Very popular in Japan right now are onigirazu, a flattened onigiri (rice ball) sandwich. These were introduced more than 25 years ago by manga artist Tochi Ueyama in his ‘Cooking Papa’ series, which we just happened to have copies of in the guesthouse where we lived in Japan.
More substantial than a simple rice ball, the filling possibilities are endless, egg, tuna mayo, hamburger, tonkatsu matched with any cooked or raw vegetables.Cut open, they look lovely lined up in a box. This is one of my favourites.
Salmon and Avocado Onigirazu
4 sheets of nori
4 bowls of recently cooked Japanese rice (short grain)
4 tbs gomashio (ground, toasted sesame seeds mixed with a little salt)
2 fillets of poached salmon, cooled (grilled works fine, too but will be drier)
2 avocados, sliced long ways
6 cm piece cucumber, finely julienned, 3cm long
4 – 5 lettuce leaves, roughly torn
4 tbs mayonnaise
2 tsp ume paste, optional
Makes 4 (8 halves)
On a chopping board lay out a large square of cling film and place a nori sheet on top, turn so it is in a diamond shape
Place the equivalent of half a bowl of rice in the middle and shape into a rough square; flatten. You should have a small square with four triangles of nori showing
Sprinkle 1 tbs gomashio over the rice
Flake half of one salmon fillet over to cover the rice
Layer the avocado, then cucumber on top
Mix the mayo with the ume paste and spread a quarter over the cucumber, then cover with lettuce leaves
Cover with the remaining rice, keeping the square shape as much as possible
Now, fold the two opposing triangles of nori in over the rice, then the final two to make a small, square parcel
Bring the cling film corners over to wrap and secure
Wait till the rice has cooled before cutting in half with a sharp, wet knife
Repeat and place the onigirazu halves filling side up in a box
A little bit more…
You can use either brown or white rice, but it needs to be short grain. Pudding rice works well if you can’t find regular Japanese or sushi rice
The other fillings pictured are smoked mackerel, red pepper, and rocket with mayonnaise, and shredded egg, wakame and fermented ginger carrot
The difference between sushi and onigiri and onigirazu is the rice. Sushi rice is seasoned with vinegar, salt and sugar (or alternative) whereas onigiri or onigirazu uses plain rice.
Cling film/saran wrap makes them easier to assemble and transport but I just use a sushi mat or clean tea towel to wrap them in
Do you live to eat or eat to live? A bit of a cliché but I do find people are one or the other. I live for food. I am one of those people that dreams of what to cook for dinner on the way home from work. When travelling abroad, and away from a kitchen, I get itchy fingers and yearn to be back at a chopping board after a few days. And the acid test, I feel, is when cooking for one. I always go to the same lengths for just me as I would when cooking for others. And I even chose a profession connected to food so I could talk about it all day…
Right now a lot of my energy goes into my bento or daily packed lunch. The school meals look pretty good but teachers have to show an example by eating everything. As a non-meat eater I would not be that proper example, so bring lunch in each day.
I have got into a rhythm with preparing my bento and while it consists mainly of leftovers and can’t possibly compare to the artfully presented Japanese lunch boxes, opening my bento each lunch time is one of the, if not the highlight of my working day.
My husband can’t understand why I spend so long preparing bentos for my son and I each evening – he loves to eat but I’m not sure if he fully falls in the ‘lives to eat’ camp. I’ve come to see my bento as a form a self-care, an anchor point, because I live to eat.
How I have ended up doing my bento
I have three stainless steel boxes from a 100 yen shop. Each day I put roughly the same kind of thing in each one, having designated boxes makes it easier to organise my lunch. (Of course I break my own ‘rules’ all the time and use different boxes some days)
The large circular one is for raw: salad or coleslaw, plus seeds or nuts
The small circular one is for grains, usually rice but sometimes pasta or quinoa (when I can find it). I also add protein to this box sometimes.
The rectangular one is for cooked vegetables and / or pickles and protein: fish, beans, tofu or egg.
I try to go for roughly 50% vegetables, 25% protein, 25% grain – I know this doesn’t suit everyone but it works for me.