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Girljin in Japan By Rachel Tranter Davies

Try Cooking Japanese Autumn Bento at Home

Autumn in Japan is my favourite time of the year for food and fresh produce. There's an abundance of tasty treats lining the supermarket shelves making this the ideal month to try your hand at a delicious autumn bento box.

To really make this bento a celebration of autumn I not only wanted to use seasonal produce, but also wanted to keep to the koyou colours; bright reds, yellows, orange and pinks.

Matsutake Gohan
130 grams Matsutake mushrooms (or any other mushrooms)
1 cup Japanese short grain rice
1 cup shiitake mushroom stock (or any other vegetable stock)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sake
2 shiso leaves (shredded)

Thoroughly clean the dirt and sand off of the mushrooms using a damp paper towel. Put the rice in a strainer and wash twice with clean water. Drain the rice thoroughly and then put it in a heavy bottomed pot (or a rice cooker pot). Shred the matsutake by scoring the stem and pulling the mushrooms apart into segments. Add the stock, soy sauce and sake and top with the mushrooms. Bring the rice to a boil over a high heat and then cover with a lid and lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer for 10 minutes. Without opening the lid, turn the heat off and let the rice steam for another 10 minutes. Sprinkle with shiso.

Carrots Cooked in Dashi
130 grams carrots, cut into flat discs
Dashi (Japanese broth)

Place carrot discs into pan, pour enough dashi in to just cover the discs. Simmer for 5 minutes until tender but not too soft. Drain and let cool before using a leaf-shaped cutter to carve.

Sweet and Soy Pumpkin with Sesame
450 grams pumpkin
30 grams caster sugar
1 tbsp. soy sauce
15 grams sesame seeds

Peel the pumpkin and remove the seeds. Cut into small squares. Put 150ml water, sugar and soy sauce into a pan and heat. When it starts to boil, add the pumpkin and cook until the liquid has been absorbed and the pumpkin is soft. Be careful not to burn. When cooled, add the sesame seeds.

Smoked Salmon
1 piece of pre-prepared salted or smoked salmon

Toasted Gingko
You can buy de-shelled gingko in packages in any Japanese supermarket year-round, or buy whole in hard shells between October and February. If you buy the shell-on version, toast the nuts in a frying pan for 3-5 mins before removing the shell with a nutcracker or hitting with a rolling pin. Finish by toasting the de-shelled gingko with a sprinkling of salt for 2-3 mins.

Putting the Bento Together!
Prepare the bento by first filling one half of the bento box with the matsutake gohan. Next place a few of the leaf-shaped carrots on top but don't completely cover. In the empty half of the bento, arrange a few pieces of pumpkin, a small piece of salmon and the gingko so that all are visible and neat. Sprinkle with some chopped shiso leaves for a touch of colour. Bon Appetite!

Rachel is a food, drink and travel writer. Originally from England, she recently relocated to Japan and is now finding her feet in Kyoto. You can find her blogging tweeting and instagramming her experiences at Girljin in Japan.