Neighborhood food cart aficionados have been happy to see the return of Ume Grill to the Sun Automotive lot on the corner of 19th and Agate (now located in back, away from 19th). In addition to an expanded menu with chicken and tofu teriyaki, a new Ume offering is beautifully prepared bento boxes to go. On Thursdays, Ume will deliver pre-ordered bento boxes to Edison Elementary and Roosevelt Middle Schools as a welcome alternative to the unfortunately dismal cafeteria fare.
Ume co-owner Helen (aka Mama Ume), who in the past has graciously shared her recipe for tsukemono, was kind enough to help the Edison Girl Scouts earn their cooking badges by teaching them how to make their very own rice balls (example above). Helen even brought each girl her own bento box kit, complete with fun rice ball molds.
My resident Girl Scout was eager to teach me her new skills. We prepared rice, baked tofu, and edamame beans, and I cut up some leftover roasted parsnips and rutabaga. She demonstrated the proper rice packing, complete with finger dipping in salty water, and we sprinkled the rice balls with black sesame seeds (on hand from making gomae sauce). I was the only taker for cooked purple barley mixed into the rice, but the heart shaped rutabaga slices were consumed with enthusiasm, making me think that there is room for a rutabaga lover badge in the Girls Scout pantheon, between "entertainment technology" and "social butterfly." Thanks Ume Grill for sharing these delicious treats.
Ume Grill's Japanese Style Rice Balls
The beauty of these rice balls is that you can improvise and tailor them to any taste. This recipe gives the basic outline but you can pack them with whatever strikes your fancy.
You should gather together:cooked rice (about 1/2 cup per rice ball, Helen recommends "hapa" rice: 3 parts medium grain white rice and 1 part brown rice)
a small bowl of sea salt water for finger dipping
rice mold (or use a teacup or ramekin lined with plastic wrap)
any of the following fillings:
baked tofu (recipe below)
teriyaki beef or chicken
cooked edamame beans
carrots, cucumber, and other vegetables sliced into pretty shapes by hand or with a cutter
and some toppings:
nori seaweed sheets
more sliced vegetables
Scoop some rice into the mold. Wet your fingers in the sea salt water and pat down the rice into a firm layer. Add some fillings (protein and vegetables). Add another layer or rice and pat down with wet fingers. Close the mold firmly to completely compress the rice ball. Open the mold and carefully dislodge the rice ball by inverting over your hand and pressing on the release tab on the back. Decorate the rice ball with strips of moistened nori, sesame seeds, and more sliced vegetables. Enjoy.
1 package extra firm tofu
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Slice the tofu into 3/4 inch thick slabs. In a shallow baking dish, mix the marinade ingredients. Place the tofu slabs in the marinade and flip to coat both sides. Marinade for 30 minutes or so. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes per side, until the tofu has dried and firmed. I do this in a toaster oven. Once baked, cut the tofu slabs into desired sized pieces, or use a small cookie cutter for fun bento shapes.