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Bento Recipes

By Kozmo Kitchen Chef

Tori Karaage – Japanese Fried Chicken

Serves 4 to 6 people | Prep time: 30 minutes to 3 hours | Cooking time: 30 minutes

There is no doubt that karaage — Japanese fried chicken — is one of the most popular Japanese comfort foods. Regardless of age and ethnicity, all of my friends love karaage for its rich flavor and light, crisp texture. It is a wonderful entrée for a family dinner, one of the most popular izakaya (Japanese pub) foods, and a perfect bento item, as it tastes great at room temperature. And it’s fairly simple to make. If you’re hesitant to deep fry, I’ve added an oven-baked version as well. You can cook a large batch of karaage for dinner and save leftovers for the next day to reheat and pack for your bento!

Here is my easy and delicious karaage recipe. Cook up a batch tonight and make everyone in your family happy!


  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup sake
  • ¼ cup mirin
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 – 1.5 cup potato starch
  • 1 quart high-heat oil for frying, such as rice bran or canola (oil should be about 2 inches deep)
  • Lemon wedges for garnish


  1. Trim excess fat and gristle off chicken thighs and cut them into 2-inch pieces.
    Combine the soy sauce, sake, mirin, and grated ginger in a medium bowl. Add the chicken pieces, cover, and marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes or up to 3 hours.
    Put potato starch in a large bowl.
  2. Drain chicken and discard marinade. Pat chicken pieces dry thoroughly and coat them with the potato starch.

(To Deep Fry)

  1. In a deep pot, add oil to a depth of two inches or more. Heat the oil to 350F over medium heat. If you don’t have a thermometer, check the temperature by dropping in a pinch of potato starch. The starch should sink halfway to the bottom of the pot and then come back up to the surface
  2. Shake off excess flour and place chicken in the oil, being careful not to crowd the pot (you’ll probably need to fry multiple batches). Cook for 3–4 minutes, or until the chicken turns very light brown. Then turn up the heat to high (375F) and cook for another minute or two until the chicken turns golden brown.
  3. Rest the fried chicken on a rack to cool, then place it on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

(To bake)

  1. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Brush or spray the parchment paper with oil.
  3. Place the coated chicken pieces on the cookie sheet and drizzle 3-4 tbsp. of high-heat oil over the chicken.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn chicken over and bake for another 10 minutes. Cut into a piece of chicken to make sure that it’s cooked through and no pink remains. If necessary, bake a minute or two longer.
  5. Rest the fried chicken on a rack to cool, then place it on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
  6. Transfer the chicken to a serving plate and garnish with lemon wedges.

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Kabocha Pumpkin Salad

Serves 4 to 6 people | Prep time: 30 minutes | Cooking time: 30 minutes

As Halloween nears, pumpkins in various shapes and vibrant colors are everywhere. Most are decorative and sold for carving, but some are edible and taste great in this season. Kabocha is a Japanese variety of winter squash, and autumn is the best time to enjoy its exceptionally sweet flavor and moist texture, similar to that of sweet potato. Kabocha salad, with its beautiful bright-orange color, is a perfect dish to add a seasonal touch to your bentos. To complement the natural sweetness of kabocha, the dressing for this recipe is rather light, but you can add more mayonnaise to your liking.


  • One half of a 2 lb. Kabocha squash, seeded
  • Salt
  • 1 Persian cucumber, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1/8 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp. sugar-free yogurt
  • White pepper
  • 1 tbsp. toasted sliced almonds, for garnish (optional)

*Kabocha squashes average 2-3 pounds in weight. This recipe calls for one half of a squash.


Use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to shave any dirty or unsightly spots off the skin. Cut the kabocha into 2-inch square pieces. Place pieces in a steamer and steam for about 10 minutes. (Note: to cook kabocha in a microwave, place pieces in a microwave-safe bowl, cover, and cook for 4–5 minutes). Check doneness by inserting a bamboo skewer into the kabocha. If the skewer goes through without resistance, the kabocha is done.

  1. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over sliced cucumber and let sit for about 5 minutes. Rinse cucumber, drain and thoroughly squeeze out water.
  2. Soak sliced onion in water for about 10 minutes and drain.
  3. Sprinkle a pinch of salt on the onion, rub salt against onion, rinse and drain again. Thoroughly squeeze out water.
  4. Cool cooked kabocha in a mesh colander to allow excess steam to escape from it. This step gives kabocha the “hoku-hoku” (buttery, fluffy and tender) texture without allowing it to get too mushy. When kabocha is cooled to room temperature, mash it with a potato masher. You can mash it until it is smooth, or do as I prefer and leave some chunky pieces.
  5. Add cucumber and onion to mashed kabocha along with a pinch of salt and white pepper. Add yogurt and mayonnaise and combine all ingredients well. Taste and add more mayonnaise if needed.
  6. Refrigerate the kabocha salad until it’s ready to be packed in a bento.

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Kinoko Takikomi Gohan – Mixed Rice with Mushrooms

Serves 4 to 6 people | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 45 minutes | Passive time: 30 minutes

Takikomi gohan is a very common and flexible Japanese rice dish and is often made as one of the best ways to enjoy seasonal ingredients. As in Japan, fall in the Pacific Northwest features a wonderful abundance of fresh local mushrooms, including the highly sought-after matsutake. Many kinds of mushrooms, such as shimeji, maitake, king oyster, shiitake and enoki, are readily available at local grocery stores. You can combine any of them in this dish to enjoy the flavor of autumn. Shimeji and maitake have amazingly rich flavors, and I recommend including them if you can find them. Takikomi gohan tastes great at room temperature and is also delicious made into rice balls. It’s perfect for an autumn picnic bento. And it freezes well.


  • 3 Japanese rice cups (note: one Japanese rice cup equals 180 ml) or 2 ¼ U.S. cups short-grain rice
  • 1 package (usually 3 ½ oz.) shimeji mushrooms, stalks separated by hand
  • 3-4 oz. seasonal mushrooms of your choice, cut in small pieces
  • 3 cups kombu dashi (see below)
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. sake
  • 2 tbsp. mirin
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 bunch coarsely chopped mitsuba, for garnish (optional)


  1. To make kombu dashi, soak a 3×3-inch sheet of kombu in 3 cups of water overnight, or place kombu and 3 cups of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, and cook for about 10 minutes.
  2. Discard kombu.
  3. Put mushrooms in a plastic bag and place in freezer for about an hour. This process is optional, but enhances the aroma of the mushrooms.
  4. Put rice in a large bowl and add water to cover. Without stirring much, discard water. With your hand, polish rice gently using a circular motion. Add fresh water to cover rice, stir and drain. Repeat these steps a few times until water is clear. Drain rice well and transfer to an electric rice cooker or a Dutch oven.
  5. Using a rice cooker: Put soy sauce, sake, mirin and salt in rice cooker. Add dashi to the 3-cup line. Place mushrooms on top of rice and then cook rice as described in the instructions.
  6. Using a Dutch oven: Put soy sauce, sake, mirin, and salt in a 1-quart measuring cup. Add dashi to the 2 ½-cup line. Pour into the Dutch oven and place mushrooms on top of rice. Allow rice to soak for about 30 minutes. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 12 minutes. Turn off heat and leave lid on for another 15-20 minutes.
  7. Fluff rice, mixing mushrooms. Serve warm. You can sprinkle chopped mitsuba as garnish.

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Carrot and Potato Kimpira

Serves 4 to 6 people | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cooking time: 10–15 minutes

Kimpira is a very popular everyday dish in Japanese homes, and the most common ingredient for this dish is gobo (burdock root), as in gobo no kimpira. However, gobo is not always readily available if you don’t have an Asian grocery store nearby. So, I created a version of kimpira that calls for accessible ingredients that you are likely to already have on hand: carrots and potatoes. The sesame oil and the combination of sweet and spicy flavors stimulates your taste buds, and the color contrast of potatoes and carrots make this dish a great addition to your bentos!


  • 1 medium to large carrot (about 6 oz.), peeled and julienned
  • 1 medium Yukon gold potato (about 6 oz.), peeled and julienned
  • 1 whole dried red chili or ½ tsp. red chili rounds (omit if making for a child’s bento)
  • 1 tsp. toasted white sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sake
  • 2 tbsp. mirin


  1. Place sesame oil and red chili in a shallow pan over high heat. Add carrot and potato, and sauté for a minute until vegetables are well coated with oil.
    2. Add soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sesame seeds. Continue to sauté for another 5–7 minutes until liquid is almost evaporated. Remove from heat and cool mixture to room temperature.

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Kyuri Karashi Zuke – Cucumber Pickles with Japanese Mustard

Serves 6 | Preparation time: 24-48 hours

Pickling is a common preparation method for raw vegetables in Japanese cooking. Some tsukemono (pickles) call for some fermentation periods, but others such as quick pickles can be made overnight. There is no rule to which vegetables are most suitable for pickles, but root vegetables such as daikon radish and carrots are common, as well as cucumbers, eggplant and napa cabbage. The key ingredient for tsukemono is salt. Some recipes add vinegar, kombu and/or red chili peppers. Because of the salt content for flavor and preservation purposes, tsukemono is a nice addition to bentos that is a perfect accompaniment to rice.


  • 1 tbsp., plus 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. mustard powder
  • 3 Persian cucumber


  1. In a re-sealable plastic bag, add all of the dry ingredients and mix well. Add cucumbers and seal the bag. Refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. Observe how much water comes out of the cucumber. Feel the texture of the cucumber through the plastic bag, and if you don’t feel much resistance, they are ready to eat.
  2. Rinse the cucumber under running water and pat dry with a paper towel. Slice and serve.
    Note: the recommended ratio of sugar, mustard and salt is 4:1:1.

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About the Author

Kanako Kiuzynu, a native of Akita, Japan, is a chef, author and instructor focused on authentic Japanese home cooking.  Chef Kanako offers in-home private cooking classes for groups up to 12. You can reach her at info@kozmokitchen.com. (www.kozmokitchen.com)


BENTO in Seattle – Find Bentos by Seattle local chefs

Kanako in her classroom at the Che Shop in Magnolia She teaches the bento concept recipes and the tricks of getting all that goodness packed just right Photo by Nick Turner