A few weeks ago, late on one of the hottest afternoons of the summer, with two boys getting into all sorts of trouble, not much in the way of groceries in our kitchen, dinner time rapidly approaching, and me feeling grouchy and uninspired, I sat down on the couch to take a break. And there, on the side table next to me, I discovered the solution to all of our problems.
It came from a yellowing old food section that I had set aside for some indeterminate time in my future when I would have a second to sit down and read it. Right there on the first page was a big platter of onigiri. Sort of the Japanese equivalent of the peanut butter sandwich, these stuffed balls of rice are obvious lunch box filler and a nice change of pace from the usual American Mom staples.
So that afternoon, while the rice cooker did most of the work, I whipped up a filling for our onigiri. I found some edamame and peas in the freezer and a couple perfectly decent carrots in the drawer of the fridge. Quickly cooked, roughly pureed, and seasoned simply with a little onion, soy sauce, and sesame oil, the vegetables were stuffed inside of the sticky brown rice and the savage beasts were tamed.
It made a fun and unexpected dinner. We dipped some in sesame seeds, wrapped others in seaweed, grilled a few to get a chewy, charred crust, and then, of course(?), returned to the chosen path of the small set - just plain. And now that September is here, egad, I imagine these little rice balls will make a fairly regular lunchbox appearance.
But we've used the tasty filling for more than just onigiri.
Deconstructed, it makes a great lunch for grown-ups (or a really messy one for my children) - pack some brown rice, the filling, and toasted seaweed, use the seaweed to scoop up the rice and flavorful vegetables. It's perfect to eat at room temperature. Along with a simple salad of shredded lettuce and carrot tossed with seasoned rice vinegar - you have a super satisfying and simple lunch.
And last weekend, for one of our final summer picnics, we packed the filling to eat as a dip with wonton chips. It was a total hit with the kids and grown-ups alike.
Vegetable Filling for Onigiri
makes: about 3 cups
takes: about 10 minutes (not including stuffing your onigiri, which with practice is pretty quick and easy - here's a good tutorial)
- 6 ounces frozen edamame (that's half the bag I buy from Trader Joe's)
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 small white onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tamari
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
In a medium pot, bring about a quart of water to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and the frozen edamame. After 2 minutes (set the timer), add the peas and carrots. Cook for 3 more minutes and drain. In a food processor, pulse the vegetables with the onion, tamari, and sesame oil until you have a coarse paste.