So you’ve exhausted ideas for your bento box, and you’re pressed for time, but you still want to make a bento that not only looks great but tastes great. And you’re limited in ingredients. That’s a lot of checkboxes to tick.
A Japanese style bento typically contains not just one ‘main’ dish, but also a number of side dishes that play an equal role in making the meal not only look great but provides healthy nourishment (well, more or less!). One might often wonder, how does anyone have the time prepare a complicated bento with 3-5 side dishes, every single day?
Well, many households in Japan prepare several side dishes at once which can be refrigerated for a couple of days or frozen. All one then needs to do is choose to add a couple of these to a main dish in a bento on any given day, or even forgo the main dish. And voila, you have a great looking and yummy bento!
The produce available in Australian supermarkets is obviously different from what you might get from a Japanese one, and as an extension, some Japanese bento side dish ideas may be difficult to make because of this.
So, to help with your daily bento making odyssey, we’ve compiled 9 side dish ideas that you can use not only for a Japanese/Asian style bento but for any lunch box for that matter. These can be easily prepared in 5-10 minutes, with only 2-3 ingredients each (plus seasoning). And the great thing is you should be able to get all the ingredients from a local supermarket, like IGA, Aldi, Woolworths or Coles. Or support your local grocer!
Bento side dish ideas
1. Edamame and cocktail frankfurt fry mix (Cooking time, 5 mins)
- Boil edamame and cocktail frankfurts together for 2-3 mins.
- Remove edamame from skin and cut the frankfurts into 5mm to 10mm thick circles.
- Fry together in a pan. Add salt and pepper for seasoning.
2. Teriyaki potato (Cooking time, about 10 mins)
- Cut one potato into 6-8mm thick halves or quarters.
- Wash in water and dry with a paper towel.
- Mix potatoes in half tablespoon each of cooking sake, mirin and soy sauce, and a quarter tablespoon of sugar. Increase proportionately if cooking more potatoes.
- Add the whole mix and fry the potatoes in a frying pan with cooking oil until browned on both sides. Add water just to cover base of potatoes, about cover the pan and steam for 2-3 mins.
- Remove potatoes. Garnish with white sesame seeds if you like.
3. Carrot and potato mayonnaise salad (Cooking time, about 10 mins)
- Cut one potato and half a carrot into small cubes (adjust to your liking).
- Just cover the cubes in a pot with water and bring to boil.
- Once potatoes are cooked (~5 mins, check), remove the water or swirl the pot until any remaining water is mostly evaporated.
- Add a few pinches of salt, half a teaspoon of white vinegar, and Kewpie mayonnaise to desired taste. Mix.
4. Mini tomato sauté (Cooking time, 5 mins)
- In a fry pan, add half a tablespoon of butter (adjust as needed).
- Add mini tomatoes.
- On medium to high heat, cook until soft. Keep rolling tomatoes so they don't burn.
- Add salt and pepper for seasoning.
5. Green capsicum and tuna curry fry (Cooking time, 5 mins)
- Cut a green capsicum vertically into quarters, then cut into strips.
- In a frying pan add a can of tuna in olive oil (add all the oil). Add the capsicum.
- Cook for 2-3 mins.
- Add half a tablespoon of curry powder of your choice (e.g. Keens curry powder), a tablespoon of cooking sake, a teaspoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of sugar. You can adjust ratios to taste.
- Stir through and done!
6. Cabbage butter sauté (Cooking time, 5 mins)
- Cut a quarter of cabbage (or desired amount) into bite sized pieces with your hands or knife.
- In a fry pan, melt 10-20g of butter (adjust amount to taste).
- Add cabbage, mix and cook on high heat (2-3 mins).
- Season with salt and pepper.
7. Sweet potatoes in butter and soy sauce (Cooking time, 5 mins)
- Peel half a sweet potato (or desired amount) and cut into small 1cm cubes. Wash lightly in water.
- Add into a bowl and cover with plastic or silicone wrap. You want to have as tight a seal as possible.
- Microwave for 2-4 mins (depending on the power level, you’ll need to find the right time needed to cook the potatoes).
- Check if cooked through.
- Add 10-20g butter (or as desired) and a dab of soy sauce. Mix well.
- Garnish with sesame seeds.
8. Onion and corn kernel butter sauté (Cooking time, 5 mins)
- Cut a small onion into rings.
- Cook in a fry pan with 10-20g of butter for 2-3mins or until soft.
- Add any desired amount of corn kernels from a can to the mix.
- Stir through for another minute or two.
- Season with salt and pepper.
9. Garlic mushroom sauté (Cooking time, 5-7 mins)
- You can use any mushroom for this. Here, we have shiitake and brown mushrooms, cut into thin slices.
- Cut a clove of garlic into thin slices.
- Fry the garlic in olive oil.
- Add mushrooms and cook for 3-5 mins, or until cooked through.
- Season with salt and pepper. You can add some lemon juice drops for some contrasting flavour.
The side dishes in action
So how would these look like in a real bento box? Here are two bentos prepped with these side dishes. One is in the Tochi woodgrain 1 tier bento box:
You can see they add lots of colour and variety to this bento box (ok, we did add additional steamed broccoli as a filler because this bento box is pretty large!).
The other example we have is in the Kuro (metallic black) 1 tier bento box, below. We topped the rice off with a shiso (purple) and cod roe (pink) furikake rice seasoning.
By choosing and arranging the right side dish, you can really make your bento stand out, look more appetizing and taste better! Using a bento divider cup also helps with the organization. And you didn't have to spend hours preparing all the food at once!
Which bento side dish will you prepare?
And there you have it! Nine extremely easy and quick bento side dishes you can conjure up with ingredients you can get from your local supermarket in Australia. Which one(s) will you make? These will surely add colour and variety to your bento. You could even prepare all of these for a fun bento grazing box at a party or housewarming, just like the one pictured at the top of this article - the Shirayuki 2 Tier picnic bento box.