Tells a story


JCCNC Rice Workshop March 21, 2015

Posted on March 12, 2015 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)





I am heading to the Bay Area to teach a class on rice, one of my favorite topics. At this workshop, I will be featuring rice in all forms: Fresh and Fermented, Sweet and Savory. Come join me at JCCNC. This place has become my community away from Los Angeles.




Seasoned rice dish with sukiyaki beef, shirataki and pickled ginger

Chirashi Sushi with Seasfood, sesame and shiso

Miso Soup with Fava, tofu and herbs

Fermented Nuka pickles from scratch

Shitarama with Adzuki bean paaste

wuith Okinawa brown sugar syrup




For more information visit


Fee: $100


You will take home Nuka for your pickles


Jcccnc 1840 Sutter Street, San Francisco Tel 415-567-5505




Onigiri Workshop for Children

Posted on February 12, 2015 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Join me for a hands on Childrens Onigiri Workshop in Highland Park on February 28 from 11-2pm. $25 to participate.

For details, contact me at  

SHED Rice Workshop, featuring Onigiri

Posted on January 26, 2015 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)


Workshop from 11am - 2pm on 2/6 $95


In the United States rice is often served as a side dish, but in Japan, rice is the centerpiece of a satisfying meal. Rice is nourishing, delicious, versatile and gluten-free. Join Sonoko Sakai, Japanese food writer and teacher, and Robin Koda, proprietor of Koda Farms, the oldest rice farm in California, as they share their knowledge and passion for rice.

Sonoko will teach a variety of classic and modern Japanese rice dishes using brown, white rice, mixed grains, and legumes while Robin will share her expertise on growing and cooking rice. Participants will learn how to make plain and sushi-style Onigiri rice balls, winter soup with Kabocha and scallion miso and Nuka pickles. For dessert students will make shiratama mochi balls with sweet azuki bean paste. After the hands-on lesson, we will sit down for a communal meal of all the things we’ve learned to prepare.


Students will take home Nuka base and complete the fermentation at home. Please bring a cutting board, kitchen knife, a plastic or glass container (3 cup size) with a lid, and an apron.


Sonoko Sakai is the founder of Common Grains, a project dedicated to providing a deeper understanding and appreciation for Japanese food and culture. She is currently working on a rice themed cookbook titled Ricecraft (to be published by Chronicle Books in Spring 2015).


Robin Koda is a third generation Japanese-Californian rice grower who, along with her brother, farms, mills, and packages heirloom rice on their homestead in the San Joaquin Valley. Koda Farms is the oldest family owned and operated rice farm and mill in California. It was Robin’s love of the cycles of rice cultivation that brought her back to the ranch after earning an MFA from the School of the Chicago Art Institute.


All workshop participants will receive 10% off in SHED’s retail store and cafe the day of the workshop, perfect for stocking up on cooking supplies to make Japanese food at home.


Grilled Ongiri - A perfect July 4 weekend BBQ treat

Posted on June 28, 2014 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Here is the story which appeared on Zester Daily about my favorite snack food: Yakionigiri. 

Koda Farms Kokuho Rose Brown Rice Onigiri

Posted on June 18, 2014 at 1:40 AM Comments comments (1)

I opened a box of Koda Farms Kokuho Rose brown rice. It's an organic heriloom varietal grown in Northern Caliornia near Merced by the Koda farmily. I love their brown rice.  I soaked the rice overnight and cooked it in a rice cooker on the brown rice setting.  It came out fluffy and sticky   - an important factor when making onigiris.  I made two onigiris - one coated with white sesame seeds and the other with Aonori flakes.  The only seasoning is salt.  This could have made a satisfying lunch but since i had some fermented soy beans (Natto) in the fridge, I decided to put it on top of my Aonori onigiris.  Natto plain tastes plain and slightly cheesy. Add a little soy, and the flavor becomes  milder, even sweeter.  These onigiris were my lunch and dinner.

I love rice with Natto so much that i can easily say that this could be my last meal.  Some may find Natto horribly slimy and stinky but you can imagine how Asians felt when they encountered cheese.  It's all a matter of getting used to it and acquiring a taste for something fermented. Natto does your body good. It aids in digestion and it's full of minerals and fiber, and low in calories.  The combination of natto and brown rice makes a perfectly balanced meal.

Killer Onigiris

Posted on June 10, 2014 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)

I've been eating Tartine bread non-stop for breakfast, lunch and supper but after two days, I felt like eating rice for lunch.   Onigiri came to mind, but of course, I wanted to celebrate RICE CRAFT - the ongiiri book I am going to write for Chronicle Books. One of the reaasons why I was in SF was to close the deal, and closed it is!  It's a good feeling. The book will be published in Spring 2016. A long ways to go but I have to get to work because some of the manuscript is due in September. I will make killer onigiris.  

Sushi just right for making at home

Posted on April 17, 2014 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Noone really makes nigiri sushi at home - we leave that to the sushi chefs.  But almost every home cook makes chirashi-sushi. It's a scattered sushi - a Japanese version of a paella or pilaf.   This particular chirashi sushi is vegetarian; the toppings can be almost anything you want them to be - but seasonal is preferred.  The strips of egg, greens and the pink ginger bring the message of spring.  (Here is the story about chirashi sushi I wrote for Zester Daily. )

Fried Rice with Koda Farms's Organic Nirvana Blend Rice

Posted on March 10, 2014 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I met Robin and Ross Koda of Koda Farms at the  Natural Products Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center.  Koda Farms has been making rice for three generations in Northern California.  I love their brown rice but I learned that they are also expanding into the blends - rice with millet, buckwheat, flax, sesame seeds, barley, etc.  The sample Robin gave me had 11 blends.  I cooked the rice in an electric rice cooker.  It came out on the dry side but the leftovers made perfect dried rice.  I sauteed some green oninos, herbs and shimeji mushrooms. (left overs from the Vietnamese spring roll we made last week) and added scrambled eggs and rice.  I was basically trying to clean up my fridge before leaving town tomorrow.  You never know what feast you can put together with left overs.  This fried rice was delicious. All it needed for seasoning was a little gray salt and pepper.

Onigiri with Daikon radish leaves and sesame

Posted on March 8, 2014 at 10:05 PM Comments comments (0)

When it comes to daikon radish, there is no part to throw away.  Even the leaves and stems can turn into a delicious kinpira dish when sauteed with sesame oil, soy,  mirin and red chili pepper.  I served the sauted chopped daikon leaves with rice the night before with koji marinated cod and some koji pickled napa cabbage.  Then with the left over sauteed daikon radish leaves, I made onigiri the next day. It was a delightful afternoon snack.  A sprinkle of sesame and gray salt are the additional seasonings that give this rice ball good flavor.

Good Snack: Brown Rice Onigiri with Pickled Plums

Posted on February 28, 2014 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (0)

I got a new rice cooker from my new friends at Tiger Rice Cooker.  They told me that this particular rice cooker has several layers of insulation, made of ceramic, which keep the heat intact while the rice is cooking. It is supposed to be great for cooking brown rice, which is slightly more challenging than milled rice.  I must say my brown rice came out pretty good. I still need to adjust the water level.  I always soak my brown rice overnight to let the grains absorb the water. Water levels differ from rice to rice so adjustments are always part of the process.  For this onigiri, I used Koda Farms Kokuho brown rice, which is an heirloom type that is grown in Northern California. 

I like to eat brown rice, fresh, as Onigiri. The filling, usually umeboshi - pickled plums. So simple and good. 

Grains at the heart of a meal

Posted on November 22, 2013 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Grains at the heart of a meal

It always gives me great comfort to know that when I cannot think of what to make for supper, I can always rely on rice or noodles and everything else will eventually fall into place. I plan my meals this way  -- around grains. Of course, if I see fresh fish at the market, fish becomes the centerpiece of the meal along with vegetables, but they serve to enchance the flavor of grains and balance out the meal.  

Fresh bamboo - locally grown and delcious

Posted on May 26, 2013 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Here is a story I wrote about locally grown bamboo shoots from Penryn Orchard Specialities.

Onigiri- Redefining fast food

Posted on March 22, 2013 at 3:30 PM Comments comments (1)

A story I wrote for the LA Times got re-published in Daily Dish.  It's always nice when you have repeat readers and curious cooks who want to try something new. Here is the link. 

Soboro Chicken

Posted on January 26, 2013 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (0)

I spent the morning working on a recipe I am going to be using for a cooking workshop in Mountain View.  The theme is rice so I came up with one of my favorite topping for rice - soboro chicken.  Actually, there are more toppings than just the ginger flavored ground chicken.  In this bowl, I topped the soboro chicken with snow peas, scrambled eggs and put a pickled ginger as the garnish.  You can make the soboro chicken and freeze it.  So it comes handy when you are busy, which is often my case.

2-3 servings

12 ounces ground chicken (use thigh meat with some fat) 1/2 onion, minced. 1 carrot, minced. ½ cup of dashi (katusobushi/konbu base stock) 1/4 cup sake 3 tbls soy sauce 2 Tbls mirin (sweet sake) 1.5 tbls sugar 1 tbls juice of grated ginger 1 tbls Vegetable oil for sauteing 1.5 tsp of ground Kuzu powder, mixed with 2 tbls of water to dissolve. (optional) 2-3 cups of cooked Japanese short grain rice. Toppings: (Help yourself to any two or three of your favorite toppings) Sakai suggest 3 toppings: red, green, and yellow toppings for color and flavor. (See picture) • Amazu shoga - Pickled ginger (1 tbls per person) – homemade or commercial brand (without MSG) • Cooked snow peas, blanched and sliced thinly at an angle (2 snow peas per person) • *Scrambled eggs (2 tbls per person) (see recipe below) • Thinly Cut Nori seaweed (1 tbls per person) • Sliced chives (1 tbls per person) • Roasted sesame seeds (1/2 teaspoon per person) SOBORO CHICKEN RECIPE INSTRUCTIONS: Make the dashi in advance. Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the ground chicken and fry until the meat is crumbly and loose,
using a bundle of chopsticks to break the meat apart into very fine and even crumbles. To the chicken mixture, add dashi, sake, mirin, sugar, soy sauce and simmer for 7-8 minutes until
80% of the liquid is absorbed. Stir occasionally. Add the ground ginger. Taste and adjust the
seasonings if necessary. If the Soboro Chicken appears dry, add a few more tablespoons of dashi.
Then add the kuzu mixture into the soboro and stir. When you get a shiny coat, turn off heat. Set the pan aside. To serve: Serve steamed rice with a scoop of warm soboro chicken and garnish with toppings of your choice.
(See above suggestions). *Scrambled egg topping recipe: (2-3 servings) 2 eggs 1 Tbls Mirin 1 pinch salt Vegetable oil for sautéing To make the scrambled eggs, combine the eggs with mirin and salt in a bowl and mix well. Heat the frying pan with vegetable oil, and pour the egg into the pan. Turn heat to a low
and scramble the eggs with a bundle of chopsticks to resemble the soboro chicken.
Be careful not to overcook or burn the eggs. Remove from heat and set aside.

Common Grains - Salmon Onigiri - Sprouted Brown Rice

Posted on March 16, 2012 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Besides soba, our other popular seller at the Common Grain pop ups was Onigiri. Among the onigiris we offered, salmon onigiri sold like peanuts. The 40 cup electric rice cooker, nicknamed R2-D2 for its shape and sizer, turned out to be a practical thing to have. 

I used to make onigiris with mostly white rice but now I am inclined to make it more often with brown rice ever since I met Monica Spiller of the Whole Grain Connection at one of our events.  Monica is working to revive ancient wheat varietals and advocates eating whole grains. I have been reading her book What's with Fiber? which she co-wrote with her late husband Gene Spiller.  It's a book about improving your health with a high-fiber, plant-based diet. I am thinking, why mill away the nutrients. Eat food whole, whenever possible.
I highly recommend the book.

Today, I made onigiri with sprouted brown rice, which in Japanese is called Haiga-mai. It is slightly milder in flavor than brown rice and cooks fast like plain white rice. Sprouted brown rice contains high levels of minerals and dietary fiber.  It's very easy to cook and digest. I used a donabe rice cooker to cook the rice.  One cup of uncooked rice yields three large onigiris.  

I use my hands to make Onigiri.  You can use onigiri molds but hand molded onigiris taste better.
Here is what you do to make onigiri. While the rice is cooking, I get the seasonings and fillings ready.  For the Salmon Onigiri, you will need salt, water, and grilled salmon.  You can grill a fillet or two of salmon and flake it into small pieces. You can also use leftover salmon from last night's dinner. Put the salmon in a bowl and set it aside.

Prepare a bowl of salt water to rinse your hands in so the rice doesn't stick while you are molding the onigiris. Also, have some salt for seasoning the rice. Put everything on a tray.  

Divide the cooked rice into six mounds and place salmon flakes in the middle.  Alternatively, you can mix the salmon flakes into the rice to make salmon rice. 

Mold each mound into a triangular shape with your hands. Make sure you wet your hands in the bowl of salt water first. Dab a little salt on your palm and then pick up the mound of rice and make the triangle onigiri.  Don't press too hard. The onigiris should be firm but soft in the inside.  The salmon rice onigiri is in the center of the picture. The onigiri stuffed with salmon is in the background.  

Take a piece of nori seaweed and cut it into wide strips.  The width is a matter of preference. I use about 1/3 of the nori seaweed sheet to wrap each onigiri.  Onigiri is best eaten fresh.  You can also freeze Onigiri and microwave it.
I am not a regular microwaver user but it does magic with cooked rice.

Onigiri Contest - JANM

Posted on January 7, 2012 at 11:30 PM Comments comments (1)
Tomorrow is the kick off of Common Grains.   We will start with the Onigiri Contest.  
My son Sakae made these onigiris while I was visiting him in Seattle. Binah, his finace, took these pictures.


Common Grains - Onigiri rehearsal

Posted on January 7, 2012 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (0)

We are just two days before the kick off of Common Grains.  Today, we tested the rice cookers and figured out the logistics of the onigiri contest.  We don't know how many people will come but we are preparing for 500.

We practiced making onigiri.  It's  going to be fun looking at all onigiris on Sunday.

Lili Gomez's onigiri. The cilantro is the Mexican touch.

Janet and Soma's onigiri - The Jalapeno and shansho pepper eyes are hilarious. Souma's on right looks like it has a hangover.

Monster Onigiri by Soma. I stouck in the almond teeth.

Grilled Onigiri with Miso

Posted on August 22, 2011 at 9:20 PM Comments comments (0)

I have been cooking a lot of rice this week. I am testing the new donabe rice cooker and some onigiri recipes. On this occasion,  I also tested the pros and cons of using a rice ball mold. I usually make my rice balls by hand, but I sometimes use rice ball molds. It's when I don't have enough hands to make onigiri by hand.  The rice ball maker I found at Marukai is plastic - double onigiri mold.  Each mold takes about 3/4 cup of cooked rice.  They make a perfect triagular onigiri.  But if you just use it to mold the rice, your onigiri will not hold together, especially if you are grilling it. To use the molds, rinse them in water so they are slightly wet, and then stuff them with rice. Don't pack too much or you will squash the grains.  

Plastic onigiri molds  and onigiri right out of the mold.

 To keep hold the shape of onigiri, use your hands to gently  press the molded rice triangle from all sides.

Onigiri that has been pressed by hand, ready to be broiled.

I used a Cuisinart toaster oven to broil these balls.  It can fit 9 onigiri on the tray so it is pretty accomodating.  When the onigiris are toasted, you baste them with some miso-soy-mirin sauce and toast them again until they are nice and crispy.  Serve immediately.

Grilled Onigiri with Miso Recipe:
Onigiri (See recipe below)
Grilled onigiri served two ways
Total time: 30 minutes
Servings: Each sauce recipe makes enough for 4 onigiri

Miso sauce with chives
1/4 cup miso (white, Saikyo or red miso paste)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 cup finely chopped chives

In a medium bowl, whisk together the miso, mirin and soy sauce. The chives can be whisked into the sauce, or sprinkled over as a garnish just before serving.

Soy mirin sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce (koikuchi style)
2 teaspoons mirin

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce and mirin.

Grilled onigiri assembly 4 onigiri, Olive, sesame or chili oil Prepared sauce 1. Brush the onigiri with a little oil to prevent it from sticking to the grill. If you use a spicy oil like chili oil, it will give the onigiri heat. 2. Heat a grill pan or grill over medium-high heat until hot, or heat the broiler. Line the grill pan, grill or a baking sheet (if using the broiler) with foil. Grill the onigiri on both sides until crisp and slightly toasted; this can take from 5 to 10 minutes on each side depending on the heat and cooking method. While grilling, baste the onigiri with a little of the sauce on each side a few times until it is absorbed and becomes crisp; the onigiri should not be moist from basting when done. Watch carefully, as the onigiri can burn. 3. Serve immediately while the onigiri are piping hot.

Onigiri recipe (go to this link).

Grilled Onigiri Breakfast

Posted on August 11, 2011 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Grilled onigiri and yogurt with blueberries

My friend Atsuko who works at a Japanese Food Import Export company gave me a variety of Japanese rice to try.  Last night, I tried Nigata's Koshihikari short grain rice. The grains are smaller and shinnier than California Koshihikari.  The flavor is different too. Koshihikari from Niigata is more polished than the California cousin so the texture is smoother, like eating soft pearls. Some people prefer to have some bran in the rice, in which case Niigata Koshihikari might be too polished.  I usually go for brown rice but I had two bowls of this rice. It was delicious.  I 

With leftovers, I made onigiri this morning. I grilled the onigiri in the broiler.  I toasted both sides of the onigiri, and then brushed it with soysauce several times to give it the brown toasty look.  If you want to read more about Onigiri, you can do a onigiri search on my blog and find it. But it is so simple, you don't really need a recipe. Just steamed rice and soysauce are all.

I also whipped up some miso soup.  The dashi was prepared last night so all I had to do was add the miso and chop some vegetables.  No brainer.  The miso soup contains chopped savoy cabbage, zuchinni and seaweed. I sprinkled chopped scallions on top.  I also had some blueberries with a little greek yogurt.  I have to say, it was a beautiful breakfast.  

Onigiri - reshapes the idea of fast food

Posted on July 28, 2011 at 2:45 AM Comments comments (2)

Here is the link to my Onigiri story and recipes that appeared in the LA Times Food Section on July 28, 2011.