Friday, January 18, 2008

Bentos Love Gluten-Free Lunch

One of the first challenges I had to tackle when I went gluten-free was figuring out how to make myself an exciting lunch. Dinner at our house could be anything, but earlier in the day I was a creature of habit. I needed my oatmeal fix for breakfast and most days I took the same lunch: an Annie’s veggie burger or a peanut butter, banana, raisin, and honey sandwich on my favorite whole wheat oatmeal bread.

I’m back to eating oatmeal thanks to Lara’s, Bob’s Red Mill, and Gifts of Nature. Lunch, however, will never be the same. Annie’s burgers use bulger (try saying that three times fast), and the time may have come for PB&J to be a weekly, not daily, staple in my diet. After a few sad tries with sandwiches on gluten-free bread, I was in the market for a new lunch. I wanted to be the envy of my lunchroom, not the pitiable, gluten-free girl (no offence to Shauna).

Around that time, the Science Teacher, who has lived in Japan, told me about bento lunches. For bento newbies, bento boxes are the compartmentalized, lacquered containers found in many Japanese restaurants. They’re often filled with sushi or sashimi with rice and pickled vegetables. In Japan and increasingly in the rest of the world, bento boxes are also lunch boxes for homemade, packed lunches. Bento lunch boxes aren’t the lacquered trays of your local sushi bar. Instead, they are compact, often stackable boxes with lids packed with many different kinds of beautifully arranged food (or a just few sort of attractively arranged foods). You don't need a special box, though; I've used a square tubberware before. Check out Cooking Cute’s “About Bento” for a great explanation and “Gallery” for cute food inspiration. Just Bento has good information about getting started with bento and includes lunches that are more doable for those of us who don’t have time to cut our vegetables into flowers.

I now own a Mr. Bento lunch thermos and a more traditional stacked bento box. The Science Teacher got a Laptop Lunch for his birthday and now takes his lunches a la bento. Bentos have helped me get away from my sandwich mentality, encouraged me to try out lots of new recipes, and, most importantly, helped me focus on the aesthetic experience of eating in a way that wasn’t, for me, attached to gluten.
Above is a bento I packed for the Science Teacher in his Laptop Lunch. I pack his lunch everyday—it’s my little expression of love that's especially useful on those days when the little pottamus is fussy and we don't have a lot of time for each other. This bento contains black bean mini burgers (a recipe I definitely recommend) and a hardboiled egg on a bed of greens, a dried fruit and nut cup, brown rice with sesame oil, tamari sauce, and cherry tomato halves, and steamed broccoli with tahini-lemon sauce.
And this is a lunch I packed for myself in my traditional bento box. The top tier contains roasted root veggies, marinated chickpeas, and sugar snap peas. The bottom has baked tofu with tamari and sesame oil along with quinoa sprinkled with sesame oil, edamame, and nori. Looks good, huh? Everyone in the lunchroom definitely wanted my lunch that day.

I started this post some time ago. After reading Gluten-Free Bay's recent post about her struggle to balance the "yummy" recipes for gluten-free breads and desserts most people seem to search for with the healthier recipes that she's trying to eat more of, I decided to finish it. Bentos have been a huge part of making my gluten-free lunches healthy (i.e. starch free), as well as fun and beautiful to look at. Check out my favorite bento blogs (Cooking Cute, Just Bento, and Lunch in a Box), and try one for yourself!


Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

I love your bento box ideas! I'm hoping to get a laptop lunchbox myself at some point.

I try to make at least 4 servings of food per meal when I cook, and then my husband and I freeze the leftovers in one-meal-sized containers. When I take the leftovers in to work, more often than not, one of my co-workers follows his or her nose into my office to find out what that awesome-smelling food is. It's nice to know we can inspire food envy even without gluten (and several other foods, as well, for me).

a kelly said...

I think it is amazing that a few of the gluten free bloggers all posted about bentos in the past week!
It is an inspiration for living gluten free.