Shape is everything.
Think about it. Without the concept of shape, the whole premise behind Colorforms, my second-favorite childhood game, goes out the window. Colorforms' three basic shapes — circle, rectangle and triangle — allow you to create any object in the universe, if you add a bit of imagination.
The Japanese bento box is all about shape, too, as well as color and texture. The box itself is a rectangle; the norimaki roll, round; the gyoza dumpling, a half circle. Add a triangular piece of fish or meat, some rice and salad, and it's just like playing with Colorforms. And then you eat it.
The #1 Cooking Group created bento boxes in their final cooking group session of the season (except for Le Grand Aioli, our annual summer fete).
We began by steaming lots of medium-grain Nishiki rice: one cooker for the sushi rice, the other for the plain rice that forms the backbone of the bento.
We prepped ingredients for the potsticker dumplings, which we filled with a tofu-veggie mixture bound with peanut butter and soy sauce. Using small plastic dumpling molds, we crimped our potstickers, crisped the bottoms in a frying pan, and added chicken stock and mushroom-soaking liquid to steam them.
With the teriyaki salmon in the oven, ginger dressing made for the salad, rice bloop-blooping away in the cookers, and potstickers finishing on the stove, we got to work on the norimaki sushi rolls, finger bowls of vinegar-seasoned water and glasses of wine (for courage!) at the ready.
Rolling the sushi is easier than it looks. After a brief demo by me, everyone got the hang of it right away, and we filled roll after roll with Gold's wasabi- and hoisin-seasoned strips of red pepper, asparagus, avocado, cucumber and scallion.
Using some smoked salmon left behind by the Wednesday Lunch Group, and a bit of the remaining seasoned sushi rice, Cathy made a little treat for the cooks in the rectangular wooden sushi press: beautiful squares topped with a sliver of lemon!
With fifteen minutes to spare before our spouses arrived for dinner, we filled the bento boxes, adding a bit of pickled ginger here, some black sesame seeds there. And when we ran out of boxes, we used a couple of melamine trays, proving once again that the #1 Cooking Group knows how to think outside the box.
TERIYAKI MARINADE FOR SALMON OR CHICKEN
1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
4 Tbsp oyster-flavored sauce
3 Tbsp orange or pineapple juice
3 tsp sugar (or sugar substitute)
Water as needed to achieve a thin consistency
Combine all ingredients in a screw-top jar, and shake. Marinate salmon for 30 minutes, chicken for up to 4 hours.
Cook salmon (or chicken) in the marinade in a sauté pan. When the fish is almost, but not entirely, cooked through (about 5-6 minutes), remove from the pan and set aside. Raise heat to high, and reduce the remaining marinade by half to make a more robust sauce.