Effortless Bento: 300 Box Lunch Recipes, edited by Shufu-no-Tomo, features a variety of make-ahead bento recipes for quick and easy lunch ideas. Highlights include Teriyaki Scallops, Ginger Pork, Bacon-Wrapped Shishito Peppers, Cinnamon Bananas, Sesame Miso Salmon, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, and Black Vinegar Fried Chicken Wings. I will also be sharing a recipe for Spaghetti Neapolitan at the end of the review.
Disclosure: I received this book from Vertical, Inc in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
This book is a collaboration effort from many chefs including Rie Ushio, Yumiko Izawa, Eiko Oba, Namie Omi, Yurie Sannomaru, Hatsue Shigenobu, Futaba Sukenari, Ayako Sekiguchi, Junko Takagi, Michiko Natsuume, Keiko Hayashi, Hitomi Hirata, Megumi Fujii, Sachiko Murakami, Yoko Mori, Mitsuyo Yasaki, Ruri Yanagihara, Mizuko Yoshida, and student chefs.
Chapters are divided into three parts and further divided based on type of food:
Part 1 Make and Freeze Dishes Arranged by Main Ingredient: Pork, Chicken, Beef and Processed Meat, Seafood, Mushroom and Dried Foods, Microwavable Agar Bentos, and Tips for Freezing 1.
Part 2 Various Refrigerated Bento Dishes: Pork, Chicken, Beef, Ground Meat, Seafood, Vegetable, and Mushroom and Dried Foods.
Part 3 À la Carte Arranged by Color: Yellow and Orange Colorful Accents, Red and Pink Colorful Accents, Green Colorful Accents, Happy Bento Desserts, Pickles that Enhance Rice, Make in Advance Kinpira Variations, Homemade Furikake Catalog, Single-Dish Bentos, Homemade Instant Soup, Make in Just 10 Minutes in the Morning Extra Side Dishes, Rice Ball Catalog, and Tips for Freezing 2.
This isn’t the largest book at 192 pages, but it is filled with a variety of recipes and tons of information. For those new to packing bento boxes, health and safety tips are fully explained along with useful storage and packing items and guides for freezing ingredients. Recipes are specifically noted whether they can be made in advance and frozen, made in advance and refrigerated, or prepared quickly the morning the lunch is needed. Bento meal planning ideas and combinations are also helpful for quick references to recipes throughout the book and tips along the way.
This is such a great resource to turn to when looking for new ideas and fillers for your bento box. Since I recently received this Kokeshi Bento Maneki-Neko, I particularly appreciate the collection of homemade instant soup recipes such as the Ginger Wakame Soup, Instant Minestrone Soup, and Japanese-Style Instant Soup. I also love the trick of adding agar powder (gelatin) to soups before refrigerating. The soup will become gelatinous when cooled, making for easy transport without risk of spilling, but will then turn back into soup upon reheating. Those who enjoy Onigiri will find plenty of variations and fillings to choose from.
A photo of the finished dish accompanies every recipe. There are also a few step-by-step photos to help demonstrate techniques like bento packing, freezing meat and fish, packing condiments, and freezing vegetables. Photo guides are provided for easy reference of items that can be naturally thawed from the freezer and others that require heating in the microwave or toaster oven first.
The titles of the recipes are generally listed in English. Measurements are written in US Customary and Metric. Every recipe includes packing tips, shelf life, serving size, and calories.
This book is a great pick for those interested in packing their own bento lunches. You won’t find any elaborately decorated bentos here, but rather the focus is on flavorful and balanced meals that can be prepared over the weekend for easy lunches throughout the week. The directions are straight to the point and tend to assume a basic knowledge in cooking, particularly in Japanese cuisine, but everything else bento-related has beginners in mind. A few ingredients may require sourcing a market with Japanese items such as komatsuna (mustard spinach), zha cai, bok choy, sakura shrimp, yakisoba noodles, sake, daikon, lotus root, umeboshi, thinly shaved beef, shichimi togarashi, aburaage, Sichuan pepper, kelp, gochujang, napa cabbage, chikuwa, shishito, miso, and bamboo shoots.
Spaghetti Neapolitan (Naporitan, スパゲッティーナポリタン) is an interesting Japanese creation of spaghetti noodles coated in ketchup and tossed with sliced hot dogs, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Created by Shigetada Irie in Yokohama following World War II, it is said to have been inspired by the US Military spaghetti and ketchup meals (cheaper and more available at the time than tomato sauce).
For even cooking and blending, try to slice all the ingredients in roughly the same size. The chefs recommend adding the Spaghetti Neapolitan to bentos that feature burgers and fries in place of rice.
This meal comes together easily in less than 20 minutes and can be frozen in single serving portions for up to a month. It was a big hit with the kids, in particular for Claire as ketchup is one of her favorite foods.
I also made Chicken Teriyaki, Miso Carrots, Three-Color Scramble Bento, and Curry and Cheese Potatoes.
The Chicken Teriyaki was Claire’s favorite. After she finished her portion, she asked Chad to snuggle, climbed into his lap, and proceeded to eat from his bowl. Chicken thighs are browned on each side, then coated in a sweet soy sauce. If not making for a bento, the chefs recommend serving on top of rice donburi-style.
The Miso Carrots are a delicious sweet and salty vegetable side with only four ingredients. It needs to be prepared a day in advance and can be refrigerated for up to a week. I especially loved the flavor after two days.
The Three-Color Scramble Bento was another one of my favorites. A layer of rice is topped with scrambled and seasoned ground chicken, scrambled eggs, and blanched, chopped spinach drizzled with a little soy sauce. It is also perfect for kids since there are no large pieces to cut through. Each of the parts can be made ahead of time and frozen in individual servings.
The Curry and Cheese Potatoes also come together easily in five minutes. For a single serving, a small potato is microwaved until softened, then mixed with a little curry powder and parmesan cheese. I made it on Halloween, so I paired the potatoes with carrot rice topped with nori cut into a jack-o’-lantern and eggs.
Spaghetti Neapolitan Recipe
Excerpt from Effortless Bento
2 hot dogs
1 green bell pepper
1 eringi (trumpet) mushroom
6 1/3 ounce (180 grams) spaghetti
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons (10 grams) butter
3 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Dash each: salt, pepper
Slice hot dogs on the bias. Thinly slice onion and mushroom. Julienne bell pepper.
Boil spaghetti according to package directions.
Heat oil in frying pan. Add butter, then hot dogs, onions, mushrooms and bell peppers in that order and sauté.
Add spaghetti to pan and sauté. Add ketchup and stir to coat. Season with mixture A to finish. Serve immediately or let cool and cover with a lid to freeze.