Ultimate Bento: Healthy, Delicious and Affordable 85 Mix-and-Match Bento Box Recipes, written by Marc Matsumoto and Maki Ogawa, features a fun and exciting combination of bento boxes along with helpful tips and tricks for both beginners and more experienced bento makers. A few highlights include a Ginger Pork Bento, Miso Salmon Bento, Fried Egg and Chicken Meatball Bento, Ham and Cheese Roll Bento, and Hanami Bento. I will also be sharing their recipe for a Stuffed Bell Pepper Bento following the review.
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.
Marc Matsumoto and Maki Ogawa
Marc Matsumoto is a TV cooking show cohost, food blogger, private chef, and cookbook author. He started his blog, No Recipes, in 2007 and features a variety of recipes from Japan, America, and around the world. Marc focuses not only on the how behind basic cooking techniques, but also on the why.
Maki Ogawa is a TV cooking show cohost and bestselling cookbook author. She has been preparing bentos for her family daily for the last fifteen years. She is also the author of Yum-Yum Bento Box and Yum-Yum Bento Box All Year Round (I have and love both of these books) and you can also find her work on Instagram.
I have been a longtime follower of Marc’s blog and was so excited to find out he was teaming with Maki Ogawa to create this wonderful book. Marc begins with an introduction into their background and how they met as co-hosts of the international television cooking show, Bento Expo. Before getting to the recipes, they have put together a guide on the different types of bento boxes, useful tools and accessories, packing tips, food safety, planning ahead, and notable ingredients.
Chapters are divided according to the following: Getting Started, The Basics, Edible Decorations, and The Recipes. The contents includes a list of the prepared bentos and recipes with page numbers for easy reference.
Marc and Maki have broken the book up into 25 colorful and flavorful bentos with 85 recipes in total. The bentos can be made as shown or the recipes can be mixed and matched for your own creations.
My daughter especially loved the section on edible decorations with step-by-step instructions on how to create Small Egg Chicks, Potato Snowflakes, Cheese Butterflies, Small Egg Sea Turtles, Apple Rabbits, and more. Claire now insists that all hot dogs be transformed into Sausage Octopuses.
Every single bento has a photo of the assembled box, plus step-by-step photos to help with every part of the process and packing. Titles are written in English. Measurements are listed in US Customary and Metric. Each recipe includes a headnote with the creator of the bento, background information, helpful tips, serving size, prep time, and other ideas.
Stuffed Bell Pepper Bento
I was immediately drawn to Maki’s bright and colorful Stuffed Bell Pepper Bento. Mini bell peppers are halved and filled with a seasoned ground beef mixture, then pan-fried until golden and cooked through. They are paired simply with rice and Sautéed Spinach and Mushrooms.
This bento has two main parts, but they each come together relatively easily. The Sautéed Spinach and Mushrooms only has about 5 minutes of prep and cooks in just as much time.
The Stuffed Mini Bell Peppers take about 15 minutes to prepare. Ground beef is mixed with milk-soaked panko breadcrumbs, onion, flour, and soy sauce, then pressed into flour-dusted, halved mini bell peppers. The peppers are pan-fried until golden on each side, then steamed until the meat is cooked through.
To pack the bento, a portion of rice is spread across the bottom of the box. A single salad leaf is placed on top and used as a barrier to separated the sautéed spinach from the bell peppers. The Sautéed Spinach and Mushrooms are place behind the leaf, then the golden bell peppers are arranged over the top of the leaf on the opposite side.
I also made the Loco Moco Hamburg Steak Bento, Karaage Fried Chicken, Taco Rice Bento, and Egg Fried Rice.
The Loco Moco Hamburg Steak Bento is Marc’s take on a cross between Hawaiian Loco Moco and Japanese Hamburg Steak. Tender, seasoned hamburger patties are topped with a flavorful mushroom gravy. To round out the bento, he pairs the patties with rice, a hard-boiled egg (more bento-safe compared to the traditional sunny side up egg usually served with Loco Moco), pineapple slices, and a Macaroni Salad. The Macaroni Salad was also delicious and so easy to make in one pot.
The recipe for Karaage Fried Chicken comes from Maki’s Kaarage Fried Chicken Bento (she serves it with sautéed zucchini and a pasta salad). Kaarage is one of my daughter’s favorites and she absolutely loved this one as well. Bite-size pieces of chicken are marinated in a soy sauce mixture overnight, coated in potato starch, and fried until golden and cooked through.
Marc’s Taco Rice Bento is such a fun and easy bento to make. Seasoned ground beef is spread over a bed of rice, then topped with shredded cheese, lettuce, diced tomatoes, and cilantro. For a little extra texture, Marc crumbles a few tortilla chips over the top.
The Egg Fried Rice recipe pairs with Marc’s Chili Shrimp Bento (egg fried rice, chili shrimp, roast shishito peppers, and pickled lotus root). This is such an easy side and perfectly seasoned. Cooked white rice is fried in a hot pan with a splash of soy sauce a little onion powder, salt, and white pepper. A beaten egg is quickly mixed in for a delicious touch.
Ultimate Bento is a great pick whether you are new to packing bentos or are well-versed and looking for new ideas. I loved the variety of flavors with options for meat-based, seafood, and vegetarian. Most of the recipes come together with minimal prep. Some bentos have a few different steps, but you can mix and match based on time available and personal flavors.
Having a market with Japanese ingredients nearby will be helpful in locating items such as Japanese short-grain rice, miso paste, nori, sake, green shiso, rice paper wrappers, daikon, panko, quail eggs, shishito peppers, maitake mushrooms, kombu, and wasabi paste.
Stuffed Bell Pepper Bento Recipe
Excerpt from Ultimate Bento
Stuffed Bell Pepper Bento
Sautéed Spinach and Mushrooms:
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 cups (60 grams) spinach roughly chopped
- 4 button mushrooms sliced
- Salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
Stuffed Mini Bell Peppers:
- 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 3 ounces (85 grams) ground beef
- 1/2 small onion about 2 1/2 ounces (75 grams), finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- Salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- 4-5 mini bell peppers halved, seeds and stems removed
- Vegetable oil for pan-frying
To pack the bento:
- Steamed Japanese short-grain rice
- Salad leaves
To make the Sautéed Spinach and Mushrooms:
- Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan.
- Add the spinach and mushrooms and sauté until tender.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To make the Stuffed Mini Bell Peppers:
- Combine the panko and the milk in a bowl and allow to soak for a few minutes.
- Add the beef, onion, 1 tablespoon of flour, and the soy sauce. Season with salt and pepper and kenad well to combine.
- Dust the insides of the pepper with the meat mixture with additional flour.
- Stuff the peppers with the meat mixture.
- Heat the oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat and pan-fry the stuffed mini peppers until they are browned on both sides.
- Turn the heat down to low and cover the pan with a lid. Let the peppers steam until the meat is cooked through.
How to pack the bento:
- Spread a portion of rice evenly across the bottom of the entire bento box.
- Place a salad leaf so that it spreads from the center third to the right third of the bento box.
- Arrange some Stuffed Mini Bell Peppers in the larger space to the left. Place a portion of Sautéed Spinach and Mushrooms behind the leaf.