Monday, 12 September 2011

Bento Box: Pepper & Beansprout Stir Fry, Maki Roll, Cucumber Pickles

A bento is basically just Japanese for a packed lunch, but there is something really special about the way bentos are put together. The variety of ingredients, the visual presentation... all of it makes lunch something to look forward to, more so than even the tastiest of leftovers.

I got the "Just Bento" cookbook (based on the well known website) for my birthday and I love it. My maki roll was a bit squiffy, I think I over-packed it, but it was a really exciting lunch anyway. The quick pickle recipe is from "Everyday Harumi".

This bento has 3 homemade sections and two bought. The kamaboko is bought as-is, just taken out of the freezer in the morning to defrost over the course of the day, ready to make up the bento the night before you're going to eat it. You can find out a bit more about kamaboko from this earlier post.
The adzuki and edamame bean salad was one I bought on a whim in the supermarket because it looked nice and I've got a weak spot for beans.

Homemade Cucumber Pickles
These are easy peasy and ready in as little as 3 hours of marinating time. First peel a cucumber and cover it in salt then, over the sink, rub the salt into the flesh. You'll see droplets of water coming from the cucumber, keep squeezing and massaging it for a few minutes, then rinse in fresh water and pat dry.

Deseed and finely slice it and pop it into a baggie or other non-reactive container. Pour 100ml shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), 100ml rice wine vinegar, a few drops of sesame oil, a couple of tablespoons of chopped ginger and two tablespoons of sugar over the cucumber and give it a good mix. Put in the fridge for at least 3 hours before eating, but they'll be tasty for a good couple of days after.

Pepper and Beansprout Stir Fry
Slice half each of a green, yellow and red pepper (or whatever you actually have), plus a large spring onion and a big handful of beansprouts. Heat up some oil in a frying pan and stir fry the veg.

Towards the end of cooking, season with some soy sauce and any other ingredients you commonly like in your stir fries - I used a splash of sherry, a little sugar and crumbled in the corner off a vegetable stock cube.

Prawn & Cucumber Maki Roll
I think the technique of rolling maki is going to take a bit of practice to get right, but it is really very satisfying to make, whether it comes out perfectly or a bit squiffy as mine did.

First, cook up your rice - this should be shortgrain, preferably Japanese rice but I used to use pudding rice and the outcome was generally excellent. Then put a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar into a glass or wooden bowl and tip the hot rice in as well. I had an accomplice to fan the rice as I mixed the vinegar through it but I guess it's doable with one person. Keep fanning and stirring for a few minutes until the rice starts to become sticky, you can mix up to a second tablespoon in as well if you have the time, but you don't want the rice to be wet, only sticky.

Lay out a sheet of dried nori or lava seaweed onto one of those sushi mats (or a bamboo placemat) and layer the rice over the top. A cup of dried rice made enough cooked rice for two maki rolls.
Along the centre, lay strips of cucumber and spring onion, followed by a mixture of finely chopped prawns, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and chilli powder. Then lift up the edge furthest from you and slowly roll the square towards you.

When you come to cut the maki into circles make sure you do it with the seam facing down, that'll help it stay together as you cut.  

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