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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Effortless Bento - Book Review

I was asked to read & review a new bento book and happily agreed. Effortless Bento, edited by Shufu-no-Tomo, is among the newest bento books on the market.

Exhaustive & encyclopedic, this book includes information on all aspects of bento making from choosing a bento box & keeping it clean to choosing & preparing foods ideally suited for a bento lunch. Tips for freezing uncooked foods are included as well, and there is even a section on sterilizing your bento box.
The "Effortless" part of the title refers to the numerous dishes that can be prepared in multiple servings and frozen or refrigerated for later use. Shelf life is indicated for each recipe as well as thawing tips (some foods can be packed frozen and allowed to thaw in the bento box) and reheating guidelines.

The layout seemed confusing at first, but after a second read I understood the sense of it. Frozen foods are presented first, sorted by type of meat (pork, chicken, seafood, beef), then refrigerated foods, similarly arranged. Each section starts with a few full bento lunches, including photos of the finished meal. Recipes for the dishes shown, and for others, follow.

Next is a section of side dishes, arranged by color. In bento making, including foods from five different color groups (red, green, yellow, black & white) is considered essential for good nutrition. This is followed by a section of easy to make pickles and convenient store-bought sides.

Recipes include step-by-step instructions, numerous photos and extra tips to ensure success. Also included are tips for packing wet foods, side dishes, sauces and "extras". Recipes for many "standard" or favorite recipes are here as well as some that may be new to you, as they were to me.

What's missing is a glossary of Japanese foods & equipment such as agar, certain vegetables, a Japanese omelet pan, and information on where they can be found. If you live in an area where Asian markets are plentiful you should have no trouble. A little research online or at the library can help you become familiar with these foods & techniques. That said many of the ingredients should be easily found in most supermarkets.

If you're looking for cute animal faces, apples cut into rabbits, hot dog octopi or sandwiches in the shape of cartoon characters you won't find them here. Instead you'll find simple, substantial bento lunches that will appeal to the adult appetite as well as to kids.

For someone new to bento making, this may be the only book you'll need. My guess, though, is that you'll want to add to your bento library as you gain experience and become more adventurous. If you are familiar with bento already, consider this a good addition to your collection.

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