Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tofu and Pepper Stir Fry Bento

Late 2011. My attention is brought to an amazing BBC News video that blows my mind, makes me sad I'm not a Japanese child and makes me want to get into making Bento Boxes. In a BIG way. Despite having been told since by Tokyo Purple Girl that this is a classic example of the BBC's misrepresentation of Japan and that very few mothers actually have time to make bento boxes, it is a cool video that makes me happy and that I could watch pretty much every day.

Christmas 2011. Bailey purchases me The Just Bento Cookbook, I am ecstatic and vow to make 2012 the year of the bento in the Good Gobble household.

Christmas 2012. Reflecting on the year, I realise that, like those Japanese mothers, I haven't made a single bento box. Thoroughly disappointed in myself, I vow to make 2013 the year of the bento in the Good Gobble household. I spot loads of amaaaaazing bento boxes for sale on eBay and vow to buy them as well as a whole host of cute bento accessories as soon as January payday comes round. While I wait for said payday to arrive I am super lucky enough to find a lovely / cheesy bento style box in my local Levenshulme bargain shop of all places! A two-tiered bad boy with dividers and everything for a mere £2.99! YEAH. Boyyyy.

Last week I tried out my first bento box and I was SO HAPPY. Making bento boxes is surely one of the best things to do ever. I went for a really simple one from the book - Chicken and Pepper Stir Fry Bento but I swapped the chicken out for tofu.

The recipe was super simple - very few ingredients and quite subtle flavours, but Bailey still said it was "the best tofu he had ever had". Which might not be saying much as he doesn't actually like tofu, but we really did enjoy it.

Another good thing about bento boxes is that if, like me, you are quite the attention seeker, you will get LOADS of attention at work about your lunch. I just so happened to take mine in on a day that the entire staff had a meeting at lunchtime and I loved getting loads of comments along the lines of "What are you eating... GET YOU!" and "I can't believe you brought chopsticks and everything..."

One element I particularly enjoyed were the pickled cucumbers which added a nice bit of crunch and acidity to the meal.

I really think making bentos is something I could really get into but I've got to be realistic. I am a full time teacher and am simply not going to have time to be making myself these posh lunches unless I find a way to fit it into my busy lifestyle. We found the perfect way round it on this occasion - we made loads extra and had it for our dinner the night before and just made sure we had enough stuff left over to put in the bento box. A great solution - plus it meant I got to enjoy this meal not once but twice!

I am really looking forward to being the proud owner of some new bento stuff and Bailey and I are already planning a bento picnic for the summer - making up a few mega cute bento boxes for ourselves and a couple of pals (really awesome ones with Hello Kitty's head made of rice and stuff) and going into the countryside for the coolest picnic EVERRRRRRR. Stay tuned for more bento fun, and if it gets to like June and you've not seen me making loads of bento boxes, do me a favour and have a go at me.

For the Tofu and Pepper Stir Fry:
396g block firm Tofu
6 spring onions
2cm chunk ginger
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
2 tbsp soy sauce
Pinch of chilli flakes

For the Pickled Cucumber:
Half a cucumber
1/2 tsp salt
Juice of a lemon

For the Blanched Broccoli:
1 head broccoli

To serve:
Japanese sticky rice
Cherry tomatoes

Earlier in the day, drain the liquid out of the tofu according to the packet instructions. I had a very helpful Bailey do this for me earlier in the day as he was off work ill.

Start the evening's cooking by preparing the Japanese rice to the packet instructions. I timed mine so it would just be ready at the same time as the rest of the dinner.

Prepare all the veggies for the stir fry. Finely chop the ginger, roughly chop the spring onion, cut the peppers and tofu into bitesize chunks.

Slice the cucumber into very thin rounds and place into a bowl. Massage the cucumber with the salt, until it starts to go a bit limp. Put to one side.

Prepare the broccoli by cutting into florets and preparing a pan of water - just enough to cover all the broccoli. Bring the water to the boil.

Now all the prep is done you can get cracking! Start by stir-frying the ginger and spring onion in a pan for 2 minutes or until fragrant.

Turn the heat up and add the peppers. Sprinkle with some salt and stir fry for 4 minutes.

At this point you can also add the broccoli florets to the boiling water. Boil only for 4 minutes before draining and running cold water over the broccoli until it's fully cooled down. Drain and put to one side.

Drain any liquid from the cucumbers that may have come out while you've been getting on with other things. Add the lemon juice to the cucumbers and put to one side.

Push all the peppers to one side of the pan and add the tofu. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes until the tofu is getting that nice crispy 'crust' and move around a few times until it's getting nicely cooked all over. Stir everything together and add the pepper, chilli flakes and soy sauce. Stir well.

Assemble the dinner - serve up the rice, blanched broccoli and stir fry. Drain the lemon juice from the cucumbers and serve those too. Don't forget to leave plenty of ingredients for your bento box!!! Before eating your dinner, pack rice into one of the sections of your bento box.

After eating your dinner, the stir fry and rice will be nicely cooled for you to assemble your bento box. This is where you can make it look really pretty. Use lettuce leaves as dividers and pack your pickled cucumbers into a silicone cupcake case. Stuff the broccoli and cherry tomatoes into any spaces and it will look dead cool. And there you go, a lunch to make you the envy of your colleagues.


  1. A really interesting post! I'm afraid I've confused you a bit though - Japanese mothers certainly DO have time to make bentos for the whole family, they just don't spend hours making the ridiculous designs (like Barack Obama's head) that you saw in the BBC report. Like you, leftovers from the evening before (or more specifically extra that was cooked the evening before in readiness and set aside) are used, plus some things can be microwaved. Japanese supermarket sell frozen food in tiny portions for the purpose, e.g. a packet of 6 Chinese dumplings, which can be broken up and heated one by one. Some of my students even make their own.

    Thanks so much for the mention, I really feel you deserve some bento goodies, can I send you some?

    1. Oh thanks for your reply! Oh I SEEEE now! Oh well that's great. I always think we have a rubbish lunch culture in the UK. The attention my box got at work was a sign of this!

      I love the sound of the dumplings, maybe I'll try those next time!

      I would LOVE some bento goodies but you mustn't feel obliged to send me things!! I have just ordered two bento boxes from ebay - one for me and one for Bailey's boss' daughter Eilis - as well as some bento picks, little bottles for sauce and a mould to make rice look like Hello Kitty! Eilis is coming over in half term and we are going to make some so very exciting times!!

      Hope you are well!!!

    2. Phew, glad I managed to clear that up! It's many years ago now, but I remember lunches being OK at Westfield, if you wanted to eat fairly healthily you could, but of course if you wanted chips every day that was possible too. seems things have gone downhill since then.

      I will definitely get some bento goodies for you. I'll go to a ¥100 shop and see what I can find, there's usually plenty there, as well as a couple of other places. I'm going somewhere tomorrow you and Bailey would love - it's called Kappabashi, it's the street in Tokyo where the catering trade can buy everything it could need, 170 shops on one street. I'm hoping to get a post out of it, but my main purpose is to shop someone around.

      Hope the term's going well!


    3. Oh sounds great Rachel! Thanks so much! Love the sound of the Kappabashi. Would really love to see a post if you do write one! Hopefully I will be able to see it for myself one day!


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