Japanese Bentos – Onigiri

Classically Built Onigiri

Happy 2017, Zojirushi fans! We kick off the new year with a new series about bento, or the Japanese lunch box. Japanese bentos are not only nutritious but creative and beautiful! We’re going to spend some time learning about the special foods and dishes that are found in bento boxes. Stick with us, and you’ll be making your own complete bento in no time!

We begin with one of Japanese cuisine’s beloved comfort foods, onigiri.

Onigiri, also known as omusubi, is a portable, filling convenience food that is nutritious and fun! The purest form of onigiri is made from high-quality cooked white rice that is shaped into either a ball, triangle or cylinder while it’s still hot. During the shaping process, the cook will coat their damp hands with salt to coat the rice with the seasoning.

onigiribento

Onigiri bento

Onigiri is said to have come into existence after uruchimai, or everyday short-grain white rice, came to be widely used in the 11th to 12th centuries. It became popular as a convenience food before modern refrigeration, as the addition of salt or a sour ingredient helped to preserve the cooked rice and enable people to take food with them when they left home.

Onigiri is a popular bento item because it keeps well, is highly portable and can be formed into lovely shapes. It can be found in elaborately festive bentos as well as in homemade bentos, and unlike sushi or inari, which are made using rice seasoned with vinegar, onigiri can simply be made with white rice and just a touch of salt.

So how many types of onigiri are there?

So many! From the traditional triangular, spherical and cylindrical shapes to adorably cute, molded shapes of popular characters in manga and anime, onigiri takes many forms. Onigiri is often wrapped in thin sheets of dried nori seaweed.  It also can be sprinkled with sesame seeds or furikake such as ground shiso leaf. When grilled over an open flame on a wire rack, yaki-onigiri, or grilled onigiri, can be basted with a glaze like miso butter. Mixing up the type of rice used in onigiri is also a popular way to make it. Short-grain japonica white rice is traditionally used, but brown rice and rice mixed with barley, wild rice, green peas and other grains also make delicious variations. New forms of onigiri, called onigirazu, are like little rice sandwiches wrapped in seaweed.

kyaraben

Kyaraben, or character bento

Making onigiri is like many Japanese activities… deceptively simple. Start with freshly cooked rice that has cooled to the point where it can be handled, not gotten cold. Moisten hands with water and rub a pinch of salt into hands. Scoop about ½ cup of rice into hands, and mold the rice into the desired shape. If using a mold, then press the rice into the mold. And you now have the most basic onigiri!

Try making our Rice Sprinkles Onigiri, which uses a wonderful vegetable furikake, as well as our Yaki-Onigiri, which results in a crispy outside and soft and savory inside. You’ll love them both!

Stay tuned for our next Japanese Bentos post in which we will be discussing about the different types of fillings for onigiri!

Also, don’t forget to share your favorite onigiri recipe with us in the comments!

 

Passport to Yum – Zojirushi’s Favorite Rice Desserts & Snacks

okaki

We’ve loved all of the rice dishes we’ve tried this year, whether from Asia, South America, the United States or Europe! But we can’t end the year without discussing the myriad desserts and snacks that are made from rice.

Just like those dishes that use rice in its grain or noodle form, many cultures have used this ancient grain in sweet desserts and savory snacks.

The ever-popular rice cracker is a sophisticated snack when made Japanese-style. There are two types of rice crackers most commonly made: senbei and okaki (seen in top photo). Senbei crackers, which originated in China, are made with Japanese short grain rice called uruchi mai and okaki are made with sweet, glutinous rice.  These rice crackers come in various shapes, including square, rectangular, round and as balls, and they can be made by baking, charcoal grilling or deep frying them. We love making this relatively easy okaki-style rice cracker at home, called kakimochi. Try them out and tell us what you think!

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Chakli (photo by Milindb05)

Indian food also has a rich tradition of creating savory rice crackers, one of which is chakli. Chakli is made using rice flour mixed with gram flour, lots of spices such as turmeric, ajwain, cumin, chili and clarified butter, or ghee. The batter is poured through a chakli maker into hot oil, and fried until crispy. Whenever you’re in the mood for a spicy rice snack, try making chakli.

Desserts made from rice are just as popular as snacks, starting with rice pudding! Rice pudding is made across the globe, from Southeast Asian kheer to South American arroz con leche. Arroz con Leche Colombiano is sweet and redolent of cinnamon. Long-grain rice is cooked in a mixture of milk, condensed milk, water, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and butter. The final product is cooled until thick and creamy… just perfect for a holiday occasion.

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Mango sticky rice (photo by Dennis Wong)

Another well-known rice dessert is mango sticky rice, found in many Thai restaurants across the United States and in beach cities across Thailand. Soaked sticky rice is cooked and then simmered in coconut milk, sugar and salt, and topped with peeled Thai mangoes. It’s a refreshing way to end a Thai meal!

Rice desserts can be simple or more colorful and intricate, like the traditional Chinese Ba Bao Fan and the Korean gyeongdan. Ba Bao Fan or “Eight Treasure Rice Pudding” is a traditional dessert served for Chinese New Year in China. This dessert is made by layering eight “treasures” or special ingredients such as sugar-glazed fruit or and sweetened beans onto a base of glutinous rice and sugar. It gets its name from the belief that the number eight is a lucky number for Chinese people because of the similarity of the sound of “ba” (eight) and “fa” which means wealth and prosperity.

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Ba Bao Fan (photo by kawanet)

Gyeongdan is a rice cake made using glutinous rice powder and hot water. The paste is formed into round balls which are coated with multicolored sweet bean powders.

No matter what you’re in the mood for… rice desserts, rice snacks, rice, rice noodles, rice paper, rice dumplings… this amazing food can satisfy all your cravings! We hope you make a lovely dish for your New Year celebrations and that you share them with us!

Passport to Yum – Zojirushi’s Favorite International Rice Recipes

takikomigohan

Have you made perfectly delicious rice yet? Now that you know all about rice, we want to share our favorite recipes for this versatile and nutritious grain… not just from Japan, but also from across the globe!

Rice is an ancient food, and many cultures have created sophisticated, comforting dishes using local ingredients to satisfy regional tastes. We start with rice dishes from Asia, including Japan, China, India and Pakistan.

Takikomi-Gohan (seen above) is a popular rice dish that emphasizes the classic Japanese culinary tradition of using seasonal ingredients. At Zojirushi, we’ve created a recipe full of flavorful vegetables, konnyaku, tofu, chicken and dashi. This preparation can easily be made in one of our rice cookers, and makes great leftovers—make a large batch and refrigerate for no-brainer lunches throughout the week.

chukagayu

Chinese rice porridge, or congee

China is famous for comforting rice dishes, too, including the classic rice porridge, also known as congee or okayu. Rice porridge is mild and filling, and is often had for breakfast or during an illness, as it is easily digested and soothing to the stomach. Japanese, Indian, Burmese, Korean and Indonesian cultures made a version of it, and we love this classic rice porridge recipe that you can make in our food jars.

India and Pakistan share a classic rice dish called biryani. Biryani is made by layering ingredients such as chicken, lamb and vegetables with long-grain basmati rice, and seasoning it with milk and a complex combination of spices like saffron, chili, cardamom, turmeric, ginger and garlic. The dish is slow, slow, slow cooked, until all of the ingredients are tender and have soaked up the seasonings. It’s not to be missed!

favabeanrisotto

Zojirushi’s Fava Bean Risotto

Europeans, both from the western and eastern parts of the continent, savor rice as well. The classic risotto is popular in Italy and around the world. The most basic risotto is made with medium-grain Arborio rice, slowly cooked in wine and broth until it becomes creamy. Popular variations add mushrooms and peas, and we love this recipe for Fava Bean Risotto. Italy’s neighbor Spain is famous for its paella, and we love this classic version with shrimp, mussels and clams.

Eastern European rice dishes are heavily influenced by the spices of Asia and the Middle East, and Uzbek plov is a prime example of the blending of these cultures. Plov is made using long-grain rice, mutton, carrots, onions, oil and water, mixed and cooked in an open cauldron for hours until the aroma of the dish is utterly mouth-watering. Plov is often served with chickpeas, raisins and eggs, depending on the time of day it is eaten. Plov also has an interesting history, and it is said to have been made for Alexander the Great and his army.

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Crawfish etouffee (photo by jeffreyw)

The Americas have their own special rice dishes which are consumed with as much gusto as their friends on other continents. Crawfish etoufee is an elaborate and spicy dish consisting of shellfish and spices “smothering” the rice and braised in a large sauté pan. Arroz de lisa is a distinctive Colombian dish prepared with mullet rice, cooked cassava melon, costeño cheese and a piquant sour cream sauce. The rice is served in a bijao leaf and often eaten as street food.

Rice as a whole grain isn’t the only way it’s eaten across the world. Rice in the form of noodles is incredibly popular, and some of our favorites are Singapore Noodles, redolent with curry, onions and bell peppers, along with spicy, coconut-infused laksa from Malaysia, pho from Vietnam and the ever-popular wok’d chow fun with Chinese broccoli.

Rice, rice noodles, rice paper, rice dumplings… the variety is endless! We hope you try some of these recipes… and as always, share your creations with us in the comments below.

Zojirushi’s Secrets for Delicious Rice: Cooking with a Zojirushi Rice Cooker

hotrice

By now you know how to store, measure and wash rice so that it’s ready to be cooked. This month, we get to it! We share our secret for cooking perfectly delicious rice in our Zojirushi rice cookers.

Rice requires the correct ratio of grains to water, even heat and controlled pressure to cook well. Along with being easy to use and stylish, Zojirushi rice cookers are designed with these requirements in mind. A variety of features, including water level lines on the inner cooking pan, pre-programmed menu settings and temperature control give you perfectly cooked rice every time.

There are three main categories of rice cookers, with each representing a different level of rice ‘deliciousness’.  Micom rice cookers use a microcomputer, or “micom”, chip to control the way rice is cooked. The microcomputer programs in soaking time, and adjusts cooking temperature and time according to readings from internal sensors. In addition, most Micom rice cookers have three heaters surrounding the inner pan—one at the bottom, one at the top and one surrounding the inner pan from the sides—for even heat distribution to ensure fluffy rice.

Zojirushi Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer NS-ZCC10/18

Zojirushi Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer NS-ZCC10/18

Building on micom technology, Zojirushi’s IH + Micom rice cookers utilize sophisticated induction heating technology, which allows the inner pan to become hot very quickly using a magnetic field. The magnetic field also allows the heat to turn off very quickly, as opposed to an electrical heating element, to lower the temperature as quickly as possible when needed. This enables the rice cooker to make finer temperature adjustments for precise heating.

Zojirushi Micom + IH Rice Cooker & Warmer NP-HCC10/18

Zojirushi IH + Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer NP-HCC10/18

Zojirushi also has a rice cooker that adds pressure cooking to the induction heating and micom technologies, called a Pressure + IH + Micom rice cooker. Cooking with pressure and high heat brings out the rice’s best characteristics. A pressurized system alters the structure of starch within each grain of rice, converting the indigestible beta starch into a softer, palatable alpha starch. Pressure cooked rice is fluffier, has superior texture and a pleasing mouthfeel.

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Zojirushi Pressure + IH + Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer NP-NVC10/18

Whether you use a Micom rice cooker, an IH + Micom rice cooker or the most sophisticated Pressure + IH + Micom rice cooker, make sure to follow the steps for correctly storing, measuring and washing your rice, and you’ll have delicious rice, hot and ready to eat, every time!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Rice is truly a universal food, spanning cultures, cuisines and geographies, and we bring our passion about this grain to all that we do.

Zojirushi’s Secrets for Delicious Rice: How to Wash Rice

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Rice is a staple in kitchens all over the world. Last month we discussed how to correctly store rice to preserve its nutrients, freshness and quality, as well as how to measure rice to prepare it perfectly. In our post this month, we share our secret for rinsing and washing short-grain Japanese rice.

The key to washing and rinsing rice is to be quick and gentle. Before modern milling methods, rice was typically not as clean and bran-free as it is today. Improved million methods now result in rice that is cleaner, but also more sensitive to scrubbing and soaking. Rice grains can break if they are rubbed together too harshly, so it’s important to use a light touch. Rice grains that have had the bran polished off also begin absorbing water quickly, so it’s important to limit the time short-grain rice is exposed to water, especially as the water becomes dirty.

There are four steps to washing and rinsing rice the Zojirushi way.

Preparation
Measure and add the desired amount of rice to the inner cooking pan of your Zojirushi rice cooker using the rice measuring cup that comes with it. Fill a separate bowl with clean, cool water and pour it into the inner pan.

Initial Rinse
With an open hand, stir the rice in the water 2-3 times, then drain. Repeat this initial rinse step up to three times, until the water begins to run clear. Be sure to spend no more than 10 seconds during each rinse, so the rice doesn’t absorb the starchy water.

Wash
After the initial rinse, make a claw with your hand and quickly stir the drained but wet rice 30 times in a circular motion, without squeezing the rice in the palm of your hand. Pool cool water in a separate bowl while you rinse, and pour into the rice, stir gently two to three times, and drain. Repeat this step two to four times, depending on how starchy your rice is. For less than four cups of rice, wash it twice. For between four and seven cups of rice, wash it three times, and for more than eight cups of rice, wash it four times. If the water remains cloudy, keep washing and rinsing until the rice grains are visible through the water. Be sure to work quickly so that each wash takes only 15 seconds or less. Washing the rice this way prevents it from breaking and cleans residue and starch from each grain.

Final Rinse
The final rinse removes any remaining starch from the rice. Pour plenty of water into the inner pan, stir with an open hand and drain the rice. Repeat this step twice to ensure that the rice is clean.

Be sure to complete the four steps within 10 minutes, and the rice is ready to cook!

Different types of rice need to be washed and rinsed in their own ways. Our method works best for short-grain white rice. Let us know how you prepare your rice!