By Mari Nameshida / Special to The Japan NewsInari in Japanese means a shrine diety, a fox or a type of sushi with rice stuffed into seasoned tofu pouches.
To make this type of sushi, called inarizushi, simmer aburaage prefried tofu with shiitake mushroom soup stock for a juicy texture and rich flavor. The seasoned aburaage tofu is sweet and salty, but you will get a perfect balance once they are stuffed with sushi rice. (Alternatively, you can just use plain cooked rice like you use for your everyday food.)
So many students in my class have told me that they tried inarizushi and didn’t like it because it’s too sweet. But they loved the home-made kind because it’s not overwhelming yet still has a rich flavor. Inarizushi is handy like onigiri rice balls as it’s so easy to carry. It’s also nice for vegetarians to use as a main dish.
If you want to make it fancier for party food, then you can serve the pouches with their open side up to show the rice and decorate with tasty garnishes like shiso leaves, thin omelet or cooked mushrooms. The inarizushi in the picture, served open side down, has a plain square shape, which is often seen in the Kanto region. It represents a straw bag of rice in a bumper crop. You will see triangular shapes more often in Kyoto and other parts of the Kansai region, which people say represents either a fox ear or Mt. Inari near Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Kyoto.
Trust me, it’s absolutely delicious. I recommend that you make a bunch and freeze to enjoy anytime.
Mari’s recipe for inarizushi
Ingredients (10 inarizushi):
5 sheets of aburaage (prefried tofu)
2 tbsp sugar (I prefer raw sugar, called kokuto, but you can use granulated sugar as well)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
300cc dashi (I prefer shiitake mushroom dashi for this dish, but you can also use regular kelp-based dashi) *see directions below
Sushi rice cooked from 180ml (1 cup) of rice *see directions below
1. Cut each aburaage in half. Make pouches by opening each piece from the cut end. If it’s hard to open, place it on a cutting board and roll with a rolling pin.
2. Boil water in a medium saucepan, blanch the aburaage for a few seconds to remove some of the oil and drain.
3. Combine sugar, soy sauce, mirin and dashi in a saucepan with the aburaaage, put a drop-lid on top (this will keep the aburaage flat during cooking), cover with a regular lid, and cook for approximately 20 minutes. If any liquid remains, remove both lids and reduce until it is nearly gone.
4. Stuff each aburaage piece about 3/4 full of cooked rice, then fold edges to close the pocket.
Dashi with shiitake mushrooms
(*adjust the amount as you like)
30 grams dried shiitake mushrooms
1 liter cold water
1. Lightly wipe the mushrooms to remove impurities.
2. Combine water and mushrooms in a bowl. Cover the surface of the water with plastic wrap so that all the mushrooms are submerged, and soak in the refrigerator overnight. Using tepid water expedites the process, but in order to extract the most umami, use cold water.
540 ml short-grain rice (3 cups)
6 tbs rice vinegar
5 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
1. Wash the rice with cold water several times before cooking in the water.
2. Meanwhile, combine all the seasoning ingredients in a bowl.
3. Place the freshly cooked rice in the bowl, then slowly add the seasoning mix. Pour it over the back of the spatula to distribute it evenly across the rice. Mix the rice gently by moving the spatula in a cutting motion. Do not mix vigorously or the rice will become too sticky.
4. Cool the top layer of rice by fanning it, then gently fold from the bottom to the top and cool by fanning again. Cover with a damp cloth to prevent it from drying out, and set aside until the rice reaches body temperature, before making the sushi. (The rice will become too hard if it is refrigerated.)
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