the appetizer:

My Japanese Table, A Lifetime of Cooking with Friends and Family by Debra Samuels includes recipes like String Beans with Crunchy Toasted Peanuts Ingen no Peanutsu Ae; Simmered Daikon with Citrus Miso Sauce; Eriko's Onion, Clam, and Potato Fritters Kakiage; and Elementary School Sampler Bento.

Cookbook Profile

Elementary School Sampler Bento

Makes 4 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes

Elementary School Sampler Bento


This VW beetle lunchbox was my son Brad's bento vehicle when he was a first grader in a Japanese elementary school. But he got it only after I sent him to school with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, carrot sticks and a whole apple in a brown paper bag and he came home in tears. "I want a cute lunch like the other kids," he sobbed. Next day I put the same thing in a McDonald's kid's meal box, thinking that's pretty cute. "Not cute enough," he moaned when he returned the next day. Being the only foreigner, he wanted to fit in with his classmates, so I had no choice but to learn about bento. We picked out a book, 100 Obento Ideas, and I worked my way through it for the rest of the school year. And what was the first lunch he picked out? A bologna sandwich! But it was the face of a little boy, bologna bangs and all. It didn't have to be Japanese food, but he needed a sampler that was delicious and, of course, cute.

These pinwheel sandwiches are stuffed with slices of cheese, vegetables and cold cuts. Brad used to call it "bread sushi." I also pack them for our grown ups' picnics, with slices of smoked salmon or roast beef. Cocktail franks are a standard side in Japanese kids' lunchboxes, but they are cut creatively into the shape of octopuses or flowers. Figuring they are cute enough on their own, I just score the little critters and stir-fry them in a little ketchup. Using an assortment of food is a must—green grapes alone would be fine, but try combining them with red ones. Tuck in a sweet treat like a cookie or chocolate covered raisins. Even if they start with that (you will never know) it's not enough to ruin an appetite. Don't underestimate the value of eye appeal—even for a five-year-old.

The Menu

Prepare these the night before and place in the refrigerator. All you have to do is slice in the morning.

For the Spread:

1. Set 3 slices of bread, in a vertical row, on top of a piece of plastic wrap. Set the wrap on a cutting board.

2. Take a rolling pin and flatten the bread. Spread lightly with softened butter or cream cheese or mayonnaise mixture.

3. Take the bread closest to you and overlap with the middle slice by 1/4 inch (6 mm). Press the seam closed. Then take the middle slice and overlap it 1/4 inch (6 mm) with the top slice. Press the seam together.

4. Place one lettuce leaf on the slice of bread closest to you. Overlap on the top of the lettuce the salmon, turkey, or ham on top of the second slice of bread.

5. Take the cheese, and overlapping with the meat slightly, set it on the third piece of bread.

6. Take the peppers (or sprouts) and set them, end-to-end, one third up from the bottom on the meat.

7. Lift the plastic wrap and the first slice of bread and roll the sandwich forward over the vegetables. Stop and press the bread together. Lift the plastic wrap and keep moving the bread forward until you have a complete roll. Wrap the plastic around the entire roll and twist the ends.

8. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

9. Slice the roll in half, through the plastic wrap. Then cut into quarters and you will end up with 4 rounds.


Mini Cocktail Franks

These little links are a tasty addition to a kid's lunch. Score the tops with hatch marks and fry them in a non-stick pan over medium heat with a teaspoon of oil for one minute on each side. Add a teaspoon of ketchup and heat an additional minute until they get crisp and caramelize. let them cool down before setting them into the lunch box.


Buy My Japanese Table


My Japanese Table


This page created October 2011