BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Oh Boy, it’s Obon!

Much like a Japanese version of Day of the Dead, Obon is a celebration of the departed, including a full festival of games, dances, and of course, food. Though traditionally said to occur on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, our calendar places it squarely in August, and so while the date may vary, most sources agree that today is the day to party. Good eats are naturally a part of any holiday worth observing, but Obon doesn’t have any specific must-have dishes. A comforting melange of traditional street foods, it’s all casual fare that you’ll see throughout Japan; dango, manju, takoyaki, and everyone’s favorite overseas, sushi. Inari falls into that last category and strikes me as the best suited for grabbing and going, dancing and running about. An edible tofu-based pouch that can hold all sorts of goodies, rather than an open-bottomed roll, it just sounds like an ideal snack to me.

The only trick is hunting down tofu pouches, but then the sky is the limit for fillings. Traditionally stuffed with little more than seasoned sushi rice, I like to stick pretty close with the tried-and-true assemblage, but with a multigrain twist. Zakkokumai, a blend of grains and seeds meant to enhance plain old white rice, has long been an obsession of mine. Making your own blend is a snap; just throw in any seeds you fancy (sesame, sunflower, poppy) and any grains that will cook in approximately the same time as the rice (quinoa, bulgur, oats, millet, pearl barley), as well as some quick-cooking legumes, such as beluga lentils or pre-soaked red beans. The beans may tint your rice slightly to an amber hue, but I think it looks much more inviting and less dull that way!

Packets of zakkokumai are available in Japanese grocery stores, and they typically recommend mixing in 1 tablespoon of the blend per cup of sushi rice. I like to up that figure a bit, often to twice the amount of zakkokumai for a more satisfying range of textures and flavors. To finish up the rice for sushi, stir in a tablespoon or two each of rice vinegar and mirin, and a dab of sweetener if desired. Inari pouches tend to have a light sweetness to them already though, so I prefer to omit the extra sugar for this application.

You could stop there and have perfectly delicious inarizushi, or you could take it a step further and mix in shredded nori, cooked and shelled edamame, shredded carrots, thinly sliced scallions, diced cucumbers, sauteed shiitake mushrooms– Just about anything, really! Takeout sushi may be easier, but certainly not even half as flavorful or exciting as inari you can make at home.

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