Liquid Seasoning Potions from Sara Kiyo Popowa's "Bento Power: Brilliantly Balanced Lunchbox Recipes"


Liquid Seasoning Potions

All these potions are easy to put together, last for ages, and transform a simple bento (or any meal) into something special with just one or two spoonfuls. In my kitchen, nothing is “just” seasonings alone, so all these (apart from the wasabi) double up as “nutrient potions” too!


Garlic-infused Soy Sauce

Makes about 3 tbsp.

Refrigerator life: several months.

This super-simple seasoning adds instant oomph and can be used in place of tamari in any of the recipes in this book. There‘s a lot of power in one garlic clove, so I usually keep my sauce a few months and just top up with fresh tamari as my bottle runs low.

  • 3 tbsp. tamari
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and halved lengthwise

Add the tamari and garlic to a small, repurposed bottle (ideally one with a pouring cap/top), close and refrigerate. It‘s ready to use after a day or so. The flavor deepens over time.


Korean-style Dressing

Makes about 6 tbsp. servings (although you may want to use more per serving). Refrigerator life: up to 2 weeks.

I often make this dressing in my bento workshops and the moment people try it, they get hooked on gochugaru—Korean red pepper (and on the dressing too, I think!). Mixed with rice vermicelli or plain rice it makes it deliciously orangey-red. If you can‘t source gochugaru, the substitute mix is very tasty too!

Pour all the ingredients into a small glass jar with a lid and give it a really good shake. Store in the refrigerator, and shake well before using.

Substitute mix

Sub the gochugaru with 1 tsp. chili flakes, 1 tsp. paprika, and 1 tsp. sweet smoked paprika, combined.


Cheatin’ Gochujang Sauce

Makes 6 tbsp. servings. Refrigerator life: up to 1 month.

Gochujang is a seasoning paste essential in many Korean dishes—it goes with everything and is simply addictive! You may know it as the spicy, sweet sauce served with Bibimbap. I spent years looking for one that wasn‘t full of flavor enhancers or corn syrup—in the end I made my own.

Original gochujang needs fermenting for months, but I don‘t have the patience (or skill). To create mine, I used something that‘s already fermented—miso paste—then added the signature gochujang flavors. I‘ve excluded garlic in my version to keep it meeting-friendly but you can add grated fresh garlic or garlic granules to taste, if you like.

I use gochujang as a quick enhancer for any rice- or noodle-based bento (just add a dollop and let each person mix it into their food), or 1–2 spoonfuls as a quick marinade/dressing for veggies (try it with cucumber and cauliflower). It‘s also amazing spread on toast with almond butter, smoked tofu or avocado!

In a small storage jar with a lid, mix all the ingredients to a very smooth paste. Store in the refrigerator.

Variation: Different types of miso give different results. I love the darker misos for this recipe.


Lazy Ra-yu Chili Oil

Makes 10 tsp. servings. Refrigerator life: 2 months or more.

Ra-yu is a spicy sesame oil typically used to spice up Chinese-origin dishes like ramen or dumplings. Here is a lazy version, skipping on the steps but hopefully not on flavor. Use as a quick boost to overnight boiled eggs (which can be a little hard and dry) or drizzled over rice or noodles, onigiri, or quick-blanched greens.

Gently heat the oil in a small pan. When it starts looking hot, drop the leek and ginger into it—it will bubble and fizz. Once that has calmed down, remove it from the heat and stir in the rest of the ingredients.

Let cool, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer (I use a metal tea strainer) into a small, repurposed glass jar or bottle, ideally one with a pouring cap. Add the dried chili, if using, and seal and store in the refrigerator.


Miso Almond Seasoning Paste

Makes about 7 tbsp. servings. Refrigerator life: up to 1 month.

A crave-worthy combination of flavors. Great as an onigiri filler, or add a dollop into your bento and eat with plain rice or veggies. Dilute a couple of tablespoons with a little water to make a delicious noodle dressing. You can use tahini or peanut butter instead of almond.

Flavor options (add one of these to the mixture above):

  • a little finely grated unwaxed lemon zest and 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. gochugaru (Korean red pepper) or chili flakes, to taste
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, grated and juice hand-squeezed out (pulp discarded)

Mix all the ingredients to a very smooth paste directly in a small storage jar with a lid. Store in the refrigerator.


Wasabi from Powder

Makes 1–2 servings. Use the same day.

I was taught the very simple art of making wasabi from powder working in a Stockholm sushi restaurant as a student. Wasabi‘s pungency is volatile, so you want to stop it from disappearing into the air. Solution: trap it in an upside-down glass.

Stir the wasabi powder and water together in a small glass to a paste. Leave the glass upside-down (the paste should be sticking to the “roof” of the glass) to allow the pungency to develop for at least 5 minutes.

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Reprinted from Bento Power: Brilliantly Balanced Lunchbox Recipes. Copyright © 2018 by Sara Kiyo Popowa. Published by Kyle Books.