Oni­giri bento box

The Observer Food Monthly - - CONTENTS - Shuko Oda

I grew up eat­ing bento lunches through­out my school life. There’s some­thing very spe­cial about the an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­cite­ment of open­ing a bento box. Oni­giri rice balls are soul food for me, and this is a recipe for a clas­sic oni­giri bento box. You can make the egg roll and run­ner beans the night be­fore, but add the se­same dress­ing to the beans just be­fore pack­ing into your box.

Makes 2 bento boxes For the oni­giri

Ja­panese short-grain rice 300g nori sheets 2, about 20cm square ume­boshi (pick­led plum) 4, or other pick­les that may be good as a fill­ing se­same seeds 1 tbsp

For the dashi egg roll

bonito flakes 2 tbsp usukuchi (white) soy sauce 2 tsp (other soy sauce works too) caster sugar 2 tsp mirin ½ tbsp eggs 4 vegetable oil 1 tsp

For the chicken karaage

ginger 2cm piece, grated with skin on chicken legs 300g, meat cut into 4cm cubes soy sauce 2 tbsp cook­ing sake 1 tbsp katakuriko (potato starch) 2 tbsp vegetable oil about 1 litre lemon 1, cut into wedges

For the run­ner beans in se­same

run­ner beans 100g, topped and tailed, stringy bit re­moved, and cut into bite-sized pieces (run­ner beans can be sub­sti­tuted with broc­coli, French beans, okra, cu­cum­ber, tomato, car­rots or spinach) white se­same seeds 15g, roasted, half of them ground with a pes­tle and mor­tar soy sauce 2 tsp caster sugar 2 tsp ginger 2cm piece, peeled and sliced into thin nee­dles


To make the oni­giri, place the rice in a bowl and cover with wa­ter. Gen­tly stir, then pour away the wa­ter. Re­peat this 5 times, then soak in 2 litres of wa­ter for 1 hour.

Drain the rice in a colan­der and leave it to dry for about 30 min­utes, then place in a saucepan with 450ml wa­ter and put the lid on. Place on medium heat and bring it to the boil (try not to take off the lid).

Turn down the heat to min­i­mum and con­tinue cook­ing for a fur­ther 10 min­utes. Turn off the heat and leave it to steam-cook for an­other 10 min­utes.

Fi­nally, re­move the lid and give it a stir. Wet your hands, and sprin­kle a small amount of salt on them. Take about 100g of rice, and make a lit­tle hole in the mid­dle. Place an ume­boshi in­side, cover with the sur­round­ing rice. As you cup the rice in both your hands, form a ball or tri­an­gle.

Re­peat this four times to make 4 oni­giri.

Cut the sheet of nori into 4 strips (you can just fold and tear it with your hands). Place an oni­giri at the cen­tre of a strip of nori and wrap the nori round the oni­giri.

Put the se­same seeds on a flat plate and roll the ex­posed parts of the oni­giri in the seeds. Re­peat with the oth­ers.

To make the dashi egg roll, pour 100ml of boil­ing wa­ter over the bonito. Cover and leave for 3 min­utes, then sieve the bonito, re­serv­ing the liq­uid (dashi) and let it cool. Mea­sure 75g of this dashi and mix in the usukuchi soy sauce, sugar and mirin.

In a sep­a­rate bowl, beat the eggs well, and then mix in the dashi and soy mix­ture.

Pour a tea­spoon of vegetable oil into a non-stick fry­ing pan (I use one that’s 24cm di­am­e­ter) and place on a medium heat.

Add about a quar­ter of the egg mix to the fry­ing pan. Once it is half cooked, us­ing a chop­stick or spat­ula, roll the egg – as you would a crepe – to­wards you.

Slide the egg roll to the back of the pan, pour a bit more oil into the pan if nec­es­sary.

Pour an­other quar­ter of the egg mix­ture into the fry­ing pan, and re­peat the above in­struc­tion un­til all the egg mix­ture has been cooked.

For the chicken karaage, squeeze the grated ginger to get the juice; keep the juice and dis­card the rest.

Place the chicken in a bowl with the ginger juice, soy sauce and sake, and mar­i­nate for 20 min­utes, mix­ing a cou­ple of times in be­tween.

Dis­card the mari­nade mix­ture, leav­ing a small amount in with the chicken. Add the katakuriko and coat the chicken with it.

Heat the oil to 160C in a deep-fat fryer or fry­ing pan with a depth of 3-5cm, and fry the chicken pieces for 4 min­utes, then take them out. Rest them for 4 min­utes and, in the mean­time, bring the tem­per­a­ture of the oil up to 200C.

Re­fry the chicken for a cou­ple of min­utes, then take it out. Cut one piece to check it is cooked.

Serve with a wedge of lemon on the side.

For the run­ner beans in se­same, boil the beans (or other veg­eta­bles) in wa­ter with pinch of salt. Drain and wipe with kitchen roll.

Mix the se­same, soy sauce and sugar. Mix the veg­eta­bles with the ginger and the dress­ing.

Pack all the dishes into 2 bento boxes and keep in a cool spot – not the fridge, as this will make the rice go hard – un­til lunchtime.

Oni­giri bento box

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