I have been eating a lot of crap lately and feeling uninterested in cooking, so I decided to try to jump-start a Week of Healthy Eating with mitchco by teaching myself to make miso soup and onigiri (rice balls), two exceptionally basic Japanese dishes. They both proved to be easy and cheap, less the startup cost of dashi and miso. I found wikipedia and Cooking Cute, a great bento resource page, very helpful in my search for learning the methods.
The hardest thing, for me, was finding all of the ingredients. I usually go to more than one grocery store, but Kroger and Bloomingfoods didn't have what I needed, had really high prices, or had one version and that was it. I ended up going to Obo's Oriental Market, which had super-low prices on produce, so I'll have to remember it. I was totally inept at reading East Asian labels, though, and so it took me a looong time and some help from the cashier to find what I needed.
Here is the onigiri page I worked from. The basic method is to cook up a batch of short grain white rice as if you were making sushi rice, then dip your hands in salt water and form balls of the slightly cooled rice around about a couple of teaspoons of the fillings. For fillings, I tried:
Umeboshi, pickled plums.
mitchco recommended these, and says that every Japanese-American person she knows refers to them as "cat balls." They are basically packed in salt and allowed to ferment, and they smell awful, but are pleasant inside the rice balls. I like them once they're in my mouth; like capers, only bigger.
Canned tuna mixed with wasabi powder and a teeensy bit of mayonnaise.
Chopped krab with a bit of some sort of weird stir-fry sauce Ed had in the fridge.
Both were tasty, but a little bland. I think I might like to try these made with sushi rice sometime, though I know it's not traditional. I was also missing the nori that one often wraps around the finished balls.
Miso soup was a lot more intuitive to me. You make the dashi according to instructions on the jar, boil whatever veggies and tofu in it, then pour it over about a 1/2 T. of miso paste in the bowl and stir. Super easy, very tasty, and I could see myself eating it for lunch a lot. I made it this time with mushrooms (sauteed first with ginger and a bit of soy sauce) and tofu, but I would like to try it with seaweed, green onion, and sprouts.
Other things to try this week include Post Punk Kitchen's Carrot-Beet-Ginger Slaw and maybe some Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup. Lots of oranges, that's for damn sure.