Soboro Donburi: Rice Bowl with Crumbled Toppings

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Soboro donburi!

Soboro-don is probably one of the easiest Japanese meals you can make. It’s super sweet and savory, and makes a great meal for lunch or dinner. Soboro donburi, or soboro-don for short, literally means “finely crumbled rice bowl.” Its toppings consist of crumbly things like ground beef or pork and scrambled eggs. Usually, there are also some vegetables; peas are especially popular.

This is super fast to make and looks pretty. Eat this hot or make it ahead as a bento. It’s also highly customizable in terms of portion sizes. Just add more rice or more of a particular topping!

Some fun history about rice bowls (one dish meals with rice and some kind of topping): According to Shizuo Tsuji, author of Japanese Cooking: a Simple Art, rice bowls first became popular in Japan during the Meiji era (1868-1912). People were busier and having a one-dish meal was a lot easier than the multiple small dishes found in more traditional cooking.

A Note on Ingredients: A lot of Japanese cooking calls for saké, but don’t worry about using anything fancy. You can buy a cheap one specifically for cooking. It should be in your local Asian market next to the mirin and soy sauce.

Soboro-don

Serves 2

Ingredients

White rice

For the Eggs:

4 eggs

1/4 Teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon saké

1 Tablespoon light soy sauce (usukuchi) (or substitute 1/2 Tablespoon normal)

1 Tablespoon sugar

For the Meat:

1/4 Teaspoon ground ginger

120 grams (4 ounces) ground beef and pork mix

3 Tablespoons saké

1 Tablespoon normal or dark soy sauce

1 Tablespoon sugar

Vegetables:

1/4 cup carrots (about half a large carrot), julienned and cut 2 cm or 1 inch length

1/4 cup (58 ml) water

1/4 cup (about 50 grams) raw peas or snap peas cut into bite size pieces

For meat: Combine all meat ingredients and cook on medium high heat until cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir it as it cooks to make the texture more crumbly.

For Eggs: Beat together all of the egg ingredients. Stir and scramble them on medium high heat until they have a slightly dry and crumbly texture.

For carrots: In a frying pan combine carrots and water and cover with a lid. Allow to boil and steam until the carrots turn a more vibrant orange (about 30 second to 1 minute). Remove from heat immediately, drain, and run under cool water. Alternatively, microwave carrots and water for about 30 seconds in a covered bowl or plate. The goal is a very slightly cooked carrot that is not completely soft.

Assembly: Arrange the ingredients in groups over the rice.

Finished! (or in Japanese dekita!)

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Let’s eat!

This recipe comes from Shizuo Tsuji’s Japanese Cooking: a Simple Art. It’s one of my favorite cookbooks and still considered the best Japanese cookbook written in English after 30 years! It also has tons about Japan’s culinary history as well as cultural tidbits.

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Making Tofu Part 1: Soy Milk

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Nice big mixing bowl full of soy milk

One day, about 2 years ago my husband and I were at the end of a long hike in Japan. Along the river (or was it a scenic irrigation ditch?) at the foot of the mountain stood a tiny picturesque shop selling tofu. With such a perfect setting, we knew we had to try it.

The shop owner, likely observing how obviously foreign we were, asked if we knew how to eat it. “Ummmm, mapo dofu?” Mapo dofu is a heavily seasoned sauce that uses meat to flavor the tofu. Up until this point it was one of the only ways I would eat tofu. The shop keeper told us that this tofu, silken, was best raw, with a little grated ginger, soy sauce, and maybe green onions.

We excitedly took our tofu home and were happily blown away. It definitely measured up to the expectations its picturesque shop had created. This stuff was incredible silky, with a faint nuttiness. I’ve never looked at supermarket tofu the same. Tofu should be subtle not bland.

Flash forward 2 years, and I’m sitting in my living room flipping through a Japanese encyclopedia on how to make everything by hand. Hmmmm…a page on making tofu? All I need is 3 ingredients, and one is water? Let’s try it! Maybe it will be as awesome as that tofu I had forever ago!

The first step is to make soy milk. Even though though you can buy soy milk at the grocery store, it won’t work for making tofu. I think it probably has to do with the type of pasteurization or additives? So here’s how to make soy milk, the first step in making tofu.

Is the tofu I made with this as good as that shop? Well, I messed up the first attempt, so I’ll get back to you! The milk is good though!

Soy Milk

Makes enough for 1 block of tofu

Ingredients

3 cups (300 grams) dried soy beans (NOT fresh edamame)

6 cups (1.4 liters) of water

5 cups (1.2 liters) hot water

First: Soak soybeans in 6 cups of water overnight or until about 3 times in size.

Second: Working in small batches transfer water and beans to a food processor or blender. Zap them for about 2 minutes. You should end up with something that looks like whipped cream with little bean chunks in it. Take some and rub it between your fingers, the pieces should crumble further as you rub them.

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Beans and water after 2 minutes on high
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Dip your finger in it
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Rub your fingers together. The pieces should come apart a little.

To make the soy milk easier to digest (i.e. less gassy), you can replace the old water with fresh water before putting everything in the food processor. Because a lot of the water will have been absorbed in the beans, keep track of how much you throw out so you can replace the correct amount of water.

Third: Unless you have a giant stock pot, get two to three of your largest pots and divide the purée among them. This stuff will foam like crazy once it’s on the heat. Add the hot water. Bring everything to a boil, then immediately turn it down to a simmer for 10 minutes. Everything will be foaming like crazy. Just stir it continuously and try to pour some of the liquid over the foam. If that doesn’t help, go ahead and add a little water. Be careful to make sure you’re scraping the bottom as you stir to keep everything from burning.

When you start, everything will have a slightly sour smell. To me it smells like pumpkin guts. At the end, it should have a slightly sweet nutty smell (like soy milk). If it still smells sour after 10 minutes, allow it to simmer for a while longer. I also found that it was a little less foamy at the end.

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So much foam! I felt like I was trying to make styrofoam!
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The foam went way down by the end. Looks like soapy bubbles!

Fourth: Remove from heat and strain through a cheese cloth. Tightly wrap the leftover soy bean remnants (called okara), and press the bag with a sturdy spoon or ladle to get the extra out.

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My straining set up: cheese cloth, colander, mixing bowl.
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Wrap up the soy bean pieces and squeeze out the last of the soy milk by pushing on it with a sturdy spoon (or ladle).

You’re done! You should now have soy milk and okara. There are a few recipes out there for okara, but I haven’t actually made any of them yet. It’s definitely a new ingredient for me!

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Soy milk on the left, okara on the right.

Dubu Buchim: Korean Fried Tofu

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Dubu buchim: Fried tofu with a tasty sauce!

So today I experimented with making my own tofu (details to come later). It went mostly well, except I ended up with firm tofu instead ofsilken! So my dinner menu needed a quick change and I ended up making dubu buchim. All the blogs I looked at translated it simply as as “Korean fried tofu side dish.”

Anyways, this was DELICIOUS! And super fast. The thing that makes this so fantastic is the sauce. It just has that perfect balance of tangy, sweet, and I don’t know…general yumminess? Frying the tofu also provides a nice contrast of textures.

Even though this is typically a side dish, I think this would make a wonderful main dish. Just make sure you have lots of other dishes to add some more calories and bulk.

Ingredients note: I like to put gochugaru in mine. What is gochugaru? They’re Korean pepper flakes that taste sort of like cayenne and paprika. They’re really spicy though, so leave it out if you don’t like spice. You can also substitute red pepper flakes.

Dubu Buchim

Serves 2-4 as a side dish (2 large helpings, or 4 really small ones)

Ingredients:

Firm tofu

Vegetable oil (or similar)

For the Sauce:

2 Tablespoons green onions, sliced thin

2 Tablespoons red onion, minced

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

1 Tablespoon sesame oil

1 Teaspoon sesame seeds

1 Teaspoon garlic, minced

1/4 Teaspoon gochugaru or red pepper flakes (optional)

1 1/2 Teaspoons honey

First: Slice tofu into 5mm thick (1/4 inch) slices. Place on paper towels and gently press with your hands. Allow to dry out in paper towels while oil heats. Add oil to a depth equal of half the tofu thickness (1/8 inch or 2.5 mm).

Second: Gently add the tofu to the oil. If you drop them in violently, you might get splashed! Allow to fry until a light yellow, about 1 minute. Flip and fry the other side for 10 seconds if it has not browned. Remove from oil to a paper towel to drain.

Third: Mix together all of the sauce ingredients. Lay out the tofu in nice overlapping lines, and drizzle the sauce over the top (or alternatively, leave it on the side for dipping).

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This sauce is so full of things that it’s almost more of a salad!

Most of the blogs out there have pretty similar recipes, but I think my version is most similar to this one. Many thanks Food52!

Hokkaido Potage (AKA Pumpkin Soup)

 

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Hokkaido Pumpkin Potage

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m an American, or just underexposed to culinary words, but potage was a new word for me. In case it is for you too, it’s a soup where you boil everything until it’s soft. In other words, a very very easy soup.

I was a little bit on the fence about posting this recipe here because I’ve been trying to focus on Asian dishes. However, even though this is a Western dish, I feel like it is the sort of thing that would be popular in Japan. To reassure myself, I did a quick Cookpad search and it turned up over 5,000 potage recipes written in Japanese. So there!

The original recipe that inspired this one comes from an online Asian store demonstrating how to use kabocha. Inside of Japan they translate it as “pumpkin,” in the West I’ve always seen it referred to as “kabocha squash.” In Germany, Hokkaido squash is the most common squash, and luckily quite similar to kabocha. So that is what I used here. I found it funny that the most common squash in Germany also has a Japanese name! I’m not an expert, but I think the main difference is that the Hokkaido is a little softer and has a thinner skin. I think sugar pumpkin would also probably work well if you can’t find kabocha or Hokkaido.

Hokkaido Pumpkin Potage

Serves 2, Time: approximately 30 minutes

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter or bacon grease

1/2 kabocha or Hokkaido squash (sugar pumpkin is also probably fine, but I’ve never tried it)

2 carrots (or 1 really big fat one)

1 russet potato (about the size of a small lady’s palm, not a huge man one 🙂 )

1/2 large white onion, minced

500 ml chicken broth

100 ml cream

salt

pepper

basil (optional)

First: Clean out the seeds and the squishy part from the squash. Peel and cut the squash into large chunks. Around 1 inch by 1 inch is good, but the exact size isn’t that important. You just want it to cook quickly when it’s simmered. Mince onion. Cut carrot into small bite sized pieces (mine were about 1/4 inch thick, left in a round carrot shape). Peel and cut potato into quarters. Aside from the onion, the size you cut things really doesn’t matter that much.

Second: Sauté onions in butter until translucent. They should be soft, but not brown.

Third: Add the other vegetables and chicken broth. Bring everything to a boil, then turn the heat down. Put the lid on and simmer until everything is soft. Mash or puree the soup. If you like a thicker consistency, put the soup back on the hot stove and allow the soup to simmer until it reaches your desired consistency. When you are happy with the consistency, continue to the next step.

Fourth: Stir in cream and season to taste with remaining ingredients.

Done! My preferred accompanying menu: brussels sprouts cooked with bacon (and garlic), bread, and butter.

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I was so happy to have this leftover mug of soup for lunch today!

Link to the original recipe this was adapted from at Japancentre.com.

Korokke (Japanese Croquette): Dinner or Bento

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Japanese croquettes! This photo is artistic because it’s diagonal 😉

One of my ambitions in life is to make a tasty picture-perfect bento for lunch every day. So far, that dream is FAR from being realized. I feel proud of myself when I pack a lunch of any kind! However, I am happy to say I can make some really good korokke.

Korokke, or croquettes in English, are a common item found in lots of bentos, as well as sandwiches, curries, or served by itself for dinner with rice and cabbage. They have a fantastic crispy fried exterior, and a soft interior. There are a few variations out there, but the classic is mashed potatoes with a little ground meat. You can eat them plain, but I think it’s best with katsu sauce. This sauce tastes vaguely like ketchup and plum sauce, and adds the perfect amount of sweetness and vinegar to cut the heavy fried flavors. You should be able to find this at your local Asian market next to the yakisoba and okonomiyaki sauce.

Today’s recipe is the number one korokke recipe on Cookpad. Cookpad is one of the most popular cooking websites in Japan. So you know that this recipe has to be awesome if over 4,000 people also like it! One of my favorite things about this recipe is that the potatoes are cooked in the microwave, significantly reducing the overall cooking and clean-up time. If you don’t have a microwave, go ahead and either bake or boil your potatoes.

Japanese Croquette (Korokke)

Makes 8-9 Croquettes

Ingredients:

Katsu sauce for serving (optional, but HIGHLY recommended)

Filling:

500 grams (1.1 lbs) russet potatoes

150 grams (5.3 oz) mixed ground pork and beef

1/2 a large onion, minced

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

50 ml (1/5 cup) cream

Frying (these are all estimates! Add or use less as needed when you fry):

1 egg, beaten in a small bowl

250 grams (2 cups) Panko (Japanese bread crumbs) (you can make your own by putting soft white bread in your food processor or blender) in a small bowl

32 grams (1/4 cup) flour on a plate

Oil suitable for deep frying, enough to fill whatever you are frying everything in.

First: Wash your potatoes and place on a microwave safe plate. If your potatoes are longer than half your palm, cut them into smaller pieces. This allows them to cook quickly. Poke holes in potatoes with a fork, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and microwave 8 minutes, or until soft and easy to mash. You should be able to easily insert a wooden chopstick through one. Run potatoes under cool water and remove skins.

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Poke holes in the potatoes so they don’t explode in the microwave. Cut the potatoes if they’re too large.
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Lighly wrap microwave safe plate with plastic wrap. If you are more eco-friendly than me, anything that will keep steam and moisture in will work.

Second: While the potatoes are cooking, combine meat and onions in a skillet on medium high heat with a small amount of cooking oil. Stir and cook until meat has almost no pink left. Add soy sauce and sugar. Continuously stir until there is no liquid left. The juices from the meat should also be mostly gone.

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Add the soy sauce and sugar when most of the pink is gone.
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Keep cooking until nearly all the liquid is gone. There’s still a little too much here.

Third: In a mixing bowl, combine meat and onion mixture with potatoes and cream. Mash the potatoes and thoroughly combine all the ingredients. It should look like mashed potatoes with bits of meat and onion in it.

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Add meat and onion mixture and cream to the potatoes.
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Mash and mix it up. I find it helpful to divide the filling with my hands or chopstick before I take it out of the bowl.

Fourth: Using your hands, form the croquettes into your desired shape. I like to make small thick disks (like a thick hamburger patty). To do this, roll a small ball, then squish it flat. I’ve also seen small cylinder shapes. I usually divide the “mash” into 8 portions, then form the croquettes.

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My korokke, before being breaded.

Fifth: Dip the croquettes in flour, then lightly shake off the excess. Begin heating your oil. After all of the croquettes have been dipped in flour, dip them in egg and then panko. I find that my panko quickly gets a bit wet and eggy, making it difficult to bread later croquettes. To fix this, I keep some of the panko in a separate container, and add only a 1/3 of the total panko at a time to the container I’m dipping the actual croquettes in.

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I like to dip all of them in flour first, so that I don’t have to put wet, egg-covered fingers in the flour.

Sixth: Test your oil to make sure it’s at the right temperature. There should be enough oil to deep fry (aka immerse) the croquettes. If you don’t have a thermometer, throw a piece of panko in. It should immediately start to fry and bubble. Place the panko in the oil and allow to fry until a golden brown (30 seconds to 1 minute). If they float, turn them after a few seconds so both sides are evenly browned. Make sure not to overcrowd them. I like to keep about an inch (2.5cm) between croquettes. Remove to wire rack or paper towels to drain and cool slightly. Serve with katsu sauce.

You are done!!!!  I like to eat this for dinner with rice and some kind of green vegetable, usually shredded cabbage with sesame dressing! Or the same thing as lunch in a bento.

If you want to save some for later, freeze or refrigerate them. Reheat them in an oven or toaster oven until they are hot and the exterior is crispy.

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I like to use a lot of katsu sauce!

Here’s the original recipe from ラビー at Cookpad. They also have an awesome 30 second video demonstrating how to cook everything.

Couple’s Dolsot Bibimbap

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Dolsot bibimbap…sort of

So, I’ve tried to make bibimbap a few times, but have never been terribly satisfied with the results. Making it at home, the rice didn’t have that crunch of being cooked onto the piping hot stone bowls (dolsot) they use at restaurants. However, I wasn’t a big fan of spending 15 dollars per bowl for a recipe I make less than once a month.

But, it occurred to me that I own something else that’s hot like a dolsot stone bowl–a frying pan! And my frying pan is also coated in some kind of stone teflon free stuff. That counts as stone, right? Apparently so! After cooking everything separately, I stuck the rice in the hot pan and put the toppings on. My husband and I ate out of it with spoons while watching TV. It was fun and cozy sharing a big pan of food between the two of us. So, I have named this “Couple’s Dolsot Bibimbap.”

One of my favorite things about bibimbap (and most Korean food) is that there are a lot of vegetables incorporated into the dish. Each of these vegetables adds flavor and texture too. They’re not just there to make you feel healthy! And of course there’s some tasty meat too! Don’t be too turned off by the long list of ingredients. Most of this is just sautéing quickly for 2-3 minutes and then moving on to the next ingredient. For best results, do vegetables first, then meat, then eggs.

This was super fun to make, and fun to eat! I hope you enjoy it!

Bibimbap

Ingredients:

Cooked White Rice, enough for two people

Fried Eggs (I made three for the two of us)

For the Beef:

Bulgogi marinade (I bought a jar from the store, but you can make your own if you want)

Beef, as much as you want, cut into small, thin strips (we used 100 grams (3.5 oz.) for the two of us)

For the Vegetables:

Carrots, julienned, about 2 cm or 1 inch long, as many as you want ( I used 2 carrots)

Shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin (I rehydrated some dry ones by microwaving them in a bowl of water for a few minutes), as many as you want (I used about 4 mushrooms)

Salt, to taste

Small amount of oil, for frying

70 grams or more (2-3 Packed Cups) Spinach, or Baby Spinach

1/2 Teaspoon Sesame Seeds

1/2 Teaspoon Soy Sauce

1/2 Teaspoon Sesame Oil

For the Sauce:

2 Tablespoons Gochujang

1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar

1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil

1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Seeds

1 Tablespoon Water

Method:

For the Vegetables:

Carrots: Sprinkle carrots with a pinch of salt. Using a little bit of oil cook the carrots on medium high until soft with a slight crunch (or preferred doneness). Remove from heat.

Mushrooms: Sprinkle mushrooms with a pinch of salt. Using a bit oil, cook mushrooms until soft and cooked entirely through.

Spinach: Combine spinach with 1/4 cup (60 ml) of water and cook on high heat until the spinach turns dark green. Immediately drain excess water, and squeeze the spinach with your hand to remove more moisture. Stir in sesame seeds, sesame oil, and soy sauce.

For the Sauce:

Combine all the sauce ingredients, and slowly add water until you like the consistency.

For the Meat:

Marinate meat for at least one hour. Cook on high heat quickly with a small amount of oil. Remove from heat.

Assemble and Eat:

Put eggs in center with sauce, and group the other ingredients around the edges. Contrasting colors next to each other is best. Admire it for a second, then mix it up with a spoon and dig in!

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So good! I’m getting hungry again just looking at this!

Fun fact: Unlike Japanese and Chinese, Koreans eat their rice with a spoon, not chopsticks! Want to learn more about proper utensils and eating etiquette? Check out this fun Reddit thread.

Big thanks to Sue at My Korean Kitchen. My recipe is based on hers. She also has a lot of different vegetable variations! The sauce especially, is almost the same. Here’s the link.

Bento: Dry Curry Omu-rice

One of the things that I love about Japan is that their restaurants openly acknowledge that most women don’t eat as much as men. Many restaurants have special “Ladies’ Sets” on their menus with smaller portion sizes. I can never imagine this happening in the politically correct US!

One of my favorite cookbooks is a perfect example of Japanese being unapologetic about gender stereotypes in food and portions. It’s called Bento that Make Men Happy, 男の子のよろこぶお弁当. The cover shows a bento with a large portion of fried chicken. All of the recipes in here star large, meaty, protein heavy meals. You know, stuff men like to eat! 🙂 While I am definitely not a man, I really like these bentos too!

Today’s recipe comes from this book. It’s called “Dry Curry Omu-rice.” Basically, it’s rice topped with curry powder flavored meat sauce and an omelette. If you’ve had omu-rice, it’s similar, except the sauce is dryer, it’s flavored with bell pepper and curry powder, and is not mixed in with the rice.

If you have a food processor, you can probably make this in less than 10 minutes. If not, it’ll depend on how long it takes you to mince vegetables. Bento are made to be served at room temperature, so the seasonings will probably taste strange or a little “off” if you try them while they’re hot. Don’t refrigerate this bento, because the rice will get dried out and gross. If it’s really hot where you live (I’m jealous! It’s cold here!) you can add a cold pack next to the bento box to keep everything out of the “danger zone” to prevent bacteria growth.

Portion Sizes: This recipe makes one bento for a hungry large portion eater. When I make this for myself, I usually reduce the curry recipe by 1/4.

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Dry curry, an omelette, rice, and a side of pickles. I promise it tastes amazing, even if this picture is ugly!

Dry Curry Omu-rice Bento:

Start with an empty bento with your desired amount of rice! If you feel really sleepy after eating this, then it was probably too much rice!

For the Curry:

1/2 Large European or American Green Bell Pepper (or 1 Japanese Piman), minced

1/8 Large White Onion, minced

2 Centimeters of a Really Fat Carrot (2 cm, or 1 inch diameter), minced

50 Grams ( 1/10 lb) mixed ground beef and pork

2 Tablespoons Ketchup

1/2 Teaspoon Curry Powder

Pinch of Salt

Pinch of Pepper

First: Combine meat and vegetables in a frying pan and cook on high heat until the meat is mostly not pink. Don’t add any cooking oil, the meat will release oil as it cooks.

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Everything in the pan, before it’s cooked.

Second: Add the remaining ingredients, and cook on medium high until the liquid from the ketchup is gone. Remove from heat, and layer over rice in a thin layer.

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See how wet this is? It still needs to be cooked for a few minutes to remove moisture.

For the Omelette:

1 Large Egg

1 Pinch Pepper

1 Pinch Salt

1 Teaspoon Butter

First: Beat together egg, salt, and pepper.

Second: Add butter to clean frying pan on medium to high heat, and wait until it melts. (To test if the temperature is right, add a small amount of egg. It should cook on contact.) As soon as it has melted, add the egg mixture. As soon as it hits the pan, give it a quick stir. Then, using a rubber spatula, gently roll the omelette onto itself. Tilt the pan if you need to, to make this easier.

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Hopefully your non-stick pan doesn’t stick like mine did 🙂

Third: Remove omelette from heat and place over dry curry layer.

For Pickles:

1/2 Baby Cucumber (about 4 cm, or 2 inches)

4 cm Celery (about 2 inches) (optional)

1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar (more authentic) or Apple Cider Vinegar

1 Teaspoon Sugar

1 Pinch Salt

First: Slice vegetables about 5 mm thin (a little bit under 1/4 inch)

Second: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir. Or put in a small tupperware container with a lid and shake it up. Put in a small cupcake paper or silicone, to separate it from the rest of the food. If your bento box is not going to be carried upright, wrap them in saran wrap, or package them separately, so they don’t get vinegar in everything else.

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Finished!

It’s done!!!! Have a wonderful day and eat your bento for lunch!

In case anyone is curious about the original recipe and cookbook, it’s here.