Best Bento Box Bonanza
July 11, 2019 4:41 PM   Subscribe

I own this bento box, and almost every day I work I pack my own lunch. I make cold sliced steaks and little fried karaage chicken bits, or sandwiches, and usually pair it with a potato salad and some veggies. So far so good, but I can tell that I'm gonna get bored of the usual sooner rather than later, and I don't want to waste money going to the deli too much. SO I am appealing to the hive mind for good bento dishes, as many as possible so that I can cook things on my days off and the morning before I go to work pack my bento and have something really yummy for lunch. Difficulty level: NO DAIRY WHATSOEVER everything else is cool though.

I eat my bento cold as well, it goes from my fridge to the break room fridge after about an hour in transit- so stuff like homemade mayo is cool cause its not spending a lot of time out of the cold. I'm not really into warm lunches.

I like to make homemade pickles for my sandwiches, which are general fairly boring sliced chicken, so more fridge pickle recipes would be super cool, as would more interesting sandwich recipes that would fit in my bento. I also eat a fair amount of protein, and if I don't have a carb with a lunch (bread/potatoes/rice/etc) I can go into ketosis really easy (hypoglycemia) and that is not good. I would also like more types of potato salad/cold potato preparations.

I'm a pretty good cook- so I'm down with making pretty much whatever, as long as it's something that will keep in the fridge for a while so I can dole it out in the morning. I also will eat basically anything from any food tradition that doesn't include dairy, so if you have something tasty and Thai or germane and German, lay it on me.

BONUS CRITERIA! I am getting a lot of cucumbers from my garden, loads of arugula and lettuce and squash, tomatoes and green beans are coming and I almost always have a green onion from out back and tons of herbs. So anything that can use up veggies I'm growing would be great. My herbs that I have a ton of are parsley, dill, tarragon, shiso, lovage, basil, chives, thyme (SO. MUCH. THYME.) sage and mint of all types. SO bonus for using some of those.

Thanks so much!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
My favorite cucumber bento dish is one from Jamie Oliver. Peel, gut and chop your cucumber, toss in a little salt and let drain for a few min, squeeze more water out with a towel so everything stays nice and crunchy. Throw together with some chopped mint, a squeeze of lemon, a little olive oil and black pepper.

This is a fantastic lemon pickled cauliflower that I also love to pack.

Pasta salad is a good potato salad alternative. short grained rice is good cold. Definitely try making onigiri! Or arancini!

Protein - hardboiled eggs marinated in tea or soy sauce are delicious. Mini meatloaf made in muffin cups are great. I mean, it's pretty much endless!
posted by Caravantea at 5:06 PM on July 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Frittatas are good at room temp (less so when from-the-fridge cold, IMO), and you can fit a lot of random veggies and herbs into them.
posted by quaking fajita at 5:26 PM on July 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love these Baked Tofu Bites. They are good hot or cold and keep for several days in the fridge. (I would keep them for a week, but I like to live on the edge.)
posted by FencingGal at 7:01 PM on July 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Wraps. A small amount of dressing, a bunch of greens, cucumbers, and some hummus. Scrambled eggs, salsa, rice, beans. Peanut sauce, lettuces, cucumbers, chicken. lettuce, tomato, mayo. Any kind of leftover rice, risotto, fried rice, helps soak up wetness, and wraps need some bulk. Hummus or refried beans are good at holding it together. Great use of leftovers. You can bring dressing in a separate container and dip the wrap. There are a gazillionty wrap recipes on the web.

Antipasto. sliced veg, salami, olives, bread, hard boiled eggs, some olive oil.

Pasta with peanut sauce.
posted by theora55 at 7:04 PM on July 11, 2019

You might consider:

Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad from Smitten Kitchen

Corn Chowder Salad, also from Smitten Kitchen

Tomato and Watermelon Salad (with avocado) - might be best to prep everything and store separately, then toss the morning of when you pack your Bento box.
posted by bananacabana at 7:11 PM on July 11, 2019

Also, is a site by a mom who made daily bento box lunches for her child. You’d have to scale up for adult servings, and you might not want to cut tofu fish sticks to look like fish, but it would fit your no dairy requirement. The site currently advertises the book she published, but it looks like the recipes are still there.
posted by FencingGal at 7:12 PM on July 11, 2019

Egg fried rice.

Could be as simple as egg + nori + rice + soy sauce.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:23 PM on July 11, 2019

Ratatouille (which is more a procedure than a strict recipe, so you can pack as many summer vegetables into it as you like) and similar dishes are frequently eaten cold/room temperature.

I just made this cucumber salad to take to a potluck this weekend.

I love cold meatballs for picnics/bentos, and you can skew multiple directions with your flavor profile plus you can use up odd bobs of other vegetables as part of your meat mix.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:44 PM on July 11, 2019

Tabbouleh! Made with quinoa, or bulgar, or couscous. Throw some chicken or chickpeas or something in there for protein.
posted by Grandysaur at 8:04 PM on July 11, 2019

I'm loving all the answers so far, but to be clear, recipes would be really appreciated.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:14 PM on July 11, 2019

Get you to a Korean grocery and work your way through some of the various ssam recipes out there.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:19 AM on July 12, 2019

Oh, hey, I have an incredibly similar box from BentoHeaven.

I have a great recipe for quick cucumber pickles, but it's on paper so I'll have to get that to you later tonight.

Do you have a tamagoyaki pan? Because that's a key bento component I see missing from your existing list. I use this recipe, although I often cut the sweetener a bit.

I also like this beef recipe. I recommend checking out both of those sites, and the accompanying Just Bento cookbook.

I also like to make kinpira as a side sometimes, and it keeps reasonably well over time. You could make that with something other than carrots, certainly.

I try to reduce carbs, so I have different dietary goals, but is there a reason you're not already packing rice? For potatoes, if you chop your potatoes skin-on into cubes or wedges, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and paprika, and roast until crispy, that tastes pretty good cold too.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 6:18 AM on July 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I really like the grain salads from Lorna Sass's Whole Grains Every Day Every Way, like the wheatberry salad with apples and mint, which would be excellent alongside some chicken. She's got a barley tabbouleh (instead of the usual bulgur wheat) that is also lovely. I'm imaging it with kabobs or lamb meatballs. The nice thing about barley and wheatberries is they don't have the fridge-rice problem and are great cold. Sass also has a whole grains cookbook for busy people, but a pressure cooker or instant pot make cooking whole grains very easy.

Smitten Kitchen has a few fridge pickle recipes, including this pickled vegetable sandwich slaw.

And if you every want to dip in to the land of lacto-fermented pickles (it's as easy as fridge pickles!):
sauerruben (pickled turnips)
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:06 AM on July 12, 2019

Oh, and now that I'm on desktop and can see a few more of my bookmarked favorites from those same sites:
- Bento-sized teriyaki chicken
- Beef and vegetable rolls - it calls for bell pepper, but you could probably sub something else from your garden pretty well
- Miso chicken
- Do you eat hard-boiled eggs? Either regular ones or marinated.
- Soboro don - one of my favorites, especially with pickles.

Also, with your garden, you've got the makings of a good summer pasta salad! I usually just kind of wing mine based on whatever ingredients I have, but here's a reasonable recipe. That'll both use up your vegetables and get you some carbs.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 7:12 AM on July 12, 2019

Pasta salad is great in bento! Very versatile:

Cook some small pasta (rotini, wagonwheels, shells, etc.)
Toss in olive oil so it doesn't stick together
Add several of the following: diced proteins (chicken, turkey, tuna, tofu, beef, egg), fresh vegetables (cherry tomato, corn, zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms), lots of fresh herbs to your liking.
Season with salt and pepper.

I like that pasta salad can be personalized for various pleasant world-taste dishes. Want Italian? Go for beef/tomato/eggplant/basil. Indian? Tofu/cauliflower/peas/curry. Greek? Tuna/spinach/lemon/dill. Tex-mex? Chicken/peppers/corn/cilantro.
posted by juniperesque at 10:05 AM on July 12, 2019

I really like lactofermented pickles and have made variations on this with cucumbers, carrots, and cauliflower.

Agreed that bento recipes are a good way to go; the internet has plenty of them, and you should be able to sift out those that contain dairy pretty easily.

For using stuff from your garden: pasta salad, as recommended by many others. How about pesto with the arugula + basil in pasta salad? Here is a vegan arugula pesto recipe. I like to add chickpeas to my pasta salads for extra protein.

If you can get chickpea flour, socca is a nice protein-y, carb-y thing that can be eaten at any temperature. When I make it, I like to add sliced green or red onions/ chives/ black olives/ rosemary (think Mediterranean type stuff).

Bon appetit!
posted by wicked_sassy at 10:14 AM on July 12, 2019

Mr.Blue is on a rotation of box lunches - pork loin, chicken tenders, sliced sausages, and chicken salad - there are so many potential flavors that even though he's having pork loin once a month, it's Five Spice, then Cajun, then BBQ, then Old it doesn't get boring. Sides are often raw veggies with dip or hummus. In colder months, roasted veggies are great even at room temp. This time of year, I try to think of things that match the flavor of the seasoning on the meat. So, for 5 spice I'll do sliced cuke salad or for BBQ I'll do a vinegar based cole slaw. An herby Green Bean and Potato salad might work too, I use Ina's and add green beans (or sometimes roasted corn). Rice or lentils also make good room temp side salads (that last one would be just fine without the feta).

Happy lunching!
posted by AliceBlue at 2:14 PM on July 12, 2019

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