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 9:05 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.

Making Sushi with Children

Posted on July 27, 2011 at 2:10 AM Comments comments (0)
11 year old Hayato's creation

My 11 year old nephew wanted to eat sushi on the first night in LA.  Having just arrived from Tokyo, you would think he'd ask for something more American like a hamburger.  No, he wanted something with rice.  Sushi, if he can get his wish -  made with a combination of tuna, avocado, shiso and cucumbers, and he wanted to make the sushi by himself.  

He warned me that his sushi didn't look that great, but tasted very good.  And If tuna was not available, he was happy to settle with plain avocado because he compares the flavor and texture to the butteriness of Toro. I haven't been eating tuna for environmental reasons.  But tonight, I made an exception. We bought some tuna, but not the endangered Blue Fin.  

Avocado is a common fruit in California compared to Japan but we had trouble finding one that was ripe enough for sushi.  We ended up visiting 3 markets.  Hayato could spot a green one with one look.  "No, they are not going to work," he told me and we kept searching until we finally found the ripe avocados. Hayato is a pretty sofisticated eater. His parents are both chefs, so I am not surprised, but he taught himself to make sushi. And like me, he is willing to go the distance to find the best ingredient.  

To make the sushi rice, we used half brown and half white, per Hayato's suggestion. His mother has been using rice with whole grains for health reasons. At first, I wasn't sure about using brown rice for making sushi but  if Hayato's says it tastes pretty good, I trust him.

He washed the rice, measured the water and cooked it the rice cooker.  Then he  cut the nori sheets in half, and sliced up the fillings, including the tuna.  Hayato is very dexterous.   We didn't have a proper bamboo mat, as they are still in storage.  So I offered a mat for soba noodles.  The mat was round and small, but he made do.

He made enough sushi for two.  We served the sushi with Hiyayako - cold tofu with condiments on top.  It was the best California roll I ever tasted ate.  We ate it all and celebrated his first evening in the US.

  One happy boy!


Wine and Onigiri - An easy supper solution

Posted on July 7, 2011 at 2:13 AM Comments comments (0)


We were suppose to have a bbq with our friends in Bear Valley Springs but their house was flooded from yesterday's thunderstorms.  So they had to cancel. Tehachapi needed the rain but it was heavy.  Our roof leaked, too. It was a hassle trying to find enough containers to hold the rain water. I had not seen rain like this in California for a long time, so it was exciting to watch the rainstorm. But I am sorry the dinner plans changed because we didn't have anything in the fridge, except for a tomato, edamame, half a cantaloupe, some nectarines and milk.   

We didn't feel like going out or shopping for food but Sakai came up with a good idea - a simple supper of Onigiri, rice balls (here is the recipe) - the quintessential Japanese comfort food.  Here is another onirigi recipe and another. Onigiri is very easy to assemble. Rice, nori seaweed and pickled plums for the stuffing. I had all the ingredients. We brought the electric rice cooker from Pasadena. I had also stocked the kitchen with some of my Japanese-American

Onigiri and wine

pantry items -rice, cooking sake, mirin, soy sauce, salt, sugar, pepper, olive oil, canola oil, pickled umeboshi, nori seaweed, green tea, coffee and dried fruit. I made Onigiri with 1 cup of rice, which makes 4  onigiris.  I cut up some tomatoes and boiled edamame. 

While we waited for the rice to cook, we opened a bottle of pinot noir from Wild Horse in Paso Robles  and ate the munchies.  I brought the wine glasses out of storage today so we had decent glasses. They were champagne glasses but it was better than the enamel camping gear we have been drinking out of.

Kurokin - Guardian of the ranch

The sun was setting to our east but the light was coloring the western skies in creamy salmon.  Rabbits came out to feed.  I was hoping to see the deer that Sakai and our neighbor Michael saw early in the day.   But instead the wild black cat that lives under the house made a solid appearance. I only knew this cat in passing. It was always running away from us. But tonight, something changed in its behavior. The cat decided to hang out with us.  It kept a safe distance but came out of the basement to eat the food and water I left outside.  It took awhile to earn its trust so I am very proud of this development.   When I called out its name, Kuro-Kin (it means black and gold in Japanese),  it blinked its golden eyes like flashing yellow lights. Michael told us that the black cat visits the other ranches but never comes close to you. Everyone knew it lived under our mobil home.  Our neighbor Mike even tried to catch it with a trap but it escaped the minute he opened the cage.  The cat belonged to nobody. Cats keep the mice population down, so it's good to have this cat living with us. I noticed Kurokin has a limp but is it quite agile; its black coat is  shinny like mink.  Sakai said that Kurokin is part of the wild life. We shouldn't try to tame it.  But I think Kurokin likes our company and is curious about us as much as we are about Kurokin. It has gained a few pounds since we moved here.  It was skin and bones when we first saw it.  I plan to take care of this cat, as I believe it's the guardian of this ranch.

The onigiris turned out really well. The pickled plum and the crispy nori gave the fluffy rice good flavor.  I could have eaten more, but then I realized there was some pistachio ice cream in the fridge that we were suppose to take to our friends' house.  We had that for dessert and rounded up the lovely evening.

Inari zushi - A pillow of rice

Posted on February 14, 2011 at 12:44 AM Comments comments (0)


If you have some leftover  kinpira Gobo or Kinpira carrots, a good way to used them up is to make inari zushi.  Just mix them into sushi rice. If you don't have any leftover Kinpira dishes, you can stuff the pillow with sushi rice and sprinkle some roasted sesame seeds on the rice for some extra flavor.  

The sushi rice mixed with Kinpira sushi rice has good texture and flavor. Have the seasoned tofu pouches (age or usu-age) seasoned ahead of time. I usually do this at the begining of the week so I have them around whenever i need to make inari zushi. I also chop them up and put them in my noodles.  

To make the inari sushi, Make a fresh pot of rice. When the rice is cooked add the vinegar mixture to make sushi rice and then combine the chopped kimpira gobo or carrots.  Slit the seasoned inari pillows and stuff each one. Squeeze out excess water from the tofu pouches if they are on the juicy side.  Serve with pickled ginger, if you like. The inari keep well in the fridge overnight but the best way to eat them is fresh.

Make sushi rice balls and line them up on the cutting board.

Slit the pillows.




Stuff the pillows and close the opening by folding it like an 


envelope.  Turn it over to serve.

Rice balls - Onigiri -In All Shapes and Sizes

Posted on February 9, 2011 at 1:49 AM Comments comments (0)

It's good to teach kids how to make their own snacks. Rice balls, Onigiri, is a classic Japanese snack that can be made with fresh or leftover rice.  Japanese people love onigiri like Americans love hamburgers. Onigiri can be plain or stuffed with meat, seafood or pickles.

Hayato asked his mother if he could make some onigirii.  It was a  good idea because his mother was busy baking and there was fresh steamed rice in the rice cooker.  Hayato initially thought of making just a couple to snack on but he end up making nearly a dozen to share with everyone at home. He used up every grain in the rice cooker. It  was the first time he made this many rice balls at once.   He was very proud he made it all by himself.   (Here is the link to the recipe).

He cut the nori seaweed into wide strips. 

He wrapped each rice ball carefully so the nori seaweed wouldn't tear. This onigiri came out iike a tube.

This one came out like a triangle, which is the classic shape.



Here is everything on a plate. They came out in all sizes and shapes. We all got to taste one. It was delicious.

Tips for making Onigiri:

1. Use short grain rice - the onigiri holds together better.

2. Have a small bowl of saline water (combine 1 tsp of salt with 2 cups of water) and use it to
wet your hands before you handle the rice.

3. It's easier to work with warm rice than hot or cold rice.  If the rice is too hot, scoop it out on a cutting board and let it cool.  If it is cold, heat it up and the rice will soften.

4. Put a dab of salt on your hands before you make the onigiri.  This gives the plain rice flavor.  You can also stuff the onigiri with bite size morsels of grilled salmon, meat, pickled plum (umeboshi).

5. Nori seaweed is the classic way to wrap Onigiri.  You can also make plain onigiri or sprinkle roasted sesame seeds.  Some people wrap Onigiri in  pickled greens.  

6. Eat onigiri within a day.  


Winter Rice Field - Sado Island

Posted on February 4, 2011 at 11:50 PM Comments comments (0)



Fried Mochi - Kagami Biraki

Posted on January 8, 2011 at 7:28 PM Comments comments (1)

Fried Mochi sprinkled with Ao-Nori seaweed

Before leaving for Tokyo, I needed to put away the  Kagami MochiIt has been decorating my home in Santa Monica since the first of the year. 

The Japanese ceremony of putting the Kagami mochi away is called Kagami biraki; literally, it translates to "Open the mirror" or "Breaking of the Mochi." The mochi is broken into small pieces with your hands and a hammer. Usually it is done on the 11th day of the New Year and as the description suggests, you are officially open for business.    

Nowadays, many Japanese people don't  bother decorating the home with fresh Kagami Mochi.  Artificial mochi made of plastic and ceramic have become popular substitutes since hardly anyone make mochi at home. I was lucky to find fresh mochi in Los Angeles at my local Japanese market because I don't like the idea of using artificial food for this occasion. 

Old Kagami mochi is perfectly edible and good, but it will get hard and a little bit moldy, especially if you live in a humid climate.  But once cleaned,  mochi can be deep fried to make Age-mochii or boil ed and used it in sweet azuki bean soup.  If you don't have Kagami-mochi, you can use regular mochi for the recipe.

10 day old Kagami mochi, cracking in places. The green mold grows where the two discs touch.

Scraping the mold off the mochi is a little laborious but I find it rather meditative.  


It took me about ten minutes to clean the mochi.

Break the mochi discs with your hands or a hammer. Use a sharp
knife to srape off the mold.

Deep frying mochi.

Paper towels remove excess oil on the fried mochi.
I start munching the moment they come out of the oil!

You can sprinkle fried mochi with salt.  Also good is with Aonori seaweed flakes, which are sold in a glass jar or in little packets at the Japanese markets.  If you like it hot, try Shichimi-pepper.

Age Mochi - Deep-Fried Mochi -  Recipe:
Makes 4-6 servings (appetizers)

4-6 pieces of mochi or Kagami-mochi
2-3 cups Vegetable oil for deep frying  
Salt, Shichimi Pepper, Aonori-seaweed flakes for sprinkling

Use week old mochi that is hardened.  Scrape off mold, if any.  Break the mochi with your hand unto small edible pieces.  You can also use a hammer.

Heat oil to 325-350F in a cast iron pan.  Use enough oil so it is about 1 inch in depth.
Fry one side until the mochi is browned, flip the mochi pieces over and brown the other side.

Pat dry on paper towel and sprinkle the mochi pieces with salt and other sprinkles of your choice.  

Serve while the mochi is piping hot.