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Bento Box Goals: Tips for Delicious Packed Lunches

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  • Author: Sarah Kiyo Popowa


A complete meal in one ball of blessings! I‘m taking full advantage of mixed grains here; the white rice makes the onigiri easy to shape, the brown rice and quinoa adds nutrients and filling power, and it‘s all finished off with nutritious watercress, seeds, and pretty peas! Sansh?is a Japanese spice with a unique, slightly tongue-tingling aroma, similar to Sichuan pepper (which it can be subbed with) that really perks up rice. Depending on their freshness, the peppercorns can be very potent, so try with a small amount first. If you can‘t find either of these spices, just use freshly ground black pepper.


  • Onigiri makes 5 x 3½-oz. balls (enough for 23 bento.)
  • Refrigerator life: Eat the same day.
  • ½ cup white Japanese rice
  • ½ cup brown short-grain rice
  • generous 1/4 cup quinoa
  • 1½ cups water (to cook)
  • 1 bunch (about 5½oz. of watercress (stalks included), thoroughly washed)
  • 1/2 tsp. flaky sea salt
  • 1015 grains of sansh?or
  • sichuan pepper (crushed)
  • 1½ cups frozen peas straight from the freezer
  • a few spoonfuls of zen pebble furikake (toasted sesame seeds, or green gomashio (pages 38 and 41), optional a small bowl of water and a small plate of sea salt, to shape the onigiri)


  1. To make the onigiri, wash the combined rice and quinoa directly in your cooking pot with cold water, trying to rub off as much of the cloudy starch as you can with your fingers. Discard the water and repeat twice. Drain completely, and add the measured water for cooking. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and, without removing the lid, let stand for 5 minutes before using. While the rice cooks, quick-blanch the watercress. Place it, stalks and all, ina heatproof bowl and pour boiling water over to submerge. Leave for 2minutes, then drain in a strainer and cool completely under cold running water. Tightly squeeze it in your hands to remove as much water as possible. Chop finely and, while it‘s still on the cutting board, mix it with the salt and sansh?or sichuan pepper. Put the cooked rice and quinoa in a large mixing bowl and gently stir in the frozen peas—they will help cool down the mixture. It‘s ready to use when it‘s cool enough to handle with your bare hands. Gently fold in the watercress, plus optional seasonings to taste. Divide the rice into 5 equal parts. Wet, then dab your hands with a little salt (the salt both flavors and helps keep the rice fresh so don‘t skip this step) and gently but firmly squeeze each part of the rice into balls, wetting your hands in between each one. See overleaf for more detailed instructions. Pack a couple or so of the rice balls snugly in your bento box, or wrap each one in parchment paper or reusable wax wrap. Pack the carrot in any remaining space in the box, or in a separate pot, and put the
  2. nuts and dried fruit in a small separate pot. Pack in a bento bag or furoshiki with a napkin.
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