Brown Bag a Bento Lunch

When Steve and I go on vacation, we love to poke around in local farmers’ markets and explore supermarkets to check out what the locals are eating. Our suitcases on the return home are always bulging with cans and boxes of transportable food, a few new cookbooks and some food magazines . We try to make our vacation last a little longer by replicating some of the dishes we enjoyed.

During our first trip to Japan in May, we fell in love with o-bento lunches (Japanese box lunches, artfully arranged in partitioned containers).We can buy them easily from Japanese markets in San Francisco of course, but in Japan, we could purchase them everywhere and in great variety. Whether from the fabulous food emporia found in the basement of every high-end department store, to train station kiosks and even the 7-11, o-bento lunches were uniformly tasty.

On the bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo, I purchased a modest o-bento lunch of seasoned ground meat over rice (called Soboro). It was really delicious and seemed easy enough to make. Here’s my simpler version. It takes just 6 minutes to cook the beef; allow extra time to make the rice – a snap if you have a rice cooker.

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Beef Soboro Bento
Serves 4

1/4 cup sake
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound ground beef (80% lean)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 cups hot cooked short-grain rice (1 1/3 cups uncooked rice)

  1. In small bowl, combine sake, soy sauce, brown sugar and red pepper flakes; stir to mix thoroughly.
  2. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add ground beef and ginger and cook about 2 minutes or until meat is mostly browned, breaking up meat clumps with a wooden spoon while cooking. Drain fat. Add soy sauce mixture and simmer 3 to 4 minutes, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat.
  3. Put 1 cup hot cooked rice in bento container or other plastic container and top with ½ cup ground beef mixture. Repeat to make 4 bento lunches. Makes 2 cups meat mixture.

Optional accompaniments:
In small saucepan, cook baby carrots, broccoli florets or green beans in simmering salted water until vegetables are crisp-tender.

Optional garnish:
To make a shredded egg garnish, beat 1 egg with a pinch of salt; brush small nonstick skillet with a thin layer of oil. Add a thin layer of beaten egg and as soon as egg is set, turn and cook second side. One egg should yield three or four egg “crepes.” Roll egg like a cigar and cut crosswise in thin strips. Use to garnish bento lunches.

You can package the beef in 1/2-cup portions and freeze. Microwave to reheat and serve over hot-cooked rice.

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Posted: Sep 30th by Sandy_Hu