Real Bento: Fresh and Easy Lunchbox Recipes from a Japanese Working Mom, written by Kanae Inoue, features 200 recipes and 22 bento combinations for a variety of fun and delicious lunch ideas. A few highlights include Sesame Pork with Pea Shoots, Teriyaki Chicken Bento, Rice Omelet Bento, Honey Nut Squash Salad, Rice Sandwich Bento, and Macaroni Sweet Corn Soup. Following the review, I will be sharing Inoue’s recipe for Miso Pork Rice-Bowl Bento along with a GIVEAWAY of Real Bento sponsored by Tuttle Publishing!
Disclosure: I received this book from Tuttle Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Kanae Inoue is a food blogger, wife, mother to three teenagers, and cookbook author based in Japan. She focuses on “delicious, economical and family-friendly recipes for bentos.” Inoue has thirteen cookbooks in Japanese and this is her first in English.
Inoue begins with a family introduction and how she developed a love for assembling lunch for her husband and children. For those new to bentos, she has created a visual guide for basic ingredients along with helpful tips that focus on pairing ingredients, varying the flavors, simple decorating, using thermos food jars, and how to pack everything together. I especially love the sample week of real, everyday bentos to help get you started.
The sections are divided based on flavor and notable ingredients: Tasty and Salty-Sweet, Simple Salt and Pepper, Seasoned with Miso, Seasoned with Soy Sauce, Seasoned with Mayo, Seasoned with Tomato Ketchup, Seasoned with Pickled Plum, Seasoned with Curry, and Salads and Sweet Touches. There are additional chapters featuring Time-Saving Techniques and Tips for Good-Looking Bentos. The contents also include a list of the recipes with page number for easy reference and the index is divided based on ingredient.
The pages are packed with 250 color photos in a variety of sizes- one for every recipe, plus ingredients and a few step by step photos to show different techniques. Measurements are listed in US Customary and Metric with amounts for one to two servings. The titles are written in English.
Miso Pork Rice-Bowl Bento
I was drawn to the simple, yet striking layering of the Miso Pork Rice-Bowl Bento. Thinly sliced pieces of pork are seasoned with a miso mirin mixture and pan-fried until cooked through. They are arranged in an alternating pattern with green shiso leaves over a bed of cooked white rice and shredded omelet for a comforting, yet easy lunch.
The pork slices do need to marinate overnight, but overall there isn’t much prep required. Kanae recommends if using very thinly sliced pork to add four slices to the bento instead of three.
Miso is a Japanese condiment created by fermenting soy with salt. Sometimes rice and barley are also used. There are many types of miso available. Lighter colored misos are usually more sweet and less salty. As the color darkens, the flavor generally becomes stronger and more salty. I have been able to locate miso in the refrigerated section of Japanese markets and in some larger grocery stores.
Mirin is a sweet Japanese cooking rice wine. I use hon-mirin (true mirin) in recipes calling for mirin and have been able to find it in East Asian food markets and Whole Foods. Many grocery stores have aji-mirin, but be sure to check the ingredient list for additives. Other types of mirin are shio-mirin (includes salt) and shin-mirin (very little alcohol).
Shiso is a green or red/purple herb in the mint family. I was able to find it in the produce section at my local Japanese market. You can also grow your own, but I haven’t personally tried it yet (on the list!).
I also made the Stir-Fried Beef and Egg with Oyster Sauce, Crunchy Carrots, Curried Onion Tempura, and Sweet Orange and Tomato.
The Stir-Fried Beef and Egg with Oyster Sauce is an incredibly easy and flavorful lunch. After scrambling the eggs, thinly sliced beef is stir-fried just until cooked through and seasoned with oyster sauce, a little sugar, soy sauce, green onion, and sesame seeds.
The Crunchy Carrots were a particular favorite with Claire. A medium carrot is cut into batons, microwaved until tender, and seasoned with sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds.
The Seasoned with Curry section has such a great collection of recipes and I was immediately drawn to the Curried Onion Tempura to use up an extra onion I had on hand. A thinly sliced onion is tossed with curry powder, salt, and flour. Water is mixed in to make the tempura coating, then spoonfuls of the mixture are dropped into hot oil and shallow-fried until browned on each side.
The Sweet Orange and Tomato is another quick and easy accompaniment. Orange and tomato pieces are tossed in a lemon maple dressing for a sweet addition to lunch (packed in a separate container to prevent contamination from other foods in the bento).
Real Bento is a great pick for those interested in trying Bento Boxes or even just looking for new lunch ideas. Many of the recipes come together in less than 10 minutes with minimal effort. If you are short on time in the morning, Inoue mentions prep work that can be done the night before or over the weekend to make the morning assembly even quicker. Having a Japanese market nearby will be helpful in locating ingredients such as shiso leaves, Mirin, miso, umeboshi (pickled plum), ponzu, bonito flakes, wakame, spring roll wrappers, mentsuyu sauce, Japanese seven spice, Shio kombu, gochujang, tonkatsu sauce, doubanjiang, abura-age tofu pouch, yuzu kosho, wasabi paste, and daikon.
Tuttle Publishing is also giving away three copies of Real Bento to my readers!
Giveaway Entry Rules: Enter the giveaway below to win a copy of the cookbook, Real Bento. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years or older. The giveaway will open on Wednesday, August 12th, 2020 and close on Wednesday, August 19th, 2020 at 11:59 pm EST. I will randomly choose three winners worldwide from the comments via Rafflecopter and contact via the email. The number of eligible entries received determine the odds of winning. You will have 24 hours to respond via email or another comment will be randomly chosen. Void where prohibited by law.
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Miso Pork Rice-Bowl Bento Recipe
Excerpt from Real Bento
Miso Pork Rice-Bowl Bento
- 1 teaspoon miso
- 1 teaspoon mirin
- 3-4 pieces thinly sliced pork about 4 ounces (100 grams)
- 1 egg
- A little salt
- A little sugar
- Vegetable oil for cooking
- 3 green shiso leaves
- 1 serving cooked rice
- Mix the miso and mirin together and spread it evenly over the meat slices. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate overnight.
- Break the egg into a bowl, add a little salt and sugar and beat well.
- Heat up some vegetable oil in a frying pan. Pour in the egg mixture and make a thin omelet. Turn it over once and cook the other side quickly. Take it out, cool and shred thinly.
- Put the miso-marinated pork into the empty frying pan. Cook over low heat on both sides, being careful not to let it burn.
- Fill a bento box with the rice and top with the shredded omelet. Alternate slices of pork and shiso leaves on top of the egg and rice.