I am starting to get a handle on how to effectively pack a bento lunchbox. On Monday I found myself working my mall-bound retail job, so I needed something that I could eat without too much fuss while standing, grabbing bites in between helping customers. So I ended up with a quick and rather light lunch. The bottom tier held one cup of fat-free cottage cheese, which is a favorite easy food of mine. In the top tier I put a package of Melba Toast, which holds five pieces per pack. On top of that I piled French cut beans, carrots, and tomatoes. I rounded the meal off with an apple. This bento was successful in terms of low mess factor, but I also felt pretty hungry by mid-afternoon. Next time I will add some nuts or other protein.
Thankfully, Monday night's dinner made up for lunchtime's lack of protein. I had a can of pinto beans languishing in my cupboard that I felt the need to put to good use. Since the weather here in western Montana has been gray and dreary since the weekend, I decided that some hearty chili was in order. I created this recipe with a mind to using not only the pinto beans but also the quickly ripening onions and spinach that were lurking at the the bottom of my refrigerator. With a tangy chipotle salsa base, this dish was filling, healthy, and all-around yummy. Most exciting to me, however, was the fact that this is one of the first -- if not the first! -- recipe that I created completely on my own without consulting websites, blogs, or cookbooks for ideas and advice. I'm quite proud of the result! I even managed to record it, instead of my usual "add a little of this 'n' that" approach to cooking off the cuff. I served the chili with tortilla chips and garnished it with shredded cheddar cheese, and a little fat-free quark for me and sliced olives for the Best Husband Ever.
The leftover pinto bean chili made it into my Tuesday bento lunch. And . . . the leftovers, eaten at room temperature, tasted even better than the previous night's dinner served fresh from the stove! The flavors of the salsa and spices really soaked into the beans and veggies. I sprinkled on a little shredded cheddar (in the green bunny cute -- can you say cute? -- and a plop of quark (in the pink popsicle container that says "fruit") and scooped away with Guiltless Gourmet blue corn chips. Yum! French cut fresh beans and a pear rounded off the meal nicely.
This is by far my best bento to date. Not only was the meal delicious, but the contents generated little to no mess. The chili isn't soupy at all, so I could pack it into the box's bottom tier quite densely without any seepage. My only complaint is that it further stained the box's white tier median orange. I will have to look into stain removal techniques. Again, however, I think I needed a little more nutrition from this lunch, perhaps in the form of more complex carbohydrates or, as with Monday's lunch, a few nuts. Still, my bento ninja skills continue to improve, and I'm having a blast at the same time.
Rainy Day Pinto Bean Chili
1 can (15.5 oz.) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn (feel free to use fresh)
1/2 cup fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup white onion, diced
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1/2 carrot, diced
1/2 tomatillo, leaves peeled off and diced
1 tsp dried cilantro (or use a good handful of the fresh herb)
1 T minced fresh garlic
2 T lime juice
1 T balsamic vinegar
black pepper to taste
1 cup salsa (I used Old El Paso's Fresh Mexican Style Smooth Chipotle)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar (or monteray jack) cheese
sour cream (or a substitute like quark)
Coat a nonstick frying pan or skillet with nonstick cooking spray (I use Pam's canola oil spray). Over medium heat, saute the garlic and vegetables, stirring often. After about five minutes, add the beans, salsa, lime juice, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly and cover. Simmer until the vegetables (especially the carrots) are softer but still retain their color. Serve, topping with tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, and any other garnishes that you desire. Serves two large meals, or three slightly smaller portions -- perfect for tomorrow's lunch!