Bento filler staple: Walnut miso paste for cooked vegetables
Quickly blanched or boiled vegetables are great to tuck into bentos, but they can taste quite bland on their own. This walnut and miso paste, a recipe from my mother, has a sweet-savory, deeply nutty flavor that works well with all kinds of plain blanched, steamed or boiled vegetables. It also tastes very fall-like to me because of the walnuts. Just mix a little bit with the vegetables as I've done here with the blanched spinach, or put a half-teaspoon or so on top of the vegetable as shown with the green beans, and mix it together when you eat it. I think it works best made in small batches, enough for a week's worth of vegetable sides, but you can make it in bigger quantities and freeze it if you prefer.
Recipe: Walnut miso for blanched vegetables
Makes about 1/3 cup, enough for several bento-sized vegetable servings
- 1/2 cup (about 1 oz / 33 g) shelled walnut kernels
- 1 Tbsp. miso of your choice (I used a dark brown miso made from black soy beans here, but use whatever you have)
- 1 Tbsp. mirin
- 1/2 Tbsp. raw cane sugar - regular white sugar is fine, or use the sweetener of your choice (if you're on a sugar-free regimen use a sugar substitute)
Dry-roast the walnuts in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the kernels start to brown a bit and smell nice and toasty. Remove from the pan before they get burned. Let cool enough to handle, then wrap them up in a paper towel and rub them together until most of the outer skin is removed. Open up the paper towel and remove the skinned kernels. If there's a bit of skin left on them there's no problem, but removing most of the skin makes the nutty taste of the walnuts come through better. You can skip the skin-removing step if you like, but don't skip the toasting part.
Once the walnuts are toasted and skinned, put them in a mortar and pestle, or better yet a food processor with chopping blade, and crush them up as finely as you prefer. I like it to be quite fine with a few small chunks. Add the mirin, miso and sugar and stir well until combined. (If you can't find or can't use mirin, either use the same amount of sake with a pinch more sugar, or just leave it out.)
Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week. To use, add as much as you like to blanched, boiled or steamed vegetables.