Mini-hamburger bento recipe

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Meaty and satisfying, yet small and easy to pick up with chopsticks, mini-hamburgers are great for bento boxes, since they stay soft and juicy even when well cooked and cooled to room temperature. They are a great favorite with kids.

Japanese-style hamburgers are like round miniature meatloaves in flavor and texture, rather than all-beef American-style burgers, which can get tough when cold. These stay moist and flavorful, just like day-after meatloaf. I have used a typical meatloaf mix of ground beef, pork, and veal, but you could use all beef instead. If using beef, choose one that is at least 10% fat (labeled “90% fat free”) or your burgers may be rather dry.

  • Yield: 6 to 8 Servings (24 mini-hamburgers)


  • 1 lb (450 g) mixed ground beef, pork, and veal
  • ⅓ cup (16 g) fresh bread crumbs, or ⅓ cup (35 g) dried bread crumbs and 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped, and sautéed in ½ Tbsp oil until translucent
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • black pepper, to taste
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • ketchup, steak sauce, tonkatsu sauce, or a mix, for coating
How to Make It
  1. Put all the ingredients, except the oil and the ketchup, into a bowl and mix well with your hands until the meat is slightly sticky. Divide the mixture into 24 small, flattened balls.
  2. Heat the oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Put the mini-hamburgers in the pan in batches, with plenty of space around each one. Cook until browned on one side, then flip over, lower the heat and put a lid on the pan. Steam for 5–6 minutes until the hamburgers are cooked through: they will feel firm to the touch when done. Coat the hamburgers with a little ketchup or tonkatsu sauce, or a mix of both, before removing from the pan, and allow to cool completely before packing into a bento box or freezing.
  3. To freeze the hamburgers, arrange in a single layer, ideally on a metal baking sheet. When frozen, pack into a freezer bag or box. Use within a month for optimum quality.
  4. To use frozen precooked hamburgers, gently heat in a dry nonstick frying pan, covered, over medium-low heat for 8–10 minutes until warmed through. Alternatively, place on a microwave-safe plate and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 4–5 minutes. Cool to room temperature before packing into a bento box.
  5. Carrot and Cheese Flowers
  6. This garnish adds color as well as some extra nutrition and texture to the bento. If you can’t be bothered to make cutouts, even adding some plain slices of carrot and cheese will make the presentation a little more special. Serving Size: 1 Ingredients:
    • 2 inch (5 cm) length carrot, sliced into ¼ inch (0.5 cm) rounds cheese of your choice
    1. Cut out decorative pieces from the carrot slices with a small cookie cutter, sugarcraft cutter, or bento cutter. Boil in salted water for 5 minutes or until the carrot slices are tender. Let cool before adding to the bento box.
    2. To make cheese flowers, cut out shapes from sliced cheese. Cheeses that are easy to cut this way include Gouda, provolone, fontina, and Swiss. Presliced processed cheese will work too.
  7. Red Onion and Parsley Salad
  8. Massaging the raw onion with some salt takes away much of the harsh flavor of the onion slices, leaving them softened yet still crunchy—the perfect foil for the mini-hamburgers. Serving Size: 1 Ingredients;
    • ½ medium red onion, very thinly sliced
    • pinch salt
    • small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
    • black pepper, to taste
    • 1 tsp rice vinegar
    • pinch sugar
    1. Sprinkle the onion with a pinch of salt, and massage the salt well into the onion with your hands. The onion will exude a lot of moisture. Squeeze the onion to expel as much moisture as possible.
    2. In a bowl, mix all the ingredients well. Pack into a cupcake liner or bento divider cup.
  9. Blanched Snow Peas
  10. Serving Size: 1 Ingredients:
    • Vibrant green snow peas are a great bento garnish.
    • handful snow peas, topped and tailed, strings removed
    1. Cook in boiling water for a couple of minutes, until crisp-tender.
    2. Drain, and cool rapidly under running water to fix the bright green color. Drain well before adding to the bento box.
  11. Basic White Rice with Sesame Salt
  12. Have hot precooked rice ready to go. Either set the timer on your rice cooker the night before so that the rice is ready in the morning or defrost some precooked frozen rice in the microwave. Serving Size: 1 Ingredients:
    • 1 cup (200 g) cooked Basic White Rice
    • Sesame Salt, for sprinkling
    1. Pack the rice into the bento box and sprinkle with the sesame salt.

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