I never thought about doing a “How to make a Bento” tutorial because I couldn’t imagine it being of any help for other people. The last time I posted an Obento, NicNic suggested doing a tutorial and I pretty much fell in love with her idea. I love trying out new things and writing about how I compose an Obento is definitely something I haven’t tried yet. Since I stick to most of the Bento rules unconsciously it is difficult for me to tell you what to do exactly but I borrowed a little help from the internet, so here we go! A basic rule is that the meal should be balanced (a reasonable rice/vegetables/meat ratio) and arranged properly. I will show you a basic “How to make a Bento” instruction and then explain it to you on the basis of the Obento I did yesterday (although I don’t really like it ).
As you can see, the main component of every Obento is rice. Of course the rice can be prepared in many different ways and you can replace the rice with any other carbohydrate such as potatoes, pasta or bread. The carbohydrates should at least occupy half of the place. The other half is there to be filled with vegetables and proteins. As proteins you can use meat but also fish, eggs or tofu. And don’t forget about the vegetables! Even just a tiny little piece of carrot, broccoli or a piece of tomato can brighten up your whole Bento.
Fill the bento box halfway with the main carbohydrate dish. In Japan, this is usually white rice, but you can substitute fried rice, noodles, potatoes or bread if desired. There are different ways of presenting the rice, some ideas are: sushi rolls, inari zushi, or onigiri. Pack your Bento tightly, there shouldn’t be any empty spaces or even small gaps! Contrasting colors, textures and shapes should be placed next to each other, but similar ones should be separated.
Prepare one or more protein or meat dishes for the bento box. Use small pieces of cooked chicken, beef, fish, tofu or beans to add protein. Small sausages, chicken nuggets, fish sticks or meatballs are very convenient for Bento! The amount of protein should not exceed the amount of vegetables so make sure to leave an appropriate place for the vegetables.
Cut up vegetables into bite-size pieces. Choose brightly colored vegetables and use them raw or lightly steamed or boiled so they retain much of their color and nutrition. The vegetables can also be used to fill up the remaining gaps between the different dishes.
Use as many colors as you can (traditionally five), to ensure that the meal is both nutritionally balanced and visually appealing. If you are interested in reading about the Five Fives, click here. The colors are: red or orange, yellow, green, white and black or purple. For example, use carrots or tomatoes for orange or red, cut-up omelet or bell pepper for yellow, steamed greens for green, rice for white and seaweed for black.
Cook dishes in at least two (traditionally five) ways to add variety to the bento box. If you fry the meat, then serve vegetables steamed. Varying the cooking techniques provides textural differences, taste differences and ensures that an unhealthy technique such as frying is served in a limited quantity. source
If you want to follow ねこちゃん to her kitchen and see how she implemented the rules above,read on!
I first start by opening the fridge and taking a look. Are there any leftovers? meat? vegetables that need to be cooked? Don’t forget that usually a Bento consists mainly of leftovers.
Doesn’t look like much.. Some leftover tofu, two Inari pouches and Brussels sprouts that all need to be consumed and some rocket. While taking out the tofu and the rest, my brain starts to think about how to prepare the tofu and the Brussels sprouts. I pretty soon recognize that I will have to open the freezer too because a meal consisting of tofu and Brussels sprouts just isn’t very satisfying. Let’s open the freezer!
What do we have here? I already know that I need some more colors because until now I have only green (sprouts) and white (tofu). Unfortunately the impact of the white is only really great if it’s purely white so I need something other that is white because when the tofu is fried in the pan it becomes golden, brown and yellow and doesn’t stay purely white. The fish cake is pink and great to fill gaps or to decorate, the pumpkin has a beautifully strong orange color and the chilli has the perfect red. That’s all I need from the fridge! There would have been also other things like chicken for example but since I had to use up the tofu and you shouldn’t use too much protein, I decided against the chicken and made a vegetarian Obento. The tofu will be stir-fried with some garlic, spring onions and chilli while the Inari pouches will be filled with whole grain rice. The Brussels sprouts are the main vegetable and will be simply cooked in salty water. But there’s still the problem with the white.. and trust me, white is a really, really important color for a Bento so I decided to take an egg. As bed for the egg halves I will use the rocket.
In the end I didn’t even use the baby corn so you see, you can make a cute and well-balanced Bento also with only a few ingredients. I dare to say that you can still make it look amazing with the details in your decoration! The only things that are missing on the picture above are the rice and the fish cake. Now you have to be smart with the colors. Of course you could add the pumpkin to the tofu/spring onion/chilli mix but you need the orange alone! The key to a stunning Obento is the contrast of colors. If you mix everything together until it becomes a uniform mass the colors won’t show up enough and all your effort to choose many different colors was in vain. An other crucial point is how you arrange your Bento. Every single component should have its place. Don’t place something orange near something red, try to put colors together that complement one another, for example green with red. The Bento should be packed really tightly so don’t be afraid to fill in those gaps! It also looks nice if you separate the different dishes with a salad leaf or thin cucumber slices. You could also pack every single dish in a silicone or paper cup but I’m not a big fan of it because I don’t like to have uneatable things in my food.
While I was pretty satisfied with the upper part where the egg and the Inari zushi are, I don’t think that the other half came out too good. I used whole grain rice what made the whole color thing a little bit complicated for me. Imagine if there was white rice instead of that brownish/greenish rice…(I even sprinkled Furikake over it.. ) I tried to lighten up the area with a piece of Daikon shaped like a pea but I’m not sure about the effect. Of course the brown rice gives the whole Bento a healthy looking touch but white rice would have looked nicer I think.
So you see, it’s a lot about colors and matching them, like in fashion! muahahrhrhr
Of course you can cut out any shape from a vegetable or make eyes out of seaweed and other things but that’s only to cuten up your Bento. You don’t need to cut the fish cake like a rabbit, place faces on eggs or cut a heart out of a chilli to make you Bento look great, the composotion of different foods and colors should be enough but if you want it cute, here you go!
Keep the ratio thing in mind, pack it tightly and match the right colors and that’s it. I hope this little tutorial (ok… it’s not really a tutorial but more my thoughts..) was helpful for all of you who want to try making Bento! And thanks again
NicNic, for this wonderful idea.