Weekend bento prep

I’m finally back from a bunch of traveling and settling down to a more “normal” lifestyle. The bento lunches worked really well at my conference, especially since the little cafe at the conference venue was closed unexpectedly and there was nowhere to get anything to eat. Thus encouraged, I decided to put together some bento ingredients today (which somehow seems easier than cooking entire meals, since you don’t have to figure out in advance how they will all go together).

This morning I hard-boiled a couple of eggs for lunches, which can be combined with various things or made into egg salad. I then tried making a traditional Japanese one-egg omelet, called tamagoyaki. These are the rectangular, many-layered eggs used in sushi and bento, that are typically firm and slightly sweet. Mine came out close, at least for a home-made version. I used sushi soy sauce, which is slightly sweeter than regular soy sauce, and didn’t add sugar. Next time I’d add a tiny bit of sugar to get a more traditional taste. I also added chopped green onions, a fairly typical variation. Once the little rectangular omelet is made, you slice it across the width for bento, showing the layers.

I then made some Japanese rice, which came out perfectly. The trick is apparently to buy the right kind in the first place, and then wash and drain it enough times that the water runs clear. I left half as plain rice and made the other half into sushi rice, put some in the fridge and froze the rest for later use. Then I blanched a big batch of spring asparagus and put some of that in the freezer too, vacuum-packed.

I made my lunch bento from what I had so far, including the Japanese rice and tamagoyaki on the bottom layer, sprinkled with a reddish-black Japanese condiment called ume-shiso, made from shiso leaves, Japanese plum, and sea salt. This was very tasty, but a little goes a long way. On the top layer was warm asparagus sprinkled with asiago cheese. The two were good separately but didn’t quite fit together. I’ll have to work on that.

Later, I headed out to the farmer’s market, which I missed the opening of last weekend, to see what I could find. There wasn’t much in terms of fruits and vegetable yet, mostly leafy greens, asparagus, apples and pears, and some early garlic tops. I already had the winter fruits and didn’t really need any of these, but picked up some spring herbs and greens for planting, including chard, green onions, tarragon, and cilantro. The meat, seafood, dairy, and bakeries were in full swing, and I picked up a bit of freshly smoked salmon, thick and juicy.

At the grocery I got various staples, more eggs, yogurt, cashews, and makings for shrimp shumai. I’ve made this before, and it’s fairly simple – throw a bunch of ingredients into a blender and presto, instant filling made of cabbage, carrot, green onion, cilantro, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, shrimp, and a dash of hot sauce. Put little balls into wonton wrappers moistened along the edges and making 30 of these takes almost no time at all. It was dinnertime by now, so I put 8 of these in the fridge for steaming up tomorrow and the rest to freeze individually on a cookie sheet, to be bagged up and used later. They can be steamed, cooked in broth, or fried in a bit of tasty oil in a pan (or deep-fried, but not in my kitchen).

Happy with what I got done today, dinner was relatively simple – rice with about 2 oz flaked smoked salmon, and cold asparagus with sushi vinegar. Not pretty enough to take pictures of, but yummy all the same :)

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