We often think of Japanese cuisine as being elaborate and refined, but it’s not all delicate sushi and kaiseki banquets. A simple bowl of miso soup and grilled rice balls are the types of recipes that have served Japan for centuries. In many ways, the basic foods of Japan are just as charming as the fine dining.
- sliced cucumber, sliced grilled Japanese eggplant, sliced daikon, sliced carrot, to garnish
Charcoal-grilled rice balls (sumibiyaki onigiri)
- 2 cups raw koshihikari rice (see note)
- 50 g unsalted butter
- 125 ml (½ cup) soy sauce
- 1.5 litres (6 cups) water
- 15 cm square piece kombu (see note)
- 5 g bonito flakes, approximately
- ⅓ cup dried wakame
- 120 ml miso (any kind you like)
- 150 g silken tofu, drained and cut into 1 cm cubes
- finely sliced spring onion (scallion), to serve
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Place the rice in a heavy-based saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Use your hand to stir. Carefully pour off the cloudy water and repeat process until the water is mostly clear. Add more clean water until it reaches about 2 cm above the surface of the rice. Place over high heat and cook for about 5 minutes or until the water level reaches the top of the rice and holes appear in the surface where the steam escapes. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and reduce heat to very low, and continue to cook for 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and stand, covered, for a further 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a rice paddle or fork and stand, uncovered, for 2 minutes.
Heat the butter in a small saucepan until melted, then add the soy sauce and mix well. Set aside.
With wet hands, shape the cooked rice into balls, pucks or thick triangles. Heat a charcoal grill or frying pan and grill the rice balls, turning often and brushing with a little butter and soy sauce mixture, until they are browned and crispy. (You can also cook the rice balls under a grill for about 10 minutes each side.)
To make the miso soup, first prepare a dashi stock by placing the water and kombu in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring almost to the boil, then remove the kombu. As the water comes to the boil, add in the bonito flakes, boil for 2 seconds and remove from the heat. Allow to stand for 10 minutes, and then strain the stock through cheesecloth to remove all solids.
Place the stock over heat and add the wakame. Heat the stock until nearly boiling and then place the miso in a small strainer or large ladle, and into the stock. Stir the miso until dissolved into the stock. Resist the urge to push the miso through the strainer. Stir through the tofu. (Do not return the miso to the boil as it will spoil the flavour.) Scatter with sliced spring onion and serve immediately with rice balls and garnishes.
• Koshihikari rice is a short-grained, sticky variety commonly used in Japanese cooking.
• Kombu is dried kelp. It is sold in Asian food shops.