GF Vegetarian Lunch Tiffin Bento Menu for the DH: Goat Cheese Quesadillas and Lemongrass Corn Recipe

August 13th, 2008 yum Posted in Bento, Corn, Corn Tortillas, Goat Cheese, South American, Thai, Vegetarian 5 Comments »

Just a few nights ago we had a lovely green vegetable curry, rice, and a lemongrass corn stir fry in the spirit of one of my favorite cuisines- Thai. For DH’s taste sensibilities (and sensitive stomach) I tamed the usually spicy green curry down to the spice level of, oh, let’s say a mild yellow curry. Oh, the things we do for love. But I also put all my favorite vegetables- eggplant AND red pepper- into the curry, and poor DH doesn’t care for them at all. To make it up to him I made a lovely lemongrass corn stir fry that I just knew he’d love- especially stripped of the spiciness called for in the original recipe. He liked the green curry well enough, eggplant aside, but he absolutely raved about the lemongrass corn stir fry. Do I know my DH’s taste buds or what?

When I found out he was going to have a short lunch break today (due to a little Comcast errand, sigh), I decided to do what any loving wife with ties to Japan or India might do- make my DH a very special tiffin/ bento lunch so even if he couldn’t eat it at home, he could have a real meal back at work. I didn’t count on his enthusiasm- I handed him his bento (Japanese word for boxed lunch) and he immediately pulled the thing apart and started chomping. Good thing it was all packed up.

As for the contents of aforementioned tiffin..

For some reason, the corn stir fry made me think of South American corn-salsa dishes, despite the more exotic lemongrass and thai basil notes in the dish. I couldn’t help myself- I reached into the fridge, took out some corn tortillas from the fridge, and turned them into tasty quesadillas. I used some pre-grated cheese from Trader Joe’s and added some drunken goat cheese (flavored with wine, silly- the goats weren’t actually tipsy) and suddenly had a much more gourmet quesadilla. Layer one of the tiffin held corn quesadilla triangles.

In layer two, I put a generous helping of lemongrass corn stir-fry and then added a corner of avocado sprinkled with salt and a little cup with yogurt.

Finally, in layer three I placed some fresh nectarine and peach cubes (from the farmer’s market this weekend) and freshened them up with a little fresh key lime juice.

This lunch was a great way to use up “leftovers” in an entirely new way. Amazingly, Thai and South American flavors CAN go together beautifully in a tiffin… or in a bento, for that matter. (Depending on if you want to give it an Indian or Japanese twist.) And of course, every element in the tiffin was completely gluten-free.

Now that school season is looming- what do you like to pack in YOUR (or your child’s-or your partner’s) lunch box? I’d love to hear your Lunchbox menus in the comments!

PS I picked up this beautiful little tiffin box on our last trip to India. Isn’t it great? I am getting quite a collection of tiffin boxes- they’re the handiest things ever.

Fusion South American Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Corn Saute
8 corn tortillas
1/3 bag of a Pre-grated low fat cheese like mozzarella
1 2 inch cube of a gourmet hard goat cheese, such as drunken goat cheese (with wine), cut into slivers or shredded

1/4 recipe of Lemongrass Corn Stir Fry (Recipe posted below)

1 Avocado
1 small heirloom tomato (optional), cubed
kosher salt, for sprinkling
1/2 lime or a few key limes

Low fat sour cream or plain low fat yogurt

Heat a cast iron pan on medium-high and place two corn tortillas so that as much surface as possible is touching the pan and lightly brown. Turn one over so that the remaining untoasted side is touching the pan surface and sprinkle some of your pre-shredded cheese on the browned top. Distribute a small amount of the gourmet goat cheese over the pre-shredded stuff and then cover it with the browned side of the second tortilla, leaving the untoasted side facing up. When the quesadilla is toasted on one side, carefully turn it over and brown the remaining side. (All four sides of the tortillas will have been lightly toasted.)

Remove quesadilla from pan, and make the rest of the quesadillas, following the same method. Meanwhile cube your avocado and heirloom tomato and sprinkle with salt. Squirt with a little fresh lime juice and reserve. To serve, cut each quesadilla into four triangles. Plate with lemongrass corn stir fry as a topping, and add your fresh avocado tomato “salad” on the side, along with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream. Enjoy!

Lemongrass Corn Stir Fry
1 1/2 tbsp. peanut or other flavorful oil
inner portion of 1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
2 tbsp. preserved chopped lemongrass
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. butter
1 medium onion, minced
3 cups corn kernels (about 3 ears of fresh corn)
3/4 cup gluten-free vegetarian broth (i use bullion)
2 tsp fresh lime zest
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
[pescatarian variation: add 1 tbsp. fish sauce]

1-2 tbsp. freshly julienned thai basil

Heat oil in wok on high and toss in the lemongrass. Let it sizzle and start to brown and then add your garlic, butter, and onion. Cook until they brown and then add your corn, and stir fry until brown. Add your vegetable broth and stir constantly until broth has reduced and been absorbed into the corn.

Add your lime zest, lime juice, variation elements and heat. At the last minute stir in your fresh basil, taste, season with salt if necessary and serve.

You can add a spicy flavor element if desired, like hot sauce or cayenne pepper.

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Gluten-Free Vegetarian Bento: Gobo Kinpira Recipe, Lotus Root Sesame Stir Fry Recipe, and Inari Zushi Recipe

January 15th, 2008 yum Posted in Bento, Japanese, Vegetables, Vegetarian, tofu 14 Comments »


What with unappetizing airline food, unhealthy cafeteria food, and limited lunchtime options at the office, the Japanese Bento tradition has never been more appealing. People interested in lower calorie meals, vegetarian cuisine, and allergy friendly meals-to-go have found bento to be useful and delicious option. But what IS a bento?

“Bentō (弁当 or べんとう, Bentō) is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento consists of rice, a protein element, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables as a side dish. ” (source: Wikipedia)

In Japan, packed lunch for children can be insanely complicated, with Mothers buying books full of decorative ideas for making the perfect bento that is as balanced in color and design as it is in nutrition. There has recently been an explosion of gorgeous blogs on the blogosphere aimed at introducing the bento to a wider audience. Some of my favorites include:

Biggie’s Lunch in a Box (See her recent post on airline meal bentos for some great ideas for the gluten-free traveler)
Maki, Just Hungry creator’s Just Bento
Bento TV for when text and pictures just aren’t enough and you crave cute video.
An old favorite,Cooking Cute, a blog that no longer has new posts but has some great archives.

While these blogs are not vegetarian, they have a plethora of ideas that can easily be made vegetarian simply by substituting a protein source. While fried dishes may not be as appealing cold, and the gluten-free bento creator may wish to steer clear of battered main dishes, sweet simmered dishes like the below kinpira gobo or vegetable salad dishes are a natural to convert to gluten-free with a switch to wheat-free soy sauce like San-J.

A collection of vegetarian sides from the following books can be a great start for a gluten-free bento, although vegetarians may find the fish and meat recipes in the first book to be less than helpful. For vegans or vegetarians, the Vegan Lunchbox Blog author’s book is a great start, although you will find more generally international recipes than Japanese recipes.

Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals on the Go

Easy Japanese Pickling in Five Minutes to One Day: 101 Full-Color Recipes for Authentic Tsukemono

Vegan Lunch Box: 150 Amazing, Animal-free Lunches Kids and Grown-ups Will Love!

bento6.jpg bento31.jpg

For my recent bento, I started with two of my favorite Japanese vegetables- Renkon, or lotus root, and Gobo, also known as burdock. For the renkon side, I experimented with a recipe in one of my favorite Japanese side dishes books, translating it from the Japanese and modifying it to suit our family. I was happy with the resulting recipe, as it was flavorful, crisp and sweet, perfectly taking advantage of the qualities of the lotus root. Meanwhile, I decided to use the gobo for a kinpira, finely chopped vegetable recipe simmered in a flavorful sauce. Because DH has a weakness for thickened sauces, I impulsively added a cornstarch slurry to the dish, and found that it made the delicious sauce stick to the vegetables beautifully. DH said it was his favorite dish I made, so… mission accomplished! And then of course, I needed a starch for the dish, as well as a protein. I went a little unconventional and made another of DH’s favorites- inari zushi, fried tofu pouches filled with rice and simmered in a sweet, tamari broth.

We were able to enjoy these side dishes in several slightly different meals. We enjoyed all three dishes for a dinner and then a bento the next day. I also made some brown rice later and enjoyed it with the two sides once we had eaten the inari zushi. To make it more fun I shaped the brown rice using 1/3 cup measuring cups and added a leaf of parsley to each circle. Tasty AND healthy. DH pronounced the experiment delicious, and I satisfied my craving for home-style Japanese food that I enjoyed so much while we lived in Japan.

So why not try packing your own gourmet, Japanese, gluten-free bento lunch the next time eating out or relying on airlines gets you down? Nothing like a yummy bento in the fridge or cooler to make you look forward to lunch. :) Have you tried making a bento? Tell me about your experiences or favorite bento side-dishes in the comments.


Other Book of Yum Recipes perfect for a packed lunch:
Vegetarian Sesame Spinach Onigiri Recipe
Japanese Potato Salad Recipe
More Japanese Onigiri, with pescatarian Korean recipe and two Vegetarian dishes

Vegetarian Inari Zushi
3 1/2 cup cooked sushi rice
1 package of fresh aburage fried tofu sheet package(containing 5 pieces)- found in the refrigerator tofu section in your local Japanese or Chinese market. (Canned varieties may contain wheat soy sauce and who wants canned fried tofu anyway, yuck.)
3 1/2 tbsp sugar (or slightly less, to taste)
2 1/3 tbsp wheat-free tamari like San-J low sodium
3 1/2 tbsp water

1 tbsp light sesame seeds
1 tsp kurogoma black sesame seeds
pickled ginger for garnish if desired

Start your sushi rice in the rice cooker.

Cut your Aburage in half so you have two pouches ready for use. Bring a pan of water to boil and add your fried tofu pouches, submerging them beneath the boiling water for two minutes or so. Take off burner and drain, submerge in cold water and then drain again.

Combine your sugar, water, and tamari in the same pan (cleaned). Bring it to a boil, then add your drained aburage to the boiling flavored liquid. Lower the temperature and simmer the fried tofu in the liquid until it has all absorbed into the tofu.

Get your rice and sprinkle it with light sesame seeds (toasted). If the rice sticks to your hands, get a dish filled with water and a healthy splash of vinegar to periodically dip your hands into. Grab a portion of rice (about the size of an egg) and fill the individual aburage pouch with rice. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds and add a piece of pickled ginger or two if you like. Continue until all the pouches are filled. Enjoy!

Renkon Lotus Root Sesame Stir Fry Recipe
1 whole Renkon a.k.a. Lotus Root, raw
4 green onions
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil (Japanese brand)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp wheat-free soy sauce like San-J low sodium
light sesame seeds, if desired
Peel the renkon/lotus root. Quickly use a mandoline, food processor, or knife to thinly slice the renkon. Put each slice in a large bowl of water as you slice it. Cut your green onions into 2 inch long pieces, separating into two piles white bulb part of stalk from green stalk.

Heat a wok and add your tablespoon of sesame oil. When it is hot, add your slices of renkon and stir fry them until they are no longer fully opaque. It’s desirable to get them to brown as much as possible without burning, in my opinion. You can add the white parts of the green onion at this stage or partway through this stage if you want. When the renkon looks mostly done, add a hearty sprinkling of sesame seeds and the combined sugar and soy sauce. Mix the sauce and sesame seeds throughout the dish and let it heat until its warm but not burnt. Sprinkle the green part of the green onion stalk, let it wilt and remove from heat and serve.

Gobo Burdock Root Kinpira Recipe
6″ Gobo (Burdock root), cleaned and peeled (This is a long, brown,
cylindrical root looking thing, found in asian markets and excellent produce departments of grocery stores)
1 tsp cooking oil (i used peanut, anything is ok)
1 tsp sesame oil (unless you have allergies, obviously)
1/2 carrot, julienned
3 tsp GF tamari (or slightly less, to taste)
2 tsp each sugar, mirin, and sake
4 tbsp water
2 tsp cornstarch, mixed into 1 tbsp. of the above water.

Peel the burdock root and cut it into slightly oversized matchsticks and immediately put in bowl filled with water. When ready to prepare, drain off water.

Heat oils in a pan and saute the gobo for a few minutes, and add the julienned carrot. Mix evenly and add the seasonings. Cook for two minutes or longer and add cornstarch slurry. Let thicken, and then serve. Sprinkle with black or brown toasted sesame seeds if desired.

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