Okazu Marathon 2 – Bento shortcuts

No.96

Bento made in 15 minutes

Hello again, bento friends! I hope you enjoyed the last post of Tamagoyaki. It is Day 2 of my Okazu Marathon and I would like to write about making a bento really fast.  Mornings are the most hectic part of the day for many households and sometimes you like to sleep a little longer in the morning. Yeah, I have those days too.  There are good shortcuts that you can learn to make your bento cooking time shorter and I would very much like to share them with you. 🙂

But how fast is “fast”?  I had this question in my mind. I wondered how much time people in Japan are spending to make a bento in Japan and I found 2 different results from 2 different surveys. (Yes I like surveys ヽ(′▽`*)ノ )  The average amount of time from the first survey (1000 women of 20-59 years old in Japan were asked in 2011) was 24.6 minutes and the second survey (1500 parents of children aged 3-12 years old in Japan were asked in 2012) showed a little longer time of 33 minutes. Hmm…

This does not include time of planning nor shopping and in the country where bento was born there are many helpful frozen food or convenience products for bento and Japanese people are very used to save some food from the dinner for the next day’s bento. We used to call it “Left-over bento” but nowadays we call it “Plan-over bento“.  When you know you will be busy the next day you can make a little extra at dinner. I think one extra portion can serve 2 bentos, so if you have a family of 4 and have to make 2 bentos, prepare the dinner for 5 people. Save the extra portion and put it away before you serve the dinner to your family and you will have a plan-over bento!

I have some recipes that I have used so many times that I can cook it without having the recipe in front of me. They are like dependable good friends whom I can ask for help when I do not have much time. Having these recipes will save your cooking time and I hope you will find some favorites and teach yourselves really well. Even learning how to cook a perfect soft boiled egg can be a very dependable friend. When we can cook something without thinking or worrying, it usually goes very fast.

Slice them thinly!

I like vegetables very much and I think I buy fairly much of it every week. There are so many kinds of vegetables in the market and it is very fun to expand my vegetable vocabulary.  For making bento okazu, I see vegetables in 2 separate categories : Vegetables like paprika, all kinds of mushrooms, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, cabbage, green onion and spinach belong to the first category, vegetables you can eat raw and they are good ingredients for a quick okazu as they do not take so much time to be cooked through. But vegetables like carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, potato, pumpkin, eggplant, asparagus, green beans and okra have to be cooked first and it takes a longer time.  When you use these vegetables cutting them in thin slice or julienne will be helpful as the heat can penetrate through easier and it thus takes a shorter time. 

Wok in sesame oil, seasoned with salt and pepper

I think we should teach ourselves more about vegetables. Become a expert like a sommelier of vegetables that are rich in fiber, nutrients and antioxidants and they make a great bento okazu. Thanks to the advanced transport techniques we do see many imported vegetables. It is always fun to learn how to cook unfamiliar varieties from exotic countries!

I love cutting vegetables and don’t mind the work but there are good slicers and I save a lot of time and work when I use them.

I sliced a half of a large cucumber into tiny julienne with my speedy slicer. It took about 1 minute or so. I toss them in an ice water to make them crisp, leave it for 3 minutes, squeeze out water, mix with crab sticks and mayonnaise, salt and pepper, mustard if you like, and a quick cucumber and crab stick salad is done in 5 minutes.

You can add curry flavor too!
There are many other shortcuts and the good planning and having the menu ready are also very important. You should not get discouraged when you find taking so long time to make a bento. You will learn as you get used to and that is the process everyone goes through. Just continue, just keep on doing. Then suddenly you find your body is just moving smoothly in your kitchen and you will be surprised to see a beautiful bento on your kitchen counter.
Good luck!
xxxxx Rie
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