Recipe: Japanese Bento Boxes

by Celeste Heiter, May 19, 2010 | Destinations: Japan
Japanese Bento Boxes

Japanese Bento Boxes

Japanese Bento Boxes

Bento is a term for a Japanese boxed lunch, traditionally wrapped in a colorful scarf or handkerchief. Many Japanese mothers pack them each morning for their children to take to school, and vendors often sell them to hungry travelers on train station platforms. A typical bento might contain such delicacies as dried fish, pickled vegetables, fried tofu, sushi, onigiri, cold soba noodles, and sembei crackers.

Sushi Rice

3 cups dry white sushi-grade rice (medium or short grain)
3 cups water
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Cook the rice in an automatic rice steamer, or use the stovetop instructions on the package. When the rice is done, dissolve the sugar and salt in the rice wine vinegar in a small pan over low heat. Sprinkle the vinegar mixture into the cooked rice and fluff gently with a wooden rice paddle to mix. Place the cooked rice in a large wooden bowl or spread on a baking sheet to cool. Fan the rice with a pleated fan or piece of stiff paper for 8 to 10 minutes. This will produce an attractive sheen and helps keep the rice sticky. When the rice is cool to the touch, you can begin using it to make sushi.

Shrimp and Avocado Makizushi

2 cups sushi rice (see recipe)
1 cup bay shrimp
1 large avocado, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1 cucumber, cut into thin strips
6 sheets of nori seaweed wrapper
1 teaspoon wasabi paste

Lay a 12x12" sheet plastic of wrap on a flat dry surface, such as a cutting board or countertop. Place a sheet of nori on the plastic wrap. Cover the lower half of the nori with a thin layer of sushi rice, pressing firmly and distributing evenly all the way out to the left and right edges. With your thumb, rub a pinch of wasabi paste on the nori across the top edge of the rice. Lay several pieces of cucumber, several slices of avocado, and about 2 tablespoons of bay shrimp across the center of the rice.

Moisten the upper edge of the nori with a few drops of water. Starting at the bottom edge, begin firmly but gently rolling the nori cigar style around the filling. Continue rolling to the moistened upper edge. Fold the plastic wrap upward around the sushi roll and squeeze firmly along the length of the roll to compact the filling and seal the moistened edge of the nori. Remove the plastic wrap and cut the sushi roll into 8 uniform pieces. Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients. Stand each set of sushi rolls upright on an attractive serving dish and garnish with a pinch of wasabi paste and a mound of pickled ginger. Makes 48 pieces.


4 servings of soba noodles, cooked according to package directions
1 cup ponzu
2 teaspoons wasabi paste
12 large prawns, boiled, peeled and deveined, tails intact

In a small pot of simmering water, boil the shrimp for 2 to 3 minutes, until pink and tender. Drain and chill in the refrigerator until serving time. Place the cooked soba noodles in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Add ponzu sauce and toss to coat. Place in the refrigerator for 2 hours, or overnight. When ready to serve, divide the noodles and ponzu sauce into four serving dishes. Place one prawn on top of each serving and garnish with a pinch of wasabi paste rolled into a ball. Serve cold. When ready to eat, stir the ball of wasabi paste into the ponzu sauce. Serves 4.

Japanese Salad

1 large carrot, coarsely grated
1 large cucumber, trimmed and chopped
1 large tomato, trimmed and chopped

¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir to mix. Cover and refrigerate for one hour, or overnight.

Teriyaki Fish

4 white fish filets (sole, snapper, catfish, etc.)

Teriyaki Sauce:
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in ¼ cup water

Combine soy sauce, mirin, and brown sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add cornstarch mixture and stir until sauce is thickened. Remove from heat and set aside until needed.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place fish filets on an oiled baking sheet, and generously brush with teriyaki sauce. Bake for about 10 minutes, until fish is done. Switch oven to broiler and broil fish for about 2 minutes, until teriyaki sauce is brown and bubbly. Remove fish from the oven and allow to cool. Cut fish filets into strips. Serve over sushi rice.