Nikujaga is Japanese comfort food – the sort of thing cooked by mothers for their children in winter. It’s not usually served in bentos, but you can always reheat it the next day for lunch – or eat it cold! It has a sweet, salty taste which is absolutely delicious.

Nikujaga bento

To make this bento, you need carrots, tomatoes, soy sauce eggs, edamame beans, a piece of rolled omelette, cooked Japanese rice, furikake and nikujaga, made with the recipe below. You also need an onigiri shaper, a vegetable cutter, two bento cups and a two-tier bento. About an hour before you make the bento, prepare the quail eggs by hard boiling, peeling and soaking them in some soy sauce.

Place a small amount of drained nikujaga in a bento dish on the bottom layer of your bento box, and fill the remaining space with an onigiri rolled in furikake. On the top layer, place your rolled omelette in a small bento cup, and place pieces of carrot along the side which have been cut into little shapes with your cutter. Then, alternate the soy sauce eggs with tomatoes, and fill the remaining space with boiled edamame beans, sprinkled with a little salt.

Recipe for nikujaga

Ingredients

250g thinly sliced beef brisket, cut into small pieces

700g potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks

2 small white onions, peeled and cut into small wedges

1 tbsp oil

600ml dashi

4 tbsp sugar

5 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp mirin

1 tbsp sake

Chives

Seven-spice

Method

Heat the oil and cook the potatoes for two minutes. Add the meat and onions, stir well and cook for another two minutes.

Add the dashi, sugar, soy sauce, mirin and sake and simmer the mixture with a drop-lid on top until the potatoes are cooked though – this should take about 15 minutes.

For a bento, allow to cool before straining off most of the liquid and placing in your bento. Cooling the mixture in the liquid allows the flavours to deepen. When eating, you can have it cold or reheat it. Nikujaga is far from traditional bento food, but you just might find you like it cold the next day!

Note

If you don’t have a drop lid, you can make one by using a lid which is slightly smaller than the inside of your saucepan. Or, use a piece of greaseproof paper with a small hole cut in the middle for a vent.

Fruit, rice and nikujaga bento

This recipe originally appeared in 501 Bento Box Lunches, published by Graffito Books.

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