Time required: 30 min - 1 hour

Meatballs with lettuce in tomato sauce

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Lettuce in meatballs? I know it sounds weird, but it really works. Tons of chopped lettuce and onion in the meatball mixture gives them an interesting crunchy-crispy texture when freshly cooked. (Picky kids may object to that texture, just because it’s different, but give them a try!) After a time, especially if the meatballs are frozen, the texture disappears, but the meatballs remain juicy and succulent. Plus, the vegetables lighten up the meatballs and lowers their per-ball calore count without sacrificing flavor. The meatballs are simmered in a thick, flavorful tomato sauce.

This is a really versatile recipe that can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days, or put into your freezer stash. You can make this for dinner and serve it over hot pasta, and set aside some for your bento the next day. It goes well with pasta or rice, can be a filling for a assemble-at-lunch sandwich, and so on. continue reading...

A sushi roll bento, plus how to make sushi rolls without a sushi mat

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Here is something that I had in my archives - a sushi roll bento, made with ingredients that you might not have thought belong in a sushi. Plus, how to make a fat sushi roll without a sushi mat! continue reading...

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...

One-pan braised kale with bacon and new potatoes

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I have been trying to incorporate more dark leafy green vegetables into our meals lately, not only for health reasons, but for the taste too. Spinach and Swiss chard are standards for me, but lately I’ve been playing around a lot with the kale family and cavolo nero, a type of dark leafed, loose cabbage. Kale is a bit tough, so I like to blanch it before stir frying it, adding to soups, and so on. 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...

Sarah's Take On Mabo Dofu, A Classic Tofu and Meat Dish

This is a guest post from Sarah of Get Cooking, who’s back to share another great frugal recipe with us.

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Aonori seaweed isn’t a common garnish for mabo dofu but some people in my house like it that way.

I know this might be looking a bit too decadent to any lover of authentic Mabo Dofu, but, well, no Japanese dish stays very authentic in my hands for too long. Mabo Dofu, an originally Chinese dish popular in Japan, is meat (beef in this case) and tofu simmered in a red miso-ginger-garlic-chili sauce. Over the years, it has become a staple in my household. Like everything else I make regularly, the recipe changes slightly each time depending on what ingredients and condiments we have around.

The more I make and eat mabo dofu, the more I love it. I used to use sauce packets that you can find in many Asian groceries, but then I realized how much more easy, cheap, and tasty it was to make the sauce myself. While the list of ingredients looks long, it’s a very simple dish to prepare. After you have it once, you may even start adding some of the main ingredients to your fridge and pantry staples. Before this dish entered my life, I had an aversion to tofu. Having tofu in a dish where it is not meant as a substitute for something else changed my perspective on the protein completely. This is my favorite use for tofu.

Even though I did not grow up eating Japanese food, this dish tastes like home to me. The suppleness of the tofu, the chewy meatiness of the beef, the silky, salty, tanginess of the sauce that permeates all the other elements, coupled with the firm stickiness of the rice, and the cool crisp of the pickles I tuck in along side make this an adventure for the taste buds. continue reading...

Japanese Scotch Egg

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First off, I haven’t actually uploaded a complete bento here in ages, so here is one! It features Japanese Scotch eggs, which you see in the near-most box. (The rest of the bento consists of cucumber slices with sea salt; a carrot and celeriac salad; onigiri with umeboshi filling; banana and mini-cupcakes. The whole bento is about 1100 calories - I intended it to be for 2, but ended up eating the whole thing by myself!)

The original Scotch egg is a British pub snack, made by wrapping a hardboiled egg in sausage meat and deep frying it. The Japanese version uses a ground beef/pork meat mix, and is either deep fried, panfried or baked in the oven. I usually bake them or panfry them, though deep frying is best if you want perfectly round Scotch eggs.

Japanese style Scotch egg is considered to be rather retro in Japan these days. They are typical of yohshoku or youshoku, Japanese-style Western cooking, where foods from the West have been adapted (mostly in the post-WWII period up to the 1970s or so) to suit Japanese tastes and available ingredients. (More about yohshoku.)

I rather hesitated to post this recipe since it doesn’t quite fit the usual criteria for recipes here. It takes some time and effort to make, so it’s not practical for a busy morning. It’s not very low in calories. And, it doesn’t really freeze well, because frozen hard boiled egg turns rubbery and hard, so it’s not even a good make-ahead staple item! Other than that though, it is quite delicious at room temperature, so very well suited for bentos. You can make a few and keep them in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Or make them for dinner and leave one for next day’s bento! That bright yellow and white egg against the brown of the meat is very cheery. continue reading...