Book Review: Kawaii Bento Boxes ( + Recipes)

I thought I’d be one of the few people who have come across this book but it appears I have been misled! I’ve actually had this book for some time. Why I didn’t review it puzzles me. It just lay, stuffed in an old box somewhere in my room until I came across it during a moment of room-cleaning. I have attempted to make a few of the bento featured in the book, but bringing a jam-packed lunch in a blue Doraemon box with smiling froggy faces and cutsie meatball hamburgers when I was studying in University would lead to a scenario that would leave me a little red-faced among my peers.

It’s great for kids though!

Ta-daa!

If its one thing that this book teaches aside from how to make cute bento, is that Japanese parents slave away for their children. A lunch that would (or could) be guzzled down the throat in fifteen minutes contains so much love, effort, concentration and artistic flair. If I was presented with such a colourful lunch, I wouldn’t be able to eat it. I’ll just sort of sit and stare as if it was some kind of museum antique. Or I’ll take a picture of it first for keepsakes, at least. I recall my own childhood school lunch — my mum’ll just slap strawberry jam on 2 pieces of bread, stick them together, then shove them in this fugly plastic box that smelled like a rubber glove before sticking in an orange juice carton and tell me to deal with it when I asked “Is that all I have for lunch?”.

Bemused by the cover, I purchased this book at a relatively cheap price on amazon. The thickness of it is about the same thickness of an uninteresting magazine, or a newspaper. It’s packed with ideas and pictures; and overall, it is really colourful. Instead of merely slapping pictures on this blog post as I usually do, I’ve added the recipes for those that didn’t scan in properly. I took pictures of this book using a different camera this time, so hopefully the pictures are a little brighter.

The first page after the contents demonstrates bento basics. Calorie wise, school lunches usually supply 500 to 700 calorie. Bentos should have a balance of rice/bread/pasta, vegetables, and meat/poultry/fish/soy. The energy/carbohydrate (for eg, rice) portion of a bento should be 2/3 cup (4oz/115g; 200 calories) and can be adjusted to individual needs. The rest of the bento should be occupied with meat/poultry/fish/soy and vegetables. Soybean products such as tofu, aburaage (cut up tofu which is then fried) and miso are recommended. For the vegetable portion, fruit and jellies can be included.

Next, the book teaches us how to pick bento boxes. Slim, oval shaped boxes that are 2 or 3-tiered are the most popular type. Assisting bento production include rice ball molds, cutters, food picks, mini food cups (or cupcake cases), dividers and mini sauce bottles.

Now the fun starts and the book shows us allllllll the delicious bento ideas, recipes and pictures. I loved this section, in fact, it’s not even a section, it’s the entire book. I was particularly mesmerised by the teddybear pancakes, meatball bento, sushi bento, tulip-egg bento…everything!!!!

The first type of bento the book explores is onigiri bento (below). I have made sure to take a picture of the pages so you can see the recipe. Any pages that did not show up properly (because of my shaky hands or the fact that the book can’t bend properly), I will be writing the recipe should anyone be interested in trying out themselves.

Now we get to the first recipe which didn’t show up properly. It is teddy bear bento (below). The good thing is at least I have managed to capture all the instructional pictures in the shot.

How to make dat Teddy Bear Rice:

  1. Make a thick omelette (combine 1 egg, 1 tsp sugar and pinch of salt, and pour half portion into greased frying pan cooking at low heat). Let it cool and cut out the teddy shape using a template/cookie cutter/freehand.
  2. Place the teddy shape over the packed rice. Make holes with a hole punch, if preferred
  3. Stick nori seaweed cutouts for eyes and mouth. Cut out half circle from slice of ham and place on ears
  4. Cover the bear’s face and sprinkle with rice sprinkles of your choice over the rice (Personally I don’t see a need for this step)

This is tulip bento, which is a personal favourite of mine 🙂

Now we get to sushi bento, which is slightly difficult to make because of the ingredients required:

How to make Nigiri-zushi (handformed sushi) wrapped with nori

2/3 cup (4 oz/115g) sushi rice

2/3 sheet nori seaweed

Toppings: Salmon flakes, boiled shrimp with mayonnaise, boiled baby sardines

  1. Make sushi rice (In a small bowl, combine 1Tbsp rice vinegar, 2/3 Tbsp sugar and 1/3 tsp salt. Place steaming hot rice in bowl and pour vinegar mixture over it. mix with slicing motion,  separating rice grains, then let to stand cool)
  2. Divide rice into quarter portions. Dip hands into vinegared water and make tall, oval ball with one portion of rice by pressing with fingers.
  3. Cut nori seaweed into strips, slightly wider than the height of rice and long enough to overlap when wrapped around
  4. Wrap this strip around rice , creating “cup” with the topping

Boiled shrimp with mayonnaise: 1 oz (30g) boiled shrimp, 1 Tbsp mayonnaise, dash soy sauce (mix all ingredients)

How to make Kampyo-maki

2/3 cup (4oz/115g) sushi rice

¼ sheet nori seaweed

Filling: Simmered kampyo

Roll up sushi by laying ½ sheet of nori over plastic wrap. Trim away 1/5 section (4cm). Spread and lightly press sushi rice, leaving 25cm 1” at the top. For best result, place nori long side towards you to make the roll thinner and cut to fit to the height of bento box.

Simmered kampyo: (kampyo is dried shavings of calabash, a type of gourd)

3/8oz (10g) kampyo

1 tsp salt

¾ cup dashi stock

2 Tbsp sugar

2Tbsp soy sauce

  1. Wash kampyo and rub with ½ Tbsp of salt in kneading motion until supple. Rinse off salt and boil in ample water until tender for 10 minutes
  2. In saucepan, heat dashi stock, sugar and soy sauce to boiling. Add kampyo and simmer about 15 minutes until sauce is absorbed. Cut into desired lengths or fold at each side.

Salad roll bento:

How to make salad rolls:

1 cup (6oz, 170g) sushi rice

½ sheet nori seaweed

Fillings: 1 Tbsp canned tuna, 3 seafood sticks, shredded omelette, lettuce, mayonnaise

  1. Spread plastic wrap (I think they mean clingfilm) over flat surface and lay ½ sheet of nori on it, then spread suhi rice, leaving 1” (25cm) of nori seaweed uncovered. At about 1/3 to ½ from the bottom, place tuna, seafood sticks, shredded omelette, then lettuce and mayonnaise, from side to side
  2. Carefully pressing the fillings inside, bring up near edges of plastic wrap and nori sheet so that it meets the top edge of rice. Roll up and press the whole roll, pushing in the rice on both sides.
  3. Slice with a wet knife without removing the wrap

How to make Korean rolls (it’s the same as salad roll except from the filling)

1 cup (6oz/170g) sushi rice

½ sheet nori seaweed

Filling: Korean salad

  1. Spread plastic wrap over a flat surface. lay ½ sheet nori on it and spread sushi rice, leaving top 1” (25cm) of nori uncovered. At about 1/3 to ½ from the bottom, place Korean salad over rice, from side to side.
  2. Carefully pressing the fillings inside, bring up near edges of plastic wrap and nori sheet so that it meets the top edge of rice. Roll up and press the whole roll, pushing in the rice on both sides.
  3. Slice with a wet knife without removing the wrap

To make Korean Salad, you need :

30oz Soybean sprouts, cooked royal fern, cooked spinach and carrot

2-3 pieces black mushroom (ear fungi) soaked and softened in water

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp sesame oil

1tsp toasted white sesame seeds, dash soy sauce and grated garlic.

  1. Cut all ingredients into 5cm (2”) length but cut carrot and mushroom into thin Julienne strips
  2. Heat water to boiling, add dash of sauce then put ingredients in following order: carrot, beansprouts, mushrooms and royal fern. Lastly add spinach and then remove from heat
  3. Drainin colander and spread to let cool evenly. Squeeze them tightly to remove moisture. Combine seasonings in small bowl and toss in vegetables

Next, we have bread-type bento (I called it sandwich bento). Here is the recipe for curried quail eggs which is mentioned in the rolled sandwich bento, which I didn’t scan in TT_TT

How to make Curried quail eggs:

3 boiled quail eggs

½ bouillon cube

½ tsp curry powder

¼ cup water

  1. In a microwave safe container, combine bouillon cube, curry powder and water
  2. To avoid ‘explosion’ of the eggs, pluck them with a pick and put in curry seasonings. Cover and microwave for 1 minute at 500W
  3. Let it cool, occasionally turning it over for even coverage

Pancake bento is next. I honestly never thought about putting pancakes into bento. I just love how bento have no limits. Mmm teddy bear shaped pancakes…

Teddy pancakes:

2oz (60g) pancake mix

½ beaten egg

3 Tbsp milk

Chocolate sauce

  1. Combine pancake mix, egg and milk, then pour into heated non-stick frying pan and make a cake large enough to cut out 3 teddy faces. Turn over and cook until done
  2. Let cool before using cookie cutter or template. Using chocolate sauce, draw the teddy face

Veggie pancakes:

2oz (60g) pancake mix

½ beaten egg

3 Tbsp milk

2 Tbsp frozen vegetable mix

  1. Combine pancake mix, egg and milk. Pour half of the mixture into heated non-stick frying pan.
  2. When surface becomes bubbly, turn over and cook until done, then cut into bite-size pieces before packing

Ahh, this is my favourite. It’s adequately named ‘All time favourites bento’, too. It has recipes for mini scotch eggs and meatballs if you’re interested. Apparently, deep fried stuff is also a favourite choice for bentos.

 

How to make Mini Scotch eggs:

 1 portion mini hamburger

2 boiled quail eggs

Ketchup and Worcestershire sauce

  1. Coat quail eggs with flour. Halve 1 portion of mini hamburger patty and wrap a quail egg with half patty.
  2. Make 2 and cook in a greased frying pan, rolling occasionally until heated through. Heat the equal amount of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce in a saucepan and add scotch eggs. Cook until the scotch eggs are coated with thickened sauce.

 Meatballs:

 2oz (60g) ground pork

1 egg

1 Tbsp cornstarch

½ tsp salt

Dash pepper

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Meatball sauce: 1 Tbsp sugar, 1 Tbsp soy sauce and ½ Tbsp mirin

  1. Combine ground meat and onion well, then add all remaining ingredients.
  2. Knead well until sticky, and shape into 4 balls. Heat oil to 340 F (170 degree Celsius) and deepfry, occasionally rolling for 2-3 minutes. Heat sauce in saucepan and add drained meatballs
  3. Cook and stir until sauce is thick and the meatballs are glazed

 Fried chicken:

 3oz (90g) chicken thigh

2 Tbsp each rice wine and soy sauce

½ Tbsp honey

½ tsp ginger juice

Salt and pepper

All purpose flour

Vegetable oil for deep frying

  1. Trim away excess fat from chicken. Cut into bitesize pieces
  2. In a plastic bag, put rice wine, soy sauce, ginger juice and chicken pieces. Lightly knead to mix all ingredients and let stand about 10 minutes
  3. Drain excess moisture by placing chicken on paper towel, and coat the chicken pieces with flour. This process can be done using another bag
  4. Deep fry in 340 F – 360 F (170-180 degree Celsius) oil until golden and crisp. Let it cool before packing

This is all I have so far, folks. I actually had a lot more scanned up but all the additional pictures are on my laptop which is currently Out of Order TT___TT”” I need to get a new battery and a new adaptor for it. Anyway, overall this is a very fine book. I actually don’t think it is good for beginners, partially because some instructions are wayyyyy too vague. More on that later. The book was jam packed with pictures slapped on every page of the book and all the food looks great and yum.

What I’m disappointed about is that some of the ingredients are Japanese-exclusive only, like the Anpanman potatos. You are most likely having to find a substitute for this such as an oven-cooked chicken nugget or chicken dipper or any other frozen potato item. The decorative ideas ranging from curried quail eggs and those sausage octopuses are great and the book gives clear pictures of each and every decoration, but again, I find the instructions are simply far too brief; for example, complex bento ideas are given only 1-5 points of rule of thumbs, but in reality, it would have at least a bit more detail. All the recipes I have written in this post was from the book word-by-word. But I get this feeling because there are so many bento ideas, and the book is… that thin for some odd reason, they had to squish everything together with minimal instructions provided for each bento. This book actually felt like a preview, showcase book, at least. If you are like me, and whatever you cook does not end up anything like the picture in the cookery book, then you might find this book and its instructions are too vague that you might not know what to do.

I hope this has been a good preview/review for you guys should you ever decide one day that you want to make your own bento! 😀 If anyone ever needs a recipe or anything, feel free to drop a comment.

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