Growing peas and beans are a rewarding and simple activity for school children in Japan. This teaches them the importance of diligence and care, while also providing a tasty, quick-growing prize. I first encountered endo mame gohan during a chance visit to a local pre-school center. There, the children were harvesting and shelling the peas which the “school lunch ladies” then steamed them up into a big batch of endo mame gohan. It was so simple – but those fresh peas—the creamy green dotted with just a touch of black – was unlike anything I had tasted. For the children, it probably wasn’t anything revolutionary. But for me, well, I certainly over ate that afternoon! Following this experience, I became much more conscious of the pea and beans world in the Japanese culinary repertoire. Green peas are regularly incorporated into Japanese meals, although mainly as a source of visual contrast in stews and boiled dishes. In essence, they are seen as a garnish - not the main vegetable source. No plates full of peas here, as in British or American traditions. Endo mame gohan shows off the simple, sweet flavored vegetables in an easy to eat form that even the most finicky eaters will enjoy.
2 cups short-grain white rice,* soaked and rinsed
½ - ¾ cup fresh or frozen green peas (ideally, fresh
1 tablespoon sake
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
sesame seeds to taste
For rice balls:
4 dried seaweed sheets
For grilled rice balls:
Pot, rice cooker, or cast-iron vessel. Optional: frying pan
Instructions for rice:
• Combine ingredients in rice cooking vessel.
• If cooking on the stovetop, bring the rice-mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low. It should take roughly 30 minutes for the rice to cook. Once the bubbles have subsided and the surface of the rice forms a matte finish, do a quick taste test (don’t let too much steam out!) to see if the rice is done. If using a rice cooker, combine ingredients and cook at regular cooking time.
• Let rice cool slightly before fluffing with a spoon or spatula.
For Rice Balls (onigiri):
• Complete steps one and two. Turn off burner.
• Let rice rest for 15 minutes to allow the rice to continue to steam and become tender. Allow cooked rice to cool.
• Combine 1 cup water with the salt in a small bowl. Use this water to dampen hands before handling the rice. Divide the cooked rice into 4 equal portions. Use one portion of rice for each rice ball. Using dampened hands, shape the rice into a plump triangle.
• Lay nori flat and place the rice triangle in the center with its point facing vertical towards the ceiling. Crease up either side of dried seaweed – so that the rice appears to look almost like a taco. Sprinkle the top of the rice with white sesame seeds.
• Eat and enjoy!
For Grilled Rice Balls Rice Balls:
• Create rice balls as instructed above. Do not wrap in seaweed or add sesame seeds.
• In a frying pan, heat the sesame oil to medium-high and place the four rice balls in. Fry on each side until light or golden brown. Flip.
• When finished, remove from pan and cool slightly before eating.
*For added nutrition and texture, consider blending ¾ cup white rice with ¼ cup brown rice. Another nutritious combination is ¾ cup white rice and ¼ cup barley. The barley will add a springy, pleasant texture.