Sunday, November 7, 2010

Have bento, will travel

Turkey bento

Once the calendar flips over to November, we seem to be in a Thanksgiving tizzy. I love the holidays, but in recent years have taken a relaxed approach. It helps when the feast is located at a house other than mine. We’re fortunate, my husband and I, that our families are nearby and it’s just a matter of driving a few miles and showing up with food. This year, we’ll roast the turkey to burnished perfection, wrap up the bird, place it in the cooler and drive 15 minutes to my mom’s house.

As much as I love being close to home during the holidays, there are times when I think it would be grand to stick my toes in the sand the last Thursday in November. To sip a frosty drink, relax with a frivolous magazine and stare at a Pacific blue sky. It must be an accident of birth, surely, that I was born in Tennessee and not in Hawaii, where my heart belongs.

Let’s just pretend, for a few paragraphs, that I’m getting my wish for my upcoming wedding anniversary - a trip to Hawaii. Hawaii, the 50th state, home of pristine beaches, volcanoes and SPAM. That's right, mainlanders, Hawaii is the largest U.S.  market for SPAM. In fact, the savory pork in a tin is referred to as "Hawaiian steak." The Pacific popularity of the canned “SPiced hAM” began during World War II when 100 million pounds of the tinned meat were shipped abroad to feed Allied troops.

SPAM is universal and it’s a product that I grew up with - Pan-Fried SPAMwiches with mayo on white bread being a specialty of my father’s cooking repertoire. (I kind of miss the dangerous-seeming old packaging with the pull tab that zipped off the wall of the can.)

I'm homebound this holiday, but I can dream up some yummy travel snacks inspired by Hawaii's favorite meat and the Japanese tradition of bento - small portable foods, usually made with rice and known as much for their artistry as their taste.

I fried sliced SPAM in my homemade teriyaki sauce, then chopped the meat and used it as a filling in onigiri (rice balls) and also in the Hawaiian portable snack musubi, SPAM slices with rice and nori. There's a lot to learn to making onigiri and musubi, and especially bento. The techniques and recipes are simple, but much too involved to write about here - check out this excellent tutorial  from Just Bento on forming the rice balls.

SPAM musubi is a plank of teriyaki fried meat and a finger of rice bound together with nori. This portable tropical treat is simple to make - nori is difficult to find at my local upermarkets, so I subbed blanched bok choy.

SPAM musubi

Teriyaki Sauce

Fry SPAM slices in this flavorful teriyaki sauce and use in fillings for onigiri 
and also as a dipping sauce.

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1. Combine all ingredients. Keep in glass jar in refrigerator or freezer. Use as marinade for SPAM, chicken or salmon or steak or vegetables. Put on ice cream. (just kidding).

Onigiri with noodles and vegetables.

Dessert is light and simple, a cornstarch-thickened coconut pudding with sliced bananas and grapes. Use the cute small containers and keep refrigerated.

Coconut Pudding with Bananas and Grapes

4 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 ½ cups water
1 (12 oz.) can coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Bananas and grapes for garnish

1. In a bowl, stir together sugar, cornstarch and water.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, pour in coconut milk and add sugar - water mixture. Whisk constantly until mixture is thickened. Stir in vanilla and let cool. Spoon into small cups, layering bananas in cups and topping with sliced grapes. Seal individual portions. Keep refrigerated.

All text & images copyright 2010, Lucy Mercer.

The coconut pudding recipe is adapted from "Yum-Yum Bento Box" by Maki Ogawa and Crystal Watanabe (Quirk Books, 2010).

For bento inspiration, check out Just


The Teacher Cooks said...

What a beautiful job! Your photos are stunning.

Angela said...

Love it! So cute, and the recipes sound great. I am not really a Spam fan but have always wanted to try it this way.

Kris said...

SPAM! :) my dad is from Hawaii, and I have spent a lot of time there. and that included spam :)

I love musubi, and the rest of these look great! I love bento.

Baker Street said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing all the recipes! Everything looks delish!