Wake up your taste buds! Cooking with herbs and spices will enhance the flavor of healthy foods without adding fat, salt, sugar, or calories. Herbs and spices contribute bright color, savory taste and sensational aroma. Food is always better when properly seasoned. You’ll enjoy cooking a lot more once you’ve mastered the herb and spice basics. The food will taste better, smell better, and impress your friends, family, coworkers, and pets. Hooray! Avoid overwhelming a dish with too many seasonings, and never use two very strong herbs together. Instead, season with one strong flavor, and one milder flavor to complement the food.
The first meals alone in a foreign country are always intimidating. Like a life raft, these seaweed-wrapped rice balls — sort of the sandwiches of Japanese cuisine. Made with short-grain rice, toasted nori and a small amount of flavorful seafood, meat or pickles, onigiri combine some of the elements of sushi, but in a more homey, comforting form. These are not the elegant creations of highly-trained chefs, but the familiar, filling foods of school lunches and train trips, providing a little taste of home while on the road.
Spice Smoked salmon is always one of Japanese’ favorite fillings. If you are lucky enough to live near a Japanese market, you may be able to find shiozake (salted salmon) for sale, but this recipe takes advantage of a more readily-available cured fish that is just as flavorful: smoked salmon. Of course, this recipe is just a jumping off point when it comes to making rice balls. Basically anything intensely flavored and cut small enough to be wrapped up in rice is fair game: tuna salad, chopped pickles, curried chicken salad, smoked trout, marinated tofu, olives…the sky’s the limit.
In Japan you’ll find onigiri in supermarkets and convenience stores wrapped in an ingenious way that keeps the seaweed separate from the rice until you open it, so it stays dry and crisp. Without this special packaging technology, the nori of homemade rice balls becomes soft and chewy within a few minutes of wrapping, but I rather like this more rustic texture. It’s like pudding skin — special because it reminds you that what you are eating is homemade. Another reminder is the plain round shape. Experienced onigiri-makers can turn out the traditional triangular shape, but it’s easier and just as tasty to make a rounded cake instead. Packed into a lunch bag, they are filling, nourishing and easy to eat on the go, whether you’re on the road headed out of town or packing for a picnic close to home.