Let's face it, bag lunches can be a real snooze. Even when you're a good cook, keeping things interesting and varied is a definite challenge. Enter the bento box, your all-in-one, fun to make, fun to look at, fun to eat, creative lunch solution.
This is not a new concept — Americans, particularly moms, have been adopting this typical style of Japanese home-packed meal for several years now. And it makes perfect sense. Turn a complete meal with protein, veggies and other good-for-you foods into a minature landscape of too-cute-for-words shapes and animals? Jackpot. That said, don't be so quick to write this off as a kids-only concept. Chef Rick Gresh of David Burke's Primehouse, has found a home for the technique on his brunch menu, offering a variety of creative themed boxes (like the Hangover Cure, a personal favorite). The key, he says, is to keep all the individual components bite-sized.
Newcomers to the bento game need not be intimidated, we recently spoke with Chef Miki Willis of mái cuisine in New York City who shared some helpful pointers, listed below.
1. Choose Solid Foods
Choose solid items to put into the bento boxes, "soupy" foods will make a mess.
2. Extra Salt, Please
Season items a bit more strongly than your everyday home meals. This way, they won't taste bland when the bento cools down.
3. The "3 Magic Colors"
Try to arrange ingredients into the "3 magic colors" to make your bento look delicious:
Red: Plum tomatoes, red peppers, red ginger, strawberry
Green: Green beans, peas, broccoli, edamame, Granny Smith apples
Yellow (or Orange): Egg, chicken nuggets, spring rolls, carrots, yams
4. Play it Cool
Cool down hot or warm food before placing them into the bento box. If hot and cold item are touching, the bento will spoil faster.
5. Rice Ball Substitutes
Typical bentos are made with a side of rice or onigiri (rice balls), however, you can use sandwiches and wraps if they are cut into small pieces, as Japanese people often do.
For some artistic inspiration, check out the Bento Box Basics Slideshow.