Bento is not exclusive to Japanese cooking in my kitchen. The concept of portable lunch in a compact and visually pleasing package makes so much sense that I happily pack bento for all kinds of cuisines. Remember my French bento? Or my bento with Smoked Salmon Wild Rice and Vegetable Patties? How about that Spring Green bento? You can say that most of the time my bento meals have little to do with Japanese cuisine. I adapt it to the way I eat, not the other way around.
Speaking of the way I eat, I’ve been craving the flavours of Moroccan cuisine lately. The heady aroma of cumin, paprika, and cinnamon; the tangy taste of lemon, pomegranate molasses, and yogurt; the sweetness of dried fruit; I want them all. Last night’s dinner was a feast of Moroccan beef chili with chickpea and raisin, bay leaf-scented quinoa, beet hummus, and Greek yogurt. The ingredients are decidedly not Moroccan but the tastes definitely transported me to more exotic locale than Toronto. To extend that culinary vacation, I packed the leftovers into a Moroccan inspired bento. Leftover lunch can be glorious too!
The starring player of my bento is Moroccan beef chili with chickpea and raisin, a recipe straight from Slow Cooker Revolution. This book has been keeping me well-fed and well-rested the last few weeks! This twist on traditional beef and bean chili gets dressed up in cumin, sweet paprika, ginger, cinnamon, and lemon. It remains satisfyingly meaty. Using chickpea is totally genius! Canned chickpea does not break down even after long hours in the slow cooker. Rather than the usual accompaniment of cornbread, I paired it with quinoa cooked in thyme lemon salt and bay leaf. I much prefer this wholesome pairing over couscous. Quinoa cooks up quickly so it’s not too much trouble over couscous anyway.
Beet hummus is a perennial favourite of mine. I get a steady supply of beets from my CSA and I must admit that it is not the most anticipated item of my box. Sure I love the taste but preparing them is just plain messy. The beets stain everything and they take forever to cook! Luckily, I found a way that works well for me. As soon as I return home with the vegetable, I scrub and trim the beets. Skip the fridge and jump directly into the slow cooker! When I wake up the next morning, all the beets are cook and I just peel them. The cooked beets are great items to have in the fridge. I can pick a few to add to salads or I can make a huge batch of beet hummus like I did yesterday. I seasoned the hummus with garlic, tahini, lemon, pomegranate molasses, ras el hanout, smoked paprika, salish (smoked salt), and sumac. The beet hummus tastes great on its own but I enjoy it even better with a dollop of Greek yogurt on some crispy lavash. For a more classic taste, you can check out the beet hummus recipe from Simply Recipes.
In case you’re wondering, it was a little heart that I carved out from the beet hummus. I like it cute without looking like I’m trying too hard. A lunch that puts a smile on my face. That’s what it’s all about.