Onigiri bento box
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