I have a bento box! Now what?
August 8, 2010 8:55 PM   Subscribe

I have a bento box! Now what?

For my birthday, my wonderful girlfriend got me a bento box. I'm excited to be taking it to work and eating tasty food, but we're obviously inexperienced with this.

Basically, I'm just looking for overall tips and advice. What are your favorite recipes for bento? What dinner recipes have leftovers that lend themselves to bento preparation? Tips on how to simplify bento assembly in the morning? Favorite websites for bento stuff?

We're adventurous omnivores with a well-equipped kitchen, but we'd like to stay on the healthier and cheaper side of things.

Bonus question: are there any good places to get bento-related items (either food or containers) in Austin, TX?
posted by malthas to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Start following Just Bento and reading their previous posts. Tons of inspiration and practical information.
posted by furtive at 9:11 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, Cooking Cute.
posted by ctmf at 9:22 PM on August 8, 2010

Well, you'll want a salad. Seaweed and sesame salad is very cheap to make, and it stores very well. I usually shop at the Asian market on N. Lamar, just south of Braker. Re-hydrate some wakame, add sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Voila.
Since it's so frickin hot out, I would braise my meat in a crock pot. Short ribs are very cheap at the HEB right now. Alternatively, you could go with chicken wings. Grilling might be an option, if you're willing to stand out in the heat.
Cucumbers are at their peak right now! Do a quick pickle with some rice vinegar and some sugar.
posted by Gilbert at 9:47 PM on August 8, 2010

Seconding Just Bento - it's a wonderful site. You should also bookmark the sister site Just Hungry. It's not bento specific but there are loads of great recipes that can be adapted for or used in bento boxes.
posted by moxiequz at 10:07 PM on August 8, 2010

Arg - link fail in my previous post. Hopefully this will work: Just Hungry
posted by moxiequz at 10:09 PM on August 8, 2010

Try the Laptop Lunches Flickr group for more ideas
posted by girlgenius at 10:28 PM on August 8, 2010

A wild guess, but Asahi Imports on Burnet might have something for your bento. If nothing else, they have a great pocky selection.
posted by Addlepated at 10:46 PM on August 8, 2010

There's also Hapa Bento to go with the other sites above. And she is currently running a series of "How To" lessons for beginners too with some handy videos.
posted by ninazer0 at 11:01 PM on August 8, 2010

Here is how to make a traditional bento lunch.
posted by leigh1 at 3:32 AM on August 9, 2010

I like furikake on my rice in the bento box. I also stumbled upon Adventures in Bentomaking while looking for a picture on furikake, some cute yummy-looking ones in there. The best part about bentos is that anything goes, you just generally put a lot of little things in it. I also like quick pickles done with carrots or daikon radish. Use mini cupcake paper cups to contain some of the messier foods within your box, like the quick pickles, pickled ginger, little scoops of potato salad or cole slaw, the seaweed salad, etc. I used to make tamago (folded omelette) and kept some sliced in the fridge for my bento. If you make your evening stir-fry with smaller-sized pieces of food (like penny-sized), that lends well to putting some of it in the bento the next day. Any of your leftover foods are good in the bento, simply slice the food up small enough to make bite-sized pieces that fit neatly in the box.
posted by lizbunny at 3:40 AM on August 9, 2010

Think outside the box (pun not intended) when it comes to "bento" -- it doesn't have to be Japanese.

I recommend this cookbook so much I may have earned a cut, but -- the "Daily Special" cookbook out of the Moosewood series is nothing but soups and salads. And "salads" doesn't necessarily mean "green leafy" -- there are lots of grain-based salads in their repetoire. I also have a bento, and I've been doing a lot of "two salads" or "a salad and a soup" for lunch this summer; I make a couple of batches of different kinds of things, leave 'em in the fridge, and then lunch making in the morning is just a matter of picking two and dishing them out. Add a piece of fruit or some cookies, and I'm done.

You don't mention what kind of bento you have -- this approach really only works if you have something with tops you can secure pretty well, or you stick to salads that don't have a lot of drippy dressings. I have a tiffin-style kind with screw tops on the containers.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:04 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love the suggestions above for cold/room temp. grain salads, sesame spinach, flash pickled goodies, and tamagoyaki. Cubes of marinated tofu would work well too--Mollie Katzen has a recipe or two. I mentioned in another thread one fun unorthodox approach is mezze-meets-bento: lots of nutty peppery or creamy dips, chutneys, and spreads along with something to sop 'em up, even as simple as carrot sticks or broccoli florets. If you find ddok at the Asian grocer's (in the refrigerated section, it looks like white chewy glowsticks kind of, or it's sliced up into disks) you can use that instead of tofu anywhere for variation--it's chewy rice stuff, I think it's delicious. Even something as simple as a wee bit of homemade spiced nuts every day, or pink onions, or marinated olives. The possibilities are endless. I recommend making a bunch of dips and a few other things (like the tamagoyaki as mentioned, or hardboiled eggs you can slice at will, or your marinated tofu-y things) and cutting up veggies ahead of time, and then each day just assemble from that in a modular fashion.
posted by ifjuly at 12:09 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think goat cheese pasta and sesame pasta chicken salad are both good straight from the fridge or warmed a bit in the microwave (although the former might separate a bit if reheated). Bonus: they're pretty easy to make once you've assembled all of the ingredients. Make whatever substitutions and omissions you'd like, of course. I tend to use bell peppers and dill in the first recipe. Easy on the cilantro in the second (oh, and I think the amount of oil should be decreased too).
posted by junques at 8:07 PM on August 9, 2010

A bento box is just a lunch container. You can put absolutely anything in it. I've packed mine with Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian, and even American food.

That said, here are some basic points:

1. Many bento boxes are not microwaveable, or if they are, only up to about 140 degrees. This means you don't want to nuke them with, say, greasy foods that will overheat and melt the plastic. Also: never nuke the lids. They're definitely not nuke-safe.

Japanese bento lunches are meant to be eaten at room temperature, and the foods packed in them bears this in mind: bacteria-resistant items are favored.

Room-temperature food is fine, once you get accustomed to it.

2. Many bento boxes are not dishwasher safe, either, so handwash your box/es.

3. Rice is a Japanese staple. Traditional boxes are half rice, half okazu ("whatever you eat with your rice"). Since rice day after day gets boring, buy or make some furikake... because you will then have an excuse to also buy cute little furikake bottles to pack into your bentos. Yay!

4. Best place IMO to get bento ideas is to join a few bento groups on Flickr. I favor the 'Just Bento' and 'Vegetarian Bento' groups, myself.

5. An easy, Japanese-style bento is S&B Golden Curry, with sticky rice and umeboshi, and seaweed salad, with some pieces of fruit - cherries, maybe, or strawberries - to fill the box.

Have fun!
posted by goblinbox at 9:50 PM on August 9, 2010

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