Not much of a bento …. More like a glorified snack box. But I’m sharing it anyway because it’s not about perfection, right?
For a while I was making bento that were rather time consuming. There’s nothing wrong with that unless, of course, higher standards keep you from making a portable and healthy lunch when you have less time.
I tossed together this snack of leftover samosas, fruit and pastries in less than five minutes, and they’re in a re-used Chinese take out container to boot. So here’s one for the imperfectionist in all of us. Cheers! And happy snacking.
PS: The madeleines and financiers were made by my dear friend from SweetMue.com. She’s been blending Asian flavor favorites, such as taro, red bean, green tea and black sesame, into traditional French pastry recipes. Her green tea cream puffs (not pictured) are a personal fave. I am also a big-time fan of her black sesame puffed pastry balls! You can follow her baking adventures on her blog, sweetmue.wordpress.com.
My dumpling kick and my try-to-waste-no-food kick continue to overlap. I had a bag of boiled new potatoes from Krabbefest 2012 (a Dungeness Crab-lovers delight) and a big bunch of cilantro and leftover tamarind concentrate after from my Taste of Southeast Asia dinner party. (Guests had to dress up as a tourist, local or otherwise. We had a lot of “backpackers” in fisherman trousers and beer brand T-shirts show up!)
Eureka, Indian food! I decided I’d attempt samosas, but this would require some serious improvisation.
I didn’t have any garam masala handy, so I made it. Peeled and toasted the cardamom pods that had been languishing on my spice rack for god knows how long and toasted the seeds on the stove top with a half stick of cinnamon, some whole cloves and black pepper corns. Then I dumped these in my “spices-only” coffee grinder and gave them a good whir. I cheated for the final ingredients, adding store-bought ground coriander seed and ground cumin to the mix.
I could have made the flaky pastry dough required, but this seemed a lot of effort for experimental, reconstituted leftovers. I opted for store-bought spring roll wrappers instead. The only problem — they were square, and I needed round. Placed a bowl upside down over a stack of skins, traced it with a knife, removed the edges and cut the results into imperfect semi-circles. Tada!
I was using frozen boiled potatoes that I’d thawed in the microwave. As anyone might imagine, they were a big watery mess. I think, in the future, it would be best to dice the potatoes and freeze them on a tray before tossing them into an airtight bag. Alas, I had not been so prescient. So I had to squeeze out my messy pile of sad potato bits in paper towels. But, you know, it worked. The rest was inspired by recipe I found in Andrea Nguyen’s lovely Asian Dumplings cookbook. But more about Ms. Nguyen later …
Real samosas, while ever-so-tasty, are a fried-food binge waiting to happen. I have an upcoming trip to Hawaii, which will require much more skin exposure than my usual SF wardrobe, and cannot afford to put on another pound. (Alas, bikini, you love me no longer…)
I was determined to bake instead of fry my little pockets. I’m sure this borders on heresy for some, but there you have it. Fit not fat, right? Fortunately, there were directions on the skin packets on how to bake. So I went with those …
Wow, these actually tasted quite good! I’m sure a less-abused batch of potatoes would have made a bit of a difference, but my leftovers still managed to turn into a crispy, tasty, Indian-like snack! Success!
I mainly use cookbooks for inspiration and then “off-road” after surveying whatever’s in my fridge.
A note on dumplings and cookbooks:
The Asian Dumpling cookbook, out on Ten Speed Press, is pretty darn awesome. I bought it at my favorite local bookstore Omnivore Books, which, as its name implies, concentrates all its stock on food-related reads. (Nice puns, eh?) The store also hosts free, fun author lectures all the time! Ngyuen has also put out an Asian Tofu book, also for sale at Omnivore, which I am itching to get a hold of as soon as my self-induced austerity measures expire.
You can go dumpling mad on her aptly named web site, www.asiandumplingtips.com.
When making recipe mash-ups for dumplings and other fare, I also turn to some fave cookbooks, such as Indian: Deliciously authentic dishes, A Korean Mother’s Cooking Notes, Dok Suni: Recipes from my Korean mother’s kitchen and Martin Yan’s Asia. (I know many Asian Americans question Yan’s authenticity, but he is so much more than his cooking show implies. This book has awesome recipes from Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. I use it all them time, especially when I get nostalgic for my backpacking days!)
Went to Tahoe this past weekend and had, by far, the best snow of the season. Of course, it hasn’t been much of a season this year. But it dumped from Saturday night all the way through Monday afternoon, when we headed back down the mountain.
Got home late in the evening, and it’s been go, go, go ever since. Haven’t made it to the grocery store, much less cooked up a decent meal. So this bento was all about improvisation.
Had some leftover rice from the week before, and the remains of the salad ingredients we brought up to the condo, including a vinaigrette I’d hauled there and back in a mason jar.
With the help of some vegetables and ginger out of the freezer, the fried rice got a little color and a pop of flavor. I cooked the frozen shrimp in leftover bacon fat and fresh garlic and then squeezed lemon juice over them at the end.
The cookies, I confess, are not homemade. But the oatmeal raisin cookies I made for the trip were too big for bento fare. Overall, not too shabby for the remains of the other day.
When I make dumplings, I think of Christmas. I am transported back to my childhood and my grandparent’s house in a Florida golf community. My halmoni, mom and aunties are sitting around the square table in the breakfast nook, chattering in Korean and folding tasty fillings into doughy pillows. Later, the dumplings will be steamed, pan-fried or boiled.
I fold along with them, though my versions tend to be over-stuffed and a little sloppy. Still, it’s great to be the kid amongst the grown-ups. Most of what they say sweeps over my head, but I can usually get the gist by interpreting the tone of their voices. If they are speaking in whispers, chances are the subject is one of the men sitting over in the living room in front of the TV.
I still love to make and eat mandu. It’s the tastiest of nostalgia, Christmastime or not … These were made with beef, kimchi, zucchini and tofu, a little twist on our old family classic.
It’s important to get rid of as much liquid as you can. So salt the zucchini for 10 minutes before rinsing, and squeeze out as much juice as you can from the kimchi. The former should be chopped small enough not to make big lumps and possibly tears in the skins. The latter can be whirred up in the food processor, quick and easy.
I haven’t made bento in a long, long time. While there are numerous joys of working from home, such as the irrelevance of kimchi breath, it doesn’t make much sense to pack your lunch. In addition, when you do work “out,” it’s usually at a cafe, where toting in your own food would be highly frowned upon!
That said, I’ve been cooped up in the apartment all week with a nasty cold. It began Sunday night and grew worse with each passing day … Finally, with the aid of magical antibiotics and a whole lot of tea, I am just now released from my self-imposed quarantine.
Thought I’d celebrate with a little bento-making. Year of the Dragon, this one’s for you. Hope you are healthier moving forward.
I interviewed and photographed Corey Lee at his restaurant Benu for the November 2011 issue of KoreAm magazine. What a treat. Set in an alleyway in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood, the restaurant, which opened in 2010, has already garnered two Michelin stars.
Here’s a look at some of the pictures that didn’t make it into the magazine. To read the full article, click here.
While making my lunch, I realized that my fresh mozzarella balls had little nubs that would make perfect “noses.” So I used black sesame seeds and tiny slivers of red bell pepper to finish out their faces. One face is happy and the other a bit on the cranky side. Men—mozzarella and otherwise—can be so moody!
I normally make my own Korean side dishes, but April has been a crazy month. I’ve been finishing up my master’s project and had little time to belabor my many loves, including cooking. So I went crazy in the pre-made section of the Korean market last week and have been happily transforming my purchases into kim bop, bibim bop and now a bento. Fly out tomorrow to defend. What a relief! I can get back to cooking after that … At least I made the mushrooms from scratch! Happy bento days ahead.
Ft. Lauderdale! The Everglades! The Keys! Napa Valley! A bevy of beautiful places and faces in a whirlwind week and a half.
I could never get enough of dolphins, anhingas, stingrays and miniature deer. Sleeping in a suite is all the better for having slept under the stars. And I love drinking beer at the No Name Pub on Big Pine Key, Fla., as much as I do sampling the wine pairings Ad Hoc in Yountville, Calif.
But have to say, I am so happy to be back home and making bento on this most beautiful of San Francisco days.
There are some lessons that you are supposed to learn again and again. I think keeping it simple is one of them. I tried cutting out all sorts of fun shapes from bell peppers: dolphins, whales, flowers … But, really, I’m feeling more somber than that.
So instead, this simple bento brought just enough sunshine into my cloudy day.
Thinking of all the folks in Japan …
So I’ve been getting bento inspiration from all over … But I must give credit where it is due. I first fell in love with the idea of bento this January, when I spotted “The Just Bento Cookbook” at a bookstore in Santa Cruz.
I was making my annual New Year’s pilgrimage to the coast and contemplating ways to bring new joys into 2011. And there it was, this book that I just couldn’t put down.
Since then, co-workers have gifted me books on bento, and I’ve found so many amazing bento-makers on the Web. It has been a pleasure cooking, learning and eating my way down this road.
So thank you, Makiko Itoh, for the inspiration. This bento’s for you!
Just came back from a long weekend in Utah. I had made a few molded hard-boiled eggs before I left. My hearts, however, didn’t turn out quite as nicely as my star. One heart, with a yolk so off-center that it poked out the side, was so unattractive that I had to eat in on the spot! The other one wasn’t quite so bad, but it still didn’t look much like a heart … Still, why waste food?
So I rolled the misshapen sucker around in some soy sauce, sugar and ginger until it was nicely coated, cut it in half and then popped some asymmetrical nori hearts on top before tossing it in the bowl. If you’re going to be misshapen, might as well be proud.
The kiwis I bought at the Ferry Building after my run today took to their strawberry cookie-cutter shapes much more nicely. (Though you can’t really tell from this picture.)
And speaking of being shape … I had thought, after a three days skiing downhill and one day cross country, that I must be in pretty descent condition. But then I stepped on the scale this morning and found myself four pounds heavier than when I left. (And I wasn’t happy with my weight then either.)
Guess, like my bento, I am both in and out of shape.
In light of yesterday’s crab roll disaster, I decided to keep it simple today. Besides, I’m about to get on a plane. So I prepped the mixed mushroom rice and eggs last night, and then all that was left this morning were the fun bits — making stars.
This was my first time using a “bowl” as a bento. Kinda liked the simplicity of one round space to work with …
The pink silicone liner was the most I could cough up for Girls’ Day. Pink has never been my favorite color, unless you count magenta. I need something bold.
I confess: Today was not one of my better bento days. I’d been so psyched about making something with my lump crab stash, and debated between mini curry crab cakes and California rolls for way too many days. Then finally, fixed on the latter, I proceeded to make the ugliest inside-out sushi roll you’ve ever seen. So like any newbie bento-maker, who is running late to an appointment and potentially facing embarrassment at work, I carved up a big haphazard “crab” to cover my wonky rolling results. At least it has a theme …
My roomie noted the funky crab-shell-like texture of the bell pepper. “How did you do that?” she asked. Truth be told, it’s just puckered from being in the fridge too long. But sometimes, things do work out. And it’s OK to make mistakes.
Off to the Utah slopes for a long weekend. I’ll be making bentos out of snow.
Oh, yeah. And that’s supposed to be a pickled ginger and Italian parsley rose. Ha!