Friday, 22 June 2012

My First Bento Week!

Bento boxes. Japan's answer to a packed lunch. But in true Japanese style, they're pretty, balanced, healthy and, of course, cute! They're a great mixture of craft and cooking, and I love them. I've only recently started making them, and this week I set myself a challenge of making one for my lunch everyday.

 Almost all my recipes, and most of my ideas came from Just Bento, a fantastic website. Some of the recipes were more successful than others, but I'm pretty pleased with my overall effort this week! I've given brief descriptions, with links to the recipes where I used one (tragically every single one is on Just Bento, but I'll try my best to branch out next time!). Some of them have very Japanese-y sounding names, but everything is pretty easy and uses fairly straight forward ingredients. Mirin and miso are the two main random ones, but mirin is replaceable with sherry and sugar, and miso is only used in a few dishes. 

A rather un-Japanese start. Home made sundried tomato bread, tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette), hot and sweet peppers, lettuce and tomatoes, with carrot decoration. 
A good first try, and very easy, but not the most exciting! I love the hot and sweet peppers though, and they go really well with just about everything!

Green rice (cooked in broccoli water, with mashed peas added at end), spicy peanut furikake, white fish (marinated in soy sauce, mirin and sugar, then fried with a little of the sauce added), steamed brocolli, tomatoes and spinach and beansprout namul.
This was pretty good, and impressed everyone at the meeting we ate it in! The fish was yum, and we LOVE the peanuts. I think John would eat it by the spoonful if I hadn't made it quite so spicy! We weren't big fans of the namul, too garlic-y, even for out tastes. 

Rice (with orange juice carrots decoration), spicy peanut furikaketamagoyaki, steamed asparagus with mayonnaise, carrot and pepper confetti and aubergine (eggplant) boiled till soft, drained and miso and mirin mixed in.
This was our favourite bento of the week by far. I love everything in it. I will definitely be making everything in it, and probably the whole bento again.

Pizza, broccoli, mange tout, pumpkin and aubergine simmered in water, soy sauce, mirin and sugar.
Not my most inspiring! The pizza was tasty, but I overcooked the broccoli and didn't drain it very well, so it was a bit watery, and the pumpkin and aubergine wasn't strongly flavoured enough. Plus I meant to add mayonnaise, but I forgot, so it was a bit dry and bland. 

Rice (with edamame beans and orange juice carrots decoration), beansprouts and mushrooms cooked in miso, soy sauce and sugar, home-made chicken nuggets, carrot and pepper confettiMisoyaki tofu and edamame. 
I loved all of this bento, except the chicken nuggets. John wasn't so sure, but felt it was saved by the tofu, which we both thought was delicious. The chicken nuggets were a disaster, because I didn't heat the pan up enough before frying them, so they were floury and soft. I'm sure they'd have gone well in this bento if they were better made though! 

Broccoli stalk kinpiraorange juice carrots, spinach and beansprouts sauteed in mirin and soy sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, fried shrimp and misoyaki onigiri.
A complete mixed bag. Kinpira was too spicy (but I'll be trying the theory again), spinach and beansprouts were both past their best so had a rather weird flavour, but the onigiri and shrimps were both really yum! 

All in all, I'm rather pleased with my first week of bento-ing! I'm focusing on flavours and healthiness, and once I get those down, I'll be working on my cuteness! For now, this onigiri will have to do!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Palak Paneer

In my last post, there was a photo of the curry I made to go with my naan breads, palak paneer.

Palak Paneer is one of my favourite Indian dishes. Spicy, flavourful spinach, with chunks of deliciously creamy paneer cheese. The best dish of it I've ever had was at a small Indian restaurant near where I used to live in England (if you happen to live in Norfolk, it's Rose of India in Attleborough). Living in Japan, I though it would be fairly unobtainable. All cheese is expensive here, and I knew we'd never find paneer anywhere. Luckily, there is an alternative, all be it a bizarre one. While looking for something completely different, I came across this recipe, which suggests substituting tofu for paneer cheese. My initial reaction was one of incredulity, but I found a few other recipes that suggest the same and so I decided to try it. The results were surprisingly good. It wasn't perfect, but it'll do as a substitute! And since it's healthier, cheaper and vegetarian (easily made vegan), I think it'll stay as a regular even once I'm back home.

This recipe is an combination of a few I found online, with a few tweaks. It makes enough for 2 people, if you make another curry dish of some sort too.

This might look like a long list of ingredients, but if you don't have something, just miss it or substitute it. The only essentials here are tofu and spinach.

½ pack firm tofu
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp tumeric
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp fresh ginger
1 chilli
1tsp ground coriander
1½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp tumeric
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp garam masala (or extra curry powder)
½ tsp chilli powder (adjust to taste)
½ or less salt
1 pack spinach
Extra cheesiness:
1tsp miso
1tbsp water
1tbsp yoghurt
1½ tbsp grated cheese

1. Drain the tofu, either by putting it on kitchen towel on a plate and microwaving it for a minute or so, then wiping off OR wrap in a clean tea towel and put something heavy on top and leave it for 30 mins or so.
2. Mix marinade ingredients together. Cut tofu into bite sized pieces and marinate for about 30 mins.
3. Mix "extra cheesiness" ingredients together in a bowl.
4. Heat up a non-stick pan. Fry tofu a few pieces at a time, until they start getting golden. Set aside.
5. Chop onion, garlic and ginger. Heat a little oil in a pan. Fry onions until soft then add garlic and ginger and all the spices. Fry for a few minutes then add the spinach. Cook until the spinach has wilted.
6. Blend/Food process this mixture until fairly smooth. Re-add to pan.
7. Add the tofu and gently combine. Add the "extra cheesiness" and mix well but gently.
8. Serve.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Pita Breads and Variations

Over the last few months, probably the recipe I've used the most is this one for pita breads. There are a lot of reasons for this. Bread here is rubbish, this recipe can be made in a pan, and it's quick, easy and very adaptable. Just a few changes, and it becomes a pizza base, or a naan bread.

The basic recipe is from Just Hungry. I pretty much follow it exactly as written, although I usually don't use bread flour because it's expensive here. I rarely get pockets in mine, but they're still yummy, and they kind of fulfill that brown bread craving that I frequently get!

Pita bread, served with falafel, hummus, little fish (that I don't know the name of), calamari, olives and sundried tomatoes. Yum.

Variation 1: Pizza

Makes 4 small pizzas (serves 2)

100g/¾ cup wholewheat flour
100g/¾ cup plain flour
3g yeast
1tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
pizza sauce and toppings of your choice

Mix all of the above together. Mix in enough lukewarm water to form a dough.
Knead until it's "stretchy and pliable" or until you get bored
Cover with a damp tea-towel and leave somewhere warm to rise.
When it's about doubled in size, divide into 4 separate balls.
Heat up a pan (one that has a lid).
Using your hands, squash one ball into a disc as thin as you can sensibly get it without holes!
Put it down in the pan, add your sauce and toppings to it. Put the lid on and leave for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the bottom is lightly browned.
Repeat with the other 3 bits of dough.


Variation 2: Naan Bread

I love naan breads, and since you can't buy them here, we've been making our own. And I like peshwari ones the very best, so that's kind of what these are. You could easily miss out the raisins and the butter if you want plain ones. Or substitute with garlic butter for garlic ones.

Makes 2 large-ish ones

125g/1 cup plain white flour
2g yeast
1 tbsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
Small handful of raisins

1 large tsp butter mixed with 3tsp sugar

Mix everything except the butter/sugar mixture together. Add enough lukewarm water until it makes a slightly sticky dough.
Coat your hands and the table lightly with flour and then knead until it's soft.
Leave to rise in a warm place until about doubled in size.
Divide into 2. Knead a little more, then flour the table and squish (or roll) it out as thin as you can.
Spread half of the butter mixture on it, leaving a bit of a gap around the edge. Fold in half and squish.
Heat up a pan, and put in the dough. Cook until browned, flip and cook the other side.
Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Served with tomato-y vegetable curry, rice and palak paneer (made with tofu instead. I'll post a recipe sometime soon).