01 December 2018

Weekend Cooking: Simply Bento by Yuko and Noriko

Review of Simply Bento by Yuko and Noriko at Beth Fish ReadsIf you've been reading Weekend Cooking for any length of time, then you're probably well aware of my struggle to find doable, healthful, make-ahead lunches.

I work from home, so heating up leftovers is no problem, but Mr. BFR is always on the run--sometimes on a job site, sometimes tracking down supplies and materials. He is motivated to pack a lunch and to eat nutritiously, but his lunches have to be eaten cold because he rarely has access to a microwave.

Enter Yuko and Noriko's Simple Bento (Race Point, October 16), with it's alluring subtitle of Delicious Box Lunch Ideas for Healthy Portions to Go. Could this cookbook be the one to offer me endless inspiration? I couldn't resist saying yes to a review e-copy from the publisher.

First, I should admit I had never heard of Yuko and Noriko or of their website, Japanese Cooking 101. I haven't spent a lot of time on their site, but I can see that it's worth exploring. Second, I should also admit that I'm unlikely to be a bento queen--I'm probably not going to cut vegetables into cute shapes, invest in colorful picks and silicone cups, and arrange the food artfully in a pretty divided box. Despite my lameness, I am into nutritious lunches (though, you'll laugh when you see which bento I made for my husband).

Simply Bento starts off with a history and definition of the bento box and then provides seven keys to success (such as food safety, nutritional balance, and planning). Yuko and Noriko next go into the bento essentials, including containers, accessories, pantry items, and techniques. Finally there's a section of basic recipes, like steamed rice, before the recipe chapters themselves begin.

The recipes range from traditional-ish Japanese dishes (sushi, noodles) to kids' food (pizza, hotdogs) to modern food trends (low-carb, vegan). Many of the ideas are quite appealing, like a soba noodle salad with chicken breast and quick-pickled veggies. Another bento box that caught my eye is based on sweet and sour meatballs, and I also marked one that includes homemade falafel.

Inspired by the Antipasta Bento from Simply Bento by Yuko and Noriko at Beth Fish ReadsFor me, and perhaps for many of you, I think Simply Bento will be more of a source of inspiration rather than a step-by-step guide to a specific configuration of a lunch box. You'll laugh that the first bento I tried was inspired by the Antipasta Bento box and includes . . . Italian cured meats. So much for healthful. Ooops!

Here's what happened: I was shopping at Trader Joe's and looking over their cheeses when I spotted a container of Italian cured meats and remembered this bento box from Simply Bento. I bought it and some pitas, made the recipe's carprese salad, and I had a Mr. BFR-approved lunch (see the photo)! Our divided containers don't have enough compartments, so I used parchment paper to separate the food. You'll see a little section of mustard and another one of olives.

Recommendation: If you're looking for some good make-ahead, portable lunch ideas, I think you could be inspired by Yuko and Noriko's Simply Bento, like I was for the Italian meats lunch I made for Mr. BFR. If you're vegetarian or vegan, gluten-free, or low-carb, you'll definitely find some good ideas and good recipes, as the authors are well aware of modern food trends. Regardless, even with those recommendations, I strongly suggest you check this one out from the library or browse through it at the bookstore before buying. I like Simply Bento and found some tasty dishes in it, but I'm not sure how often I'll turn to it.

Here's the Quinoa Salad Bento from Simply Bento. In the photo (from the book), you'll see that the authors added rotisserie chicken to the bento box, but I think this would be good without the meat. The authors note that this salad will keep for a few days, so you could make it on Sunday for the work or school week to come.

Quinoa Salad Bento
2 servings

  • Quinoa Salad Bento from Simply Bento by Yuko and Noriko1/2 cup (85 g) dried quinoa
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) chicken broth
  • 10 green beans
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons (23 g) pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons (28 g) dried cranberries
Wash the quinoa in a large bowl changing the water 3 times.

Add the quinoa and broth to a medium saucepan, and heat until boiling. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, blanch the green beans for 2 minutes and cut into 1/2-inch (13-mm) pieces.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper. Combine the quinoa, green beans, pistachios, and cranberries with the vinaigrette.

NOTE: I just realized that this recipe will work for Deb of Kahakai Kitchen's Souper Sunday (for soup, salad, and sandwich recipes). Yay! So check out her link-up and join in.
Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.


Mae Travels 12/1/18, 6:24 AM  

Bento art -- especially those ultra-cute kids' lunches -- is very nice for the eye, probably for the appetite (except maybe that Japanese food is salty), but usually a real time and motion challenge to the cook! Looks as if you have found a less-demanding version. Once you have the idea (little compartments etc) maybe you can just run with it? Your Italian meat and veg box looks good.

I was busy with food posts this week, hope you forgive me for linking so many.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

jama 12/1/18, 6:51 AM  

The words "Bento Box" make me so happy. Always a treat growing up in Hawaii. It's definitely a challenge to think up portable and nutritious lunches (and those kids' boxes are adorable but time consuming). Love your Italian meats version. Will definitely check this book out from the library for ideas. Thanks!!

rhapsodyinbooks 12/1/18, 7:14 AM  

I love the idea of little food compartments. Reminds me of the early Swanson TV dinners (which were neither tasty nor healthy, but had cute little boxes!),

Jackie McGuinness 12/1/18, 7:29 AM  

I was lucky while working and always had access to a microwave, leftovers were my favourite.

Japan is on my places to visit so I am going to check out that website. I am very partial to Asian food.

Tina 12/1/18, 8:01 AM  

That’s brilliant, really, I love the idea of a bento box for lunch. I would not be cutting up veggies into cute shapes either!

gluten Free A_Z Blog 12/1/18, 8:21 AM  

I love the idea of the portion control in these cute little Bento boxes. I am not familiar with Japanese cooking- might check out the website. thanks

bermudaonion 12/1/18, 8:24 AM  

Mr. BFR's lunch looks delicious to me! I think my nephew might enjoy this book.

Claudia 12/1/18, 9:10 AM  

Great idea for livening up lunches. Your own favorite sorts of lunch eats from any country at all can go in the cute boxes.

Randomly Reading 12/1/18, 9:55 AM  

This quinoa salad looks delicious. I bentoed my lunch for years now and this is definitely going to be added to my lunch choices. Thanks for sharing it.

Carole 12/1/18, 4:11 PM  

Looking now to see if the library has this one. Cheers

Karen 12/2/18, 8:22 AM  

I'm always captivated by photos of cleverly filled bento boxes! I edited a bento cookbook and learned that in Japan it is really an art, and kids at school are expected to have certain items prepared in certain ways. But, like you, I'm more interested in a few good recipes to add to my repertoire! Yours looks fabulous, btw.

Deb in Hawaii 12/2/18, 8:20 PM  

I just realized I never commented on your post. It definitely sounds like a fun book and one I will look for at the library. I do love healthy bentos and want to check out some of the meat-free versions.

Thanks you for sharing the quinoa salad with Souper Sundays too! ;-)

Heidenkind 12/3/18, 12:10 AM  

My mom’s always getting me bento box containers for lunches so I might find some good recipes in this. Those instructions on the quinoa recipe are kinda odd though.

Yvonne 12/3/18, 5:28 PM  

I love how the Bento boxes are set up. Someday I will have to try and put one together.

Aj @ Read All The Things! 12/3/18, 8:19 PM  

I don’t think I’ve ever tried Japanese food. It looks yummy. I really like quinoa, so I’d probably like this recipe.

Aj @ Read All The Things!

Martha Eskuchen 12/4/18, 9:54 PM  

We have a Japanese restaurant in town which makes an orange chicken bento box that I really like. I hadn't really thought about the nature of the bento box.
Hope you find some inspiration from the book.
Happy lunch making, eating and reading!

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