Little Satsuki sweetly prepares bentos for herself, her father and sister in My Neighbor Totoro. This is my interpretation!
While I fried the smelt here, in the movie it’s smoked. My smelt were deboned, but if your fish are small enough you can actually eat the bones and not worry about deboning them. Alternately you could roast them in the oven, or just used canned smelt or sardines.
Smelt, Sesame Greens, and Daikon Pickle Bentos from My Neighbor Totoro
For the fried smelt
- 1 pound frozen smelt (cleaned and deboned), thawed and rinsed
- 1 cup cornmeal (you could also use AP flour or panko breadcrumbs)
- generous sprinkle salt & pepper
- oil for frying
In a large, flat pan, heat 1/2 inch of oil on medium high. On a plate, mix the cornmeal with a generous pinch of salt and fresh cracked pepper. Dredge the smelt in the cornmeal mixture and fry in batches for about 2 minutes each side (you can just roll them over with a fork). Transfer to a wire rack placed over a baking sheet to remove excess oil. Finish with a spritz of lemon juice.
For the sesame greens
- 1 bunch chard (you could use other greens such as collard greens or spinach), trimmed and chopped into thick ribbons
- 1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 small clove garlic, grated
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- couple pinches coarse salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the chard for about 2 minutes until vibrant green and very tender. (If you are using other greens, adjust the blanching time for the coarseness of the greens). Drain.
In a medium to large bowl, stir together sesame oil, garlic, sugar and a small pinch of salt. Gently press the excess water from the greens, and toss with the sesame mixture.
With a mortar and pestle, grind the sesame seeds with another pinch of salt, and sprinkle over the greens.
For the daikon pickle
- 1 pound daikon radish, peel and grated
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 small piece roasted beet for color
Mix well the rice vinegar, salt, sugar and beet. Toss the daikon radish with the mixture and allow to sit for at least an hour (it will be a little dry but will release liquid over time).
For the bentos
Arrange all ingredients, along with perfectly cooked Japanese rice (technique on The Kitchn) and an umeboshi (pickled plum).
I saw some other good interpretations including this one on Anna the Red