can easily get a hold of quite a lot - and the adaptations are what appear on this site or Just Hungry eventually. If you do read any Japanese and are interested in vegan/vegetarian or just healthy bento recipes though, and you have access to Japanese ingredients like kouya dofu and yuba, you can’t miss this. Even if you don’t read Japanese, the beautiful photos alone might inspire you.
Saisai Lunch is only available online outside of Japan from Amazon Japan at the moment. The base cost is 1995 yen.
A sampling of recipes
- Tandoori style lotus root bento (the one on the cover; lotus root slices are marinated in a mixture of soft tofu and lemon to make it yogurt-like)
- Kabocha squash soboro bento
- Sweet potato and sesame seed fried dumpling bento
- Carrot, dried tofu (kouya dofu) and raisin dry curry bento
- Okara, parsley and sweet red pepper salad bento
Other books by Yumiko Kano
All of Yumiko Kano’s cookbooks are vegan. The interesting thing is that Ms. Kano herself, according to interviews, is not a vegetarian. She just enjoys making delicious vegetable based dishes, and she certainly succeeds as this.
- Saisai Gohan: Vegetables, Beans, etc. - A collection of satisfying recipes made with all vegetable based ingredients (菜菜ごはん—野菜・豆etc.すべて植物性素材でつくるかんたん満足レシピ集) This is my first Yumiko Kano book, and I recommend starting here if possible. Everything from soups to snacks to mains to even desserts are in here.
- More Saisai Gohan (ますます菜菜ごはん—野菜・豆etc.素材はすべて植物性楽しさ広がるレシピ集) The sequel to Saisai Gohan, more of the same types of recipes.
- Saisai Sweets: No eggs, no dairy, no sugar - Vegetables transformed into sweets (菜菜スイーツ—卵・乳製品・砂糖なし 野菜がお菓子に大変身 ) Desserts and snacks only! I haven’t tried a lot of recipes from this one. One, which I did adapt a lot , turned out very well. Another one, a sort of chocolate gateau made with ‘chocolate pudding’ made of cocoa powder, maple syrup and tofu layered with salt crackers, didn’t. The concepts are very intriguing though, such as ice cream sweetened with amazake instead of sugar. (What can I say…my general philisophy on sweets is, have a little, but go for the real thing.)
- Yumiko Kano’s Vegetables Are Delicious! Recipes For Life (カノウユミコの野菜がおいしい!一生ものレシピ) This is the book that made her famous, so to speak. It’s a mook (magazine-format photo book) so has big, gorgeous photos. The recipes are mostly savory, and presented rather differently from the Saisai books, as part of elaborate meals and so on. It’s a bit cheaper at 1290 yen than the Saisai books but less durable.
- Full Course Feasts With Vegetables: From Hors d’oeuvres to Desserts, 100% Vegetable Recipes (ベジタブルでフルコース—オードブルからデザートまで、野菜度100パーセント・レシピ) This one is a bit different. Full course dinners based around a single vegetable (carrots, daikon radish etc.) from starters to desserts are presented in big, gorgeous spreads. Interesting, if rather impractical to do in practice perhaps, but the individual recipes are quite easy to make, if rather on the oily side sometimes.
- The books in the ‘Whole Vegetable Cookbook’ series (丸ごと野菜COOK BOOK) are each dedicated to recipes based on a single vegetable: Carrots , Cabbage , Greens and Daikon radish . My feelings on this series are mixed - I think she’s repeating herself from previous books quite a lot in these, though there are no identical recipes. There are still some gems in these, such as the roasted carrot spread (my version is again adapted etc.) in book 1. The Greens book, surprisingly, is the weakest in my opinion, while Carrots and Cabbage are very good. (I just recently got Daikon so haven’t tried any recipes in there yet.) Still, they do give lots of ideas for cooking vegetables in interesting ways.
- Yumiko Kano’s Vegetable Sweets That Are Kind to Your Body (カノウユミコのカラダにやさしい野菜スイーツ) is, as the title suggests, dedicated to sweet things.
- Sweet Snacks and Breads That Are Kind to Your Body (からだにやさしいお菓子とパン) is a bit more baking oriented than the Vegetable Sweets book above. Her baked goods, not to mention her other recipes, are not gluten-free for the most part, but are of course vegan.