VEGAN BENTO BOWL (V+, GF, NF, ChF)

I am feeling stressed :(. Totally stressed. It's because I have a nutrition exam that I need to do some SERIOUS studying for. And I am sad to report that I am sooo behind with my revision, which in turn is stressing me out even more (insert crying face).

But I'm also stressed because I feel really busy with all the other little projects in my life including the blog. Not to say I don't LOVE this space because I do, I really, really do. But as the bloggers amongst you know, writing a blog comes with TONS of commitments such as visiting other blogs (which I LOVE to do btw), posting images on facebook, instagram, twitter, pinterest and of course on countless recipe sharing sites too. I enjoy all these social media platforms and the opportunities they provide to connect with like-minded foodies and be inspired, but - and of course there is always a but - they are all rather time consuming activities and time is something I just don't have at the moment :(.

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So if things are a little quieter from my end over the comings weeks and I don't like your picture on instagram or don't post as regularly on facebook as I normally do, please forgive me. I just physically can't at the moment :(.

I will however, post my bi-weekly recipes here as per usual, just to let you know how I'm doing and because blogging is officially the best form of procrastination I know ;). Thanks everyone for your support and understanding. I hope you enjoy this week's recipe and I look forward to seeing you here again in 2 weeks time.

BENTOBOWLCOL2

VEGAN BENTO BOWL (V+, GF, NF, ChF)

I can't tell you how happy and excited I am to be sharing this recipe with you this week. Not only is this bowl of vegan goodness totally delicious, but I also got the idea to create this specific recipe from an instameet I attended late last year organised by Bettina's Kitchen and Sara from Shisodelicious. It was so lovely to meet on-line friends including Heike from Tasty as Heck in real life and observe Sara prepare her bento boxes. Everyone who attended the instameet got to try the food she made and I fell head over heels in love with the flavour combination on offer that day. So much so that I had to share my version of the dish Sara prepared with you here. 

Also, if you read my last blog post, you'll know that I made it my task for 2016 to share more recipes of real actual meals I have on a week by week basis with you on the blog, and this dish here is something similar to what I'd have most week night - lots of whole grains, veggies, herbs, seeds and fruit. In fact, rice is a staple in our household and we make it most days; my son loves it and - together with quinoa - I feel it's a great source of protein on which to build a vegetarian meal for the family. As a child I had lots of rice too and so preparing it feels like I'm passing on a family tradition :). 

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IMPORTANT: Please do check the tips at the end of the recipe before getting stuck in as there are some bits and pieces you need to do the night before cooking this meal :)

Prep-preparation Time: Soak the rice in water for about 12-24 hours or just the night before you intend to cook this dish.
Preparation Time: 15 - 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes (see tips for ideas on speeding up the cooking process)
Serves: 3-4

Ingredients:
2 cups of short grain brown rice (you can buy it here)
1 tbs black rice (I used this one)
a pinch of salt
1/2 small red cabbage
1 cup of mixed seeds
a good handful of fresh coriander leaves
1-2 pomegranates
300 - 400g of smoked organic tofu (I used this one, which is delicious)
2 ripe avocados
4 tsp black or white sesame seeds
2 little gem lettuce heads
2 - 3 ripe pears

Ingredients for the dressing:
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs maple syrup
1.5 tbs mirin (I used this one)
1 tbs brown rice vinegar (I use this one)
1 - 1.5 tbs lemon or lime juice (you'll need about 1 lime)
1-2 drops of ume plum seasoning (optional, but I use this one)
pinch of salt (optional)


Instructions:
The night before preparing this meal, soak the brown and black rice in clean (filtered) still water. This will help speed up the cooking process the next day and is a step that cannot really be skipped! After the rice has been left to soak overnight, wash the rice in clean water. I usually wash it for about 3-4 minutes, just to get rid of any dirt and impurities. 

Once the rice has been washed, place it in a large pan with a pinch of salt, cover with water and cook it. How much water should you use? If the rice is about an inch high in your pan, then cover it with a good inch extra of water. How long you cook the rice for really depends on a number of things, but it usually takes me about 40 minutes or so on a medium to high flame, which I reduce to a very low simmer, once the water has nearly completely evaporated. If the water evaporates too quickly, then just add another cup of water or so.

Whilst the rice is cooking, prepare the cabbage by washing it and slicing it really thinly with a mandolin (I use this one) or very sharp knife. Then prepare the salad dressing by mixing all the ingredients together and marinate the sliced cabbage with the dressing. Then set the salad aside. Next, in a frying pan gently dry roast your seed mixture. I bought a pre-made seed mixture which included soya beans and sunflower seeds, but it's your call. Be creative and explore adding pumpkin seeds or nuts if you wish. For this recipe I really like the seeds warmed up and extra crunchy, but you can of course have them raw and soaked too. 

Then, wash the coriander leaves and chop them finely. Set aside, ideally in a cool place i.e. the fridge until you are going to serve the meal.

Remove the pomegranate seeds from the white flesh and set aside. Wash the lettuce heads and remove a few leaves, ready for use.

Once the rice is cooked, serve it in a bowl. Use the lettuce leaves to create a barrier and then serve the cabbage salad on the other side of the bowl. Wash the pears and cut them into slices, placing them next to the cabbage salad. Then cut the tofu in slices or little squares and place on top of the pear. The combination of the smoked, salty tofu and sweet pear is so, so dreamy, they have to be served and eaten together.

Next sprinkle some pomegranate seeds, coriander leaves and the toasted seeds on top of the rice - it's so lovely to have this mixture of textures and flavours together. Then cut the avacados thinly and place on top of the cabbage salad. Sprinkle some sesame seeds on top of the avocado and voila. A complete vegan meal at its very best!

Tip 1: You can use a rice cooker of course. I sadly don't have one so can't tell you exactly how this would influence your cooking time, but I assume it will speed it up slightly and give you better results too. You can also use a pressure cooker, which will certainly speed up the cooking process. I never cook rice in a pressure cooker so again I can't tell you how long you'd need to cook it for. So please take my time estimate with a pinch of salt.
Tip 2: Don't have black rice to hand? Just omit or replace with a little bit of extra brown rice.
Tip 3: Not a fan of fresh coriander? You can also use fresh parsley leaves if you prefer.
Tip 4: I know many people are wary of tofu/soya products. All I can say is, if you do buy it make sure you buy organic only. I listened to this really awesome podcast recently and felt it was important to reassess my wariness of soya products. They aren't for every day and certainly not for everyone, but they can be a really nice addition to your meal on occasion. But, if you prefer, just replace the tofu with a boiled egg (making this a vegetarian rather than vegan bento bowl) or a portion of adzuki or black beans for that protein hit.
Tip 5: You can use any kind of lettuce really. Please take this recipe as a starting point and make it your own. Also, if you're making this in winter, then kale leaves can be a really good seasonal alternative to lettuce leaves :)
Tip 6: For the cabbage salad - you can also add some sliced fresh fennel to this, which is super yummy. Remember, I used a mandolin to slice the cabbage which means it was done in a flash. Cutting it finely with a knife is fine too, but will add to your prep. time!
Tip 7: Depending how big/small your cabbage is you may need a tiny bit more or less dressing. The quantities given here are of course just a rough guide; feel free to double the dressing if need be, or just safe the left over dressing for later use. 

Looking for other main vegan meal ideas? Then just click here.

Thanks for reading everyone. I hope you enjoyed the recipe.

BENTOBOWLCOL1