I've always looked at bento boxes and thought, "Can I really fit a whole lunch in that small box?" and "Doesn't that take a ton of time to make??" So I was just a bit intimidated while first flipping through the pages of Bento Power.
But, surprisingly to my own laziness and lack of skill, Sara Kiyo Popowaaccomplishes teaching the reader how to actually do it correctly so you have a balanced and tasty lunch. Several times after making a recipe, I felt like a top chef because I couldn't believe I actually made something that looked and tasted so good. How did this book do it?
It starts with a really in-depth, helpful introduction with information on what tools to use, how to pack a bento, what balance of food you'll need, etc. The base recipes really dive into the proper way to make each one, with experienced tips. This isn't a one-paragraph instruction for a recipe - it's a one page explanation based on her whole understanding of it. She also goes into what each ingredient is that you might not have heard of before, and includes sources for all of her boxes, tools, and linens.
The instructional diagrams are helpful to understanding the concepts she explains. The photos are totally stunning and make me want to cook every single recipe. On the harder techniques, she has page spreads dedicated to show you how to make things step by step, including a photo for each step.
But let me go back for a second. What exactly is this book about, besides just making a box of food look beautiful? She describes it in the subtitle of her book as "brilliantly balanced lunchbox recipes," and it fits. Her idea of wellness is well-rounded, and encompasses not only physical health, but mental health, lifestyle sustainability and the sustainability of your impact on the environment overall. Bento (and furoshiki, which she goes over in the book) is a great zero-waste, stylish way to eat a meal on the go, and the recipes match that, too.
I'm a huge fan of component cooking - let me make a bunch of small dishes that last a while, so I can combine them into multiple meals to add interest to my meals. That's what this book is all about, so I'm all about this book. As I read through the book, I realized that this is the exact kind of cooking I do every day - simple meal-prepped components brought together in a bowl or skillet - except these recipes are all new flavor combos I'm always on the hunt for.
The book is not entirely vegan, but super easy to substitute, as all of the bento boxes are made up of components you swap out. And, the non-vegan ingredients are so rarely brought up that you won't have to make those swaps at all, most likely. (The only mentions I found were a few inclusions of honey and some egg.)
Cookbooks, for me, are a mix between utility and inspiration. I want to be able to make recipes straight from the book, but I also want to be inspired to create my own meals without a recipe. This book has the best of both worlds - exact instruction (like the diagrams and step-by-step photos) and inspiration (in the beautiful photos and a whole section dedicated to "fantasy" bentos.)
who this book is for
People not afraid to do a little meal prep, for some extremely satisfying lunches on the go.
Those looking to get into more whole foods cooking and zero waste.
People who want to branch out to more Asian and Scandinavian flavors.
the best part
The practicality - the instructional photos and breakdown of how to make a meal even without a recipe is great.
layout & standout recipes
- bento ritual
- kitchen tools
- 5 colors
- 5 elements
- base recipes - Wakame-san Fresh Furikake
- breakfast & sweet bento - No Bake Matcha Brownies
- 15-minute bento - Busy Days Instant Noodle Bento
- everyday bento - Red Velvet Quinoa Bento
- fantasy bento - Fairy Jewel Box Bento
recipes we tried
cashew nut clusters
We were out of cashews, but I easily substituted them for some peanuts. These made a super tasty, crunchy topper for rice bowls, stir fries, and inside nori wraps.
I HAD to try to veganize one of the few egg recipes in the book, just to show you how easy it was. A local store had the Just For All Vegan Egg on sale, so I grabbed a few bottles. I used it just as if it were a real egg, and the final result turned out so realistic. And the overall bento was extremely delicious and had some flavor combinations that were totally new to me.
The base of this "sushi sandwich" roasted fennel and mushroom, and it gave this so much flavor. I had never tried my hand at onigirazu, as I'm normally not that great at rolling a basic sushi roll, but it was easier than expected with the how-to guide in the book. Still not perfect at it, but this was a great first attempt in my opinion.
I decided to try making my own "fantasy bento" based off the instructions and guides given in the book, and it was SO GOOD - the best meal of my week for sure.
where to get it
BENTO POWER: BRILLIANTLY BALANCED LUNCHBOX RECIPES
by Sara Kiyo Popowa
Out March 2019
Bento Power by Sara Kiyo Popowa © 2019 Kyle Books, and photographs © Sara Kiyo Popowa. No images may be used, in print or electronically, without written consent from the publisher.