Japanese-style Bento box

A couple readers have asked me to write a post about how to make a Japanese-style Bento box. I was hesitant at first because bento making is not something I specialized in, and there are so many great bento blogs out there that feature elaborate bentos that I wish to have for my lunch. To my surprise, there’s nothing tedious about basic Japanese bento! In fact, it usually takes me less than five minutes! I couldn’t make sandwiches faster than that. The key is to have everything ready-made, and just put them together in the box. Typically, I pack the rice into the box the night before while it’s still hot, and leave the box out on the bench overnight (so it’s still soft the next day), and if using leftovers I put those separately in the fridge. Then in the morning, I get the leftovers (okazu) from the fridge and pop them in the box. Japanese-style Bento box is roughly 1/2 to 3/5 rice, with the remaining portion okazu. (Okazu means things to eat with rice, eg chicken, fish, pickled vegetables, fish cake, stir-fry, salad etc).

INGREDIENTSJapanese-style bento box
100g fresh edamame in the pods (or frozen soya beans)
Handful of a favourite fruit, such as fresh pineapple, blueberries or strawberries

INGREDIENTS FOR THE SUSHI
100g sushi rice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
½ tablespoon golden caster sugar
1 sheet nori
1 smoked mackerel fillet, about 75g, flaked
1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
2 spring onions, chopped
Pea-sized blob wasabi (optional)
¼ red pepper, thinly sliced lengthways, about 6 slices

DIRECTIONS
Bring a pan of water to the boil and cook the edamame for 3-4 mins (or 1-2 mins if using frozen soya beans) until tender. Drain, sprinkle with salt and set aside. Rinse the rice well in cold water until the water runs clear. Put the rice in a heavy-based pan with a tight-fitting lid and cover with 200ml water. Bring just to the boil, then put on the lid, turn the heat to its lowest point and cook for 15-20 mins, until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat and leave with the lid on for another 10 mins.

Spoon the cooked rice into a wide bowl and leave to cool a little. Stir together the rice vinegar, sugar and a small pinch of salt, until the sugar and salt dissolve. Mix this into the cooled rice. Lay the nori sheet on a sushi rolling mat or sheet of cling film. With damp hands, spread the rice over two-thirds of the nori sheet.

Mix the smoked mackerel, mayonnaise and spring onions, season well with black pepper. Spread a line of wasabi down the middle of the rice, if using, and layer on the red pepper pieces, then the fish mixture. Roll the sushi up, starting from the end covered with rice. Dampen the uncovered end to help it stick. Slice into about 6 x 3cm thick pieces. Pop the sushi rolls into a bento box or lunchbox, adding the edamame and fruit to the other compartments. Your Japanese-style Bento box is ready, enjoy it!

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