On my recent trip I visited Kinokuniya, a bookstore that put stars in my eyes. I don’t know about your town, but in my town bookstores have been disappearing, and the ones that are still surviving are small and poorly stocked. Imagine my enthusiasm as I took in this massive store, big enough to get lost in (and yes, I did…!) The food and drink section alone dwarfed my local bookstore. While wandering around, lost and hungry, I found a wonderful little book, ‘Simply Onigiri’ by Sanae Inada. A cookbook just about onigiri, the adorable and ubiquitous Japanese comfort food….? Believe me, it is as wonderful as it sounds!
After a brief introduction about onigiri, Inada gives clear and detailed instructions on how to prepare and cook rice, and how to make a basic rice ball. Subsequent sections are for plain, mixed rice, filled and grilled onigiri, and even for different types of rice (eg brown). Most recipes feature a different shape or method for the onigiri. Nearly all recipes contained ingredients that I would be able to find in my town (even though Perth is not well-supplied with Japanese ingredients.) The few exotic exceptions were so appealing, for example, myoga (ginger bud) and cucumber mixed onigiri – which I would love to try some day, if only I could get my hands on some myoga!
The section on how to decorate onigiri has some fun ideas, though there are only a few examples of “cute” onigiri, (ie, looking like animals, etc). But of course that subject is covered widely elsewhere. The book has a pleasant minimalist look and easy on the eyes soft focus photographs. The methods are explained simply, and well-illustrated. There are a lot of tips included with the recipes to make bundling up a batch of onigiri easier.
What I liked most about the book is that it opened my mind to different ways I could make onigiri with ingredients I’m already using. The rice balls in the bento above are mixed rice bibimbap onigiri, made with finely shredded leftover bulgogi beef, spinach namul, and corn. It’s an inspiration to see page after page of variety, and has made me even more enthused to include onigiri in bentos.
For some more examples of other onigiri shapes and flavours, here are a few I featured in other posts:
Besides the bibimbap onigiri the bento above contains kimchi, asparagus, and sweet soy and black sesame chicken. The chicken recipe is just a simple one inspired by some rice crackers I had years ago, wish I could still find them!
Sweet Soy and Black Sesame Chicken
300g chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
sweet soy sauce
black sesame seeds
Saute the chicken on medium low heat until cooked through. Drizzle on sweet dark soy sauce (I use a sticky Indonesian one) and a good splash of mirin. Toss and turn the chicken, boiling down the liquid until it’s syrupy. Be careful not to burn it! Taste for seasoning, you may need to add salt if your soy sauce is not very salty. When the liquid is nearly all gone and the chicken is shiny and coated, sprinkle on black sesame seeds and stir them through. This recipe makes enough for several bentos, or a meal for two or three.