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Posted on Sep 18, 2007 in Beans, Bento, Eggs, Fish or Seafood, Leftover Remake, Meat, Potatoes, Poultry, Rice, Tips, Tofu | 28 comments

Make-ahead lunch tips from Japanese magazine

Make-ahead lunch tips from Japanese magazine


A recent issue of Japanese cooking magazine Orange Page (529,447 circulation) featured a cover story on make-ahead bentos with zero morning prep aside from assembly. Now when they say make-ahead, they’re assuming that you have fresh rice, but you could also make this ahead of time and freeze in rice ball form or in the shape of your lunch container. Because the leftovers are already cold from the refrigerator, you can speed up your morning prep even more because you don’t have to let the entire lunch cool before closing the lid (for optimum packed lunch food safety). I’ve summarized the article below with general tips and recipe titles; click on either photo for an annotated view with English translations (edit: first photo link now fixed).

Orange Page magazine story

1. Retain flavor with oil-based sauces
(After cooking, cool, then store in the refrigerator together with the sauce. Drain before packing in a bento. Keeps for 2-3 days in the fridge.)

  • Mini hamburgers with oil-based sauce (salad oil, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, mirin and soy)
  • Beef and eggplant stir-fry
  • Chicken breast and green peppers grilled with sauce of miso, salad oil, sake and sugar
  • Stir-fry of pork and kinoko mushrooms with ketchup sauce (olive oil, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce)

2. Retain flavor with vinegar-based sauces
(Cook, cool, transfer to a storage container together with the sauce, and store in refrigerator. Drain properly before packing in bento lunch. Keeps in refrigerator for 2-3 days.

  • Japanese fried chicken (‘kara-age’) with Asian pickling sauce (vinegar, soy, sesame oil, sake, sugar)
  • Swordfish with julienned carrot in curry pickling sauce (vinegar, mirin, soy, curry powder and salt)
  • Chicken breast with ume sauce (pickled plum, vinegar, mirin, soy)
  • Eggs simmered in abura-age soybean pouches (sauce: vinegar, Worcestershire sauce)

9/17/07 Orange Page magazine on make-ahead bento lunches

3. Make egg omelettes ahead of time
(Frittatas and tamagoyaki Japanese rolled omelette — make, cool, slice, and store in little containers in the fridge or freezer. To store in freezer, wrap individual servings in plastic wrap and put into a freezer bag. To pack a frozen serving, just you can either allow it to defrost in the refrigerator first before packing, or just pack it frozen in the bento box if you allow a few hours for it to defrost naturally. Will keep in the freezer for 2-3 weeks, or for 2 days in the refrigerator. Tamagoyaki tutorial here, and tutorial for a frittata using leftover pasta here.)

  • Tamagoyaki with sardines and mitsuba herb
  • Tamagoyaki with ‘sakura-ebi’ dried shrimp and leeks
  • Tamagoyaki with flaked salmon and watercress
  • Frittata with ham and ‘eringi’ oyster mushroom
  • Frittata with ground beef and red bell pepper
  • Frittata with tuna and corn

4. Add volume with potato salad and pasta salad
(Pasta salad tip: After boiling the pasta, quickly drain and toss it with salt, pepper and a little vinegar to add flavor)

  • Potato salad with cucumbers, ham and onions
  • Potato salad with tarako (cod roe)
  • Potato salad with cream cheese and walnuts
  • Macaroni salad with cucumber, onions and sliced cheese
  • Macaroni salad with fake crab and broccoli
  • Macaroni salad with sausage and cabbage

5. Use dry pantry items for a “healthy, delicious menu”

  • Simmered soybeans (Japanese style, Italian style with tomatoes and sausage, “ethnic style” with green beans)
  • Simmered hijiki (Japanese style with carrots and abura-age soy wrappers, Western style with bacon and ‘renkon’ lotus root, or Korean style with tofu and nira leeks
  • Simmered daikon radish strips (Japanese style with carrots and kamaboko, Western style with corn and red bell pepper, or Chinese style with Chinese pickles)

6. Vegetable side dishes
(As with many bento cookbooks, these are separated by color for when you pack according to the 5-color rule of thumb.)

  • Red/orange: Marinated carrots with lemon and honey, pickled carrots with garlic, fried red bell peppers, red bell peppers with ground peanuts, cherry tomatoes marinated in herb oil, radish slices pickled with ginger
  • Green: Cole slaw, pickled cabbage and ginger, green beans with ground sesame seeds, long-simmered green beans, bell pepper strips with bonito flakes and soy sauce (‘okaka’), fried bell pepper with shichimi pepper, broccoli with ‘sakura-ebi’ dried shrimp, and Chinese cabbage (‘komatsuna’) with spicy mayonnaise sauce



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  1. Ah, I recognize this publisher… They have a large assortment of wonderful cookbooks!

    Thanks for your translated summary. I try to cook my food the day before too (so that the only thing I have to do in the morning will be the assembling). I should look into some of the vegetable side dishes.

  2. This is fantastic Biggie! Once more, I regret not joining my friends for Japanese lessons. Add to that this fantastic Japanese Obento Cookbook I bought for cheap—which I can’t read.

  3. Hi, have been following your blog via Livejournal and enjoying it immensely.

    Great tips, especially since I’m trying to eat more Japanese-style dishes on a daily basis.

    (I’d buy the magazine, but it’s not easy to get Japanese mags where I live…)

  4. I love your site, and this post was exactly what I needed today!

    Thank you so much, Biggie :)

  5. Oh I buy Japanese cooking magazines when I come across them. Why not train my dwindling reading profiency in Japanese with cooking magazines since I love cooking anyway. Far better than the technical texts on vessel velocity that I did at university (don’t ask) ;).

    Do you manage to subscribe or buy by the issue?

  6. i saw this article on wikihow and immediately thought of your blog!

  7. Love your site- I check it often and this is a wonderful post!

    Thank you!

  8. That’s great! Thanks for sharing this. I really wish there were more English publications, stores, and overall support of Bento.
    On a high note, while taking the checkbook to DH who had left it, I found a DAISO in San Diego! I literally screamed! I’ve been in that area numerous times and have never seen it there. I’ve searched Daiso’s site for locations, too and never found a close one.

  9. Very cool site! I take a bento to work every day (Wife is Japanese), usually with leftovers or whatever I might think of that’ll fit. But now, I see more possibilites….

    You’ve got a lot of great ideas!

  10. Love your site! You should check this site out

  11. @1 from Commoi: One of my Japanese-Brazilian friends turned me on to Orange Page over the last year as an approachable Japanese cooking magazine with recipes you can tackle in little time. I haven’t read many of their proper cookbooks much yet, but I’ll make a point to look next time I’m in Kinokuniya.

  12. @2 from kaoko: Ooh, cheap bento cookbook? Score!!! Oh, I was exploring a new Asian supermarket near me the other week, bought some tocino and thought of you. ;-)

  13. @3 from Miyuki Mouse: Love your screen name, MM! Thanks for the kind comments; I realize that I’m fortunate in my access to Japanese books here in the SF Bay Area.

  14. @4 from Konekina: Hooray, glad I could make your day better!

  15. @5 from Jessica: This is such a great approach to language — read about something you’re interested in anyway, just do it in the target language. I used to do that in school with French cooking and fashion magazines as well. So much more fun than slogging through textbooks. I picked up this Orange Page as a one-off in a local market — my local library has a branch that gets Shufu no Tomo, Lettuce Club, Orange Page, etc. so I can go there for back issues without shelling out the money myself.

  16. @6 from mai-mai: Evidently that WikiHow article on making bento was pushed on MyYahoo as the daily How To yesterday. Looks like bentos are going mainstream!

  17. @7 from diane: Thank you for the kind comment, Diane! The topic was a good match for the site — I couldn’t resist doing a summary to give everyone an idea of what’s being written.

  18. @8 from Monica: Great discovery on the San Diego Daiso!!! That’ll come in handy for your new bento website, no?

  19. @9 from cbattle: Hey, thanks for the nice words! (Love the illustrations on your site, BTW.) Yeah, the whole bento thing didn’t really do much for me until I started combing through J-lang bento cookbooks, getting more ideas for how to pack a varied diet.

  20. @10 from Eve: Ah, Fit N Fresh. I’ve got the salad container (which I like) and the hot/cold soup/salad container, which has a faulty ice ring (I’m not the only one — others report the same problem on Amazon). I like the built-in ice packs for food safety, but they’re a little bulky.

  21. I went to Kinokuniya yesterday and I couldn’t find this issue on the magazine stands! ;_;

  22. @21 from FUYU: I picked this issue up (in SF at Nijiya market in Japantown) last week on Tuesday, so it’s probable they’ve moved on to the next issue by now. If you have a library that stocks Japanese publications they might have a copy you could browse…

  23. Thanks a lot for your reply Biggie! I’m in San Jose, so I went to the Kinokuniya over here looking for that issue. We have two Nijiya stores (here and in mountain view) so I’ll check out if they might still carry it.

  24. Flickrの_yoko_です。 こちらでは 初めまして ですね。

    私も慌てて本屋に買いに行ったけど、もう次の号が発売されていて 買い損ねました・・・日本にいるというのに、残念。 けどbiggieさんのサイトで中身を少し見ることができluckyです。

  25. @25 from Yoko: Yokoさん、ようこそ!

  26. Hi! I just found your site recently and I love it! I was wondering how (or if) we should wrap frozen items up when we put them in our bento? I don’t know if leaving a thawing item inside will make other items nearby mushy. Thanks for your help! :D

  27. Great beat ! I would like to apprentice while you amend your website, how can i subscribe for a blog web site? The account helped me a acceptable deal. I had been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast offered bright clear idea

  28. I was just looking for this information for a while. After six hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your web site. I wonder what is the lack of Google strategy that don’t rank this kind of informative sites in top of the list. Usually the top sites are full of garbage.


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