Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vegan Rice Balls (and a quick lesson about kimchi)

I went to the record store to buy the Battle Royale and Suicide Club DVDs today. For some reason, this, combined with the fact that I stopped at Trader Joe's for some cheese on my way home and was enticed to buy a package of Korean Seaweed Snacks for only 99 cents (I freaking love seaweed) made me long, suddenly, for rice balls.

This also put me in the mind to eat some kimchi, a Korean staple that I have never tried, but have seen consumed in plenty of Korean television shows. I am addicted to Korean TV. When I decided to look up a recipe, I was saddened to discover that kimchi is not vegetarian like I had assumed, as a main ingredient is fish sauce.  Luckily, I found not one but two recipes for vegetarian/vegan kimchi, as well as the possibility of even more recipes. I decided that I could not wait four days to make my own, nor should I spend the time making it when I may not even like it, although that doesn't seem like much of a danger. According to the comments section of one kimchi recipe I found, it can be found to have an offensive flavor at first, but quickly becomes addictive, causing the victim to feel that kimchi must be consumed with every meal whenever possible. 

I plan to find a jar of vegetarian kimchi and try it before spending the time pickling my own.

As for the rice balls, I did not feel I could make them without first doing some research, as I had never made them before. This site was immensely helpful as far as learning to form the rice balls and what rice to use. They had some great suggestions for fillings, too. I used the wrong rice, because I couldn't find sushi rice at any of the three stores I went to in my search for filling ingredients, but I think they turned out all right anyways.

My first stop was Trader Joe's, for two more packages of Seaweed Snacks, shampoo, teriyaki flavored tofu, and pretzels. I was hoping to find some pickled daikon, which I love and wanted to put in some of the balls, but sadly  there was none. Still, the pre-marinated tofu was a nice, convenient find, and the employees were very helpful. My next stop was the fresh produce shop next door for some fresh cabbage. It was only 36 cents a pound, which made me happy. I haven't made a rice ball filling out of it yet, or the teriyaki tofu, but plan on making some tomorrow or the day after. I just need to find a good cabbage filling recipe. My third and final stop was Lucky Supermarket, where I picked up a package of Gardein veggie BBQ chicken.

How I Made Rice Balls

Items Needed:
A teacup or small dipping bowl
Cling wrap
Seaweed sheets
Cooked rice
Filling (in this case, veggie chicken teriyaki)

My rice cooker only makes three cups of rice, so I made three cups of rice. While it cooked I dawdled around until it was almost done, at which point I began to prepare the filling. I chose to make teriyaki veggie chicken, using Gardein Buffalo Chicken and a bottle of apricot-ginger teriyaki glaze I had bought on sale a couple months ago but had yet to find an excuse to use. I gave it a taste, and it was delicious. I did not check the ingredient label to insure that it was vegan, but I can guarantee it was vegetarian, because I always check for hidden chicken stock before buying a new product.  Any kind of teriyaki sauce or glaze will be fine when you make your filling, and I imagine most of the sauces you can get will be animal-free. There's no need to close your mind at teriyaki, either, just because that's what I did. You can fill them however you want. You could even make sweet and sour centered rice balls if you wanted!

Depending what kind of fake meat you use, the rice balls may not actually be vegan. I believe that Qorn brand fake meats use egg whites as a binder or something, so although they have pretty convincing products, they would not be appropriate for vegan consumption. Gardein, however, is vegan friendly.

To cook the filling, I followed the instructions on the package of Gardein Buffalo Chicken, putting the pieces in a pan on medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil.  I threw the Buffalo sauce packet away, since I had only bought the package for the chicken. When the pieces had browned and were thawed enough, I broke them into chunks and shreds with the spatula, so that they would be easier to spoon into my rice balls later. Once they were cooked to a pleasing golden brown and heated all the way through, I turned off the stove, moved the pan to a cool burner, and poured a few tablespoons of teriyaki sauce in with the chicken and stirred it. I didn't measure, just put enough in to coat the fake meat without leaving any sauce to puddle in the pan. Here is a picture of it after I added the glaze.

By this point, the rice was done. I left the cooker on warm so that the rice wouldn't cool too much and stop sticking together.

When actually assembling the rice balls, I followed the instructions on the website I mentioned earlier,, to a tee, except for the fact that I added the seaweed to the balls before rolling instead of after, and I left out the salt. My Seaweed Snacks were already salted, and the teriyaki sauce was extremely salty as well, so I opted to go for a more bland rice. The first step was to line the dipping bowl I used with cling wrap, then wet it with water. I laid a square of seaweed in the bottom of the bowl.

After that, I spooned a layer of rice over the seaweed.

For larger rice balls, put more rice. I wanted ones with a more even ratio of rice to filling, so I made my layer of rice pretty thin. If you are going for a larger rice ball, I would do exactly what advises and fill the bowl with unpacked rice, then make an indentation with your finger to put the filling in. Since I had so little rice, I just put the filling on top of the rice.

At this point, if you used more rice and placed your filling in the indentation you created for it, you are ready to form it into a ball. In order to make sure my filling was thoroughly encased in ricey goodness, however, I had to add an extra step.

I just put a spoonful of rice on top of the filling, like a little cap. After that, I gathered the edges of the cling wrap together and used it to form a ball with the rice. My rice was very hot, so I used the sleeves of my sweatshirt as impromptu hot pads when patting the rice balls into shape.

Twisting the rice packet helped me to get a nice round shape to my rice balls. Traditionally, Japanese rice balls are triangular in shape, but I am white and like to eat spheres, so that's how I made them.

They turned out really well, I thought. The rice held together admirably and was not too glutinous or mushy despite being the wrong kind of rice. The blandness of the rice kept the boldness and saltiness of the teriyaki glaze from being overwhelming, and the seaweed kind of pulled it all together. I have plenty of leftovers, and plan to make more rice balls with cabbage and tofu either tomorrow or Monday to eat for my lunches. I like how neat and self-contained they are as a food, as well as the fact that I can eat them easily with my fingers. I can't think of a reason these rice balls wouldn't refrigerate well. If you want, you could probably freeze them, defrosting them in the fridge the night before you need them. I'm hardly an expert on freezer foods, though, so use your judgement. 

Thanks for reading. Leave me a comment and let me know how your rice balls turned out. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hangover Ramen

I just started a new job at  winery tasting room, and after my first day of work they shooed the last customer out of the store, set the opened bottles from the day's tastings on the bar, and handed out wine glasses. As the new kid, it was my duty to taste all six and my privilege not to have to spit it out. Everyone else poured themselves glasses of their favorite reds and whites while I made my way through all six.

When I woke up this morning, I wasn't hungover like crazy, but I could feel my body craving some salt and protein and probably some iron, too. I usually long for that combination after a night of drinking, but instead of getting a burrito or a personal pizza with dark green veggies (I don't know how much protein that has, but it usually fixes me right up), I decided I wanted soup. Seeing as I was unemployed for several months before starting my first day of work and haven't been paid yet, I couldn't justify spending $8 some veggie noodle soup from the nearby pho place in my city.

My solution? Ramen.

I had never tried making ramen any differently from cooking the noodles and adding the seasoning packet, but I knew that today I needed my soup to pack more a punch where both protein and iron were concerned, and I wanted it to be as cheap as possible. So I decided to try something new.

I went to the grocery store and bought these supplies:

Chili flavored Top Ramen*- $0.30
Firm tofu- $2.15
12 eggs- $1.70
Total- $4.15

This is how I made the soup:

I put the water on to boil, following the instructions on the package. While I waited for the water to boil I whisked the eggs together in a bowl. I set that aside and opened the package of tofu. I poured the water from the package into a tupperware container, so I could marinate the leftover tofu for tomorrow. One serving of tofu, according to the package, is about 1/5 of the package, so I cubed one fifth of the tofu and set that aside. The rest I sliced and put into the tupperware container with the water to marinate later.

When the water boiled I added the noodles and the tofu. When the noodles were about ready, I added the egg, stirring the pot so that they wouldn't stick to the bottom. I took the pot off the heat and added only about 1/4** of the seasoning packet, although you can include as much as you want.

It tasted pretty good, although a little bit bland, because I omitted most of the seasoning packet. It did make me feel more rejuvenated and filled me up really well. I think in the future, I'll buy some spinach or some other vegetable to include as well. To make up for using less of the seasoning packet, I think I will mix some powdered onion, garlic, and ginger into the broth next time as well. Altogether, though, I was pretty happy with the results of my experiment and will probably make this again soon.

As for the tofu I set aside for marinating, I mixed in some powdered spices, soy sauce, oil, and water, covered it, and put it in the fridge overnight. I don't know how it will turn out, but I will update you if it turns out the be a success.

*Chili and Oriental flavored Top Ramen are vegetarian... except for the possibility of one ingredient listed on the package. Natural flavor. This is what I found when I looked up exactly what "natural flavor" is. Natural flavor can come from a lot of different sources. Some of them are vegetarian and vegan friendly, others are not. When I made my ramen, I elected to roll the dice and take the chance of ingesting some animal byproducts by including the seasoning packet. If you don't want to take the chance I would suggest a splash of soy sauce, and some powdered onion, garlic, and ginger. I haven't tried that mix myself, but I do know that when I make Campbell's Tomato Soup, adding a few pinches of powdered onion and garlic makes all the flavor difference in the world.

**I get freaked out by huge amounts of sodium. 1 package of Chili Top Ramen contains 2 servings, with 780 mg of sodium per serving.That's 1560 mg of sodium. The recommended daily allowance of sodium is 2,300 mg (the equivalent of 1 tsp of table salt) for healthy adults. Knowing that I was going to eat the whole package and not wanting to eat 68% of my recommended sodium for the day in one sitting, I elected to include less of the seasoning packet and make up for the decreased flavor with lots of black pepper.

Getting to Know Me, Getting to Know All About Me

I have been a vegetarian for about 7 years now, give or take a few months. I started my last year of high school, and as a result don't know how to cook meat at all, except for bacon and hamburgers, because those are easy. I don't make a lot of money, so most of my recipes and suggestions will be pretty affordable.

I am not a nutritionist, or an expert on vegetarianism. I'm hoping to learn more about vegetarian living by creating this blog. Here is something I learned today when trying to find a name for my blog. This is a short, very interesting article about the decreasing health benefits of vegetables. It seems the solution is to go organic or grow your own.