Ochazuke-Japanese Rice and Tea Bowls
Long before Chipotle offered a taco bowl, Panera introduced Broth Bowls, or bloggers lit up the pages of pinterest with snaps of acai bowls, there was Ochazuke. Ochazuke, the great bowl of food that may have started it all.
Ochazuke is a traditional Japanese dish, which can be traced back to 795 AD. It’s essentially a home cook’s quick lunch, combining leftover rice and hot tea. In my exploration of all things “bowl,” I tip my hat to this old-school way of making a grain based meal in a bowl. It’s the thrifty great-great-great-great grandmother of a broth bowl, really.
Ochazuke is a simple dish to make, and as long as you are doing it, you might as well use Japanese style ingredients. You can also feel free to arrange a few leftovers in the bowl, whatever works for you.
I bought loose leaf Sencha tea, which is the everyday tea of Japan. If you haven’t tried a straightforward, Japanese green tea, try this one. It makes a pale, subtly green cup of tea, that tastes grassy and slightly sweet. I notice when I am buying tea that most grocery stores carry endless flavored green teas, from mango to pomegranate, but very few plain ones, and I fear that Americans think green tea tastes bad. If you have had experiences with green tea tasting bitter or astringent, you may well have been using overheated water, too much tea, or too long a steep. Sencha is generally best brewed with 160-170 F water. 2 teaspoons per cup is plenty, and 2 minutes steep is long enough.
For my bowl, I cooked up some short grain brown rice, and I roasted some tofu with tamari. It’s essential to the bowl that you have some rice crackers, and these Lotus cracker mixes just appeared in stores here, so I just had to try them. They are called Arare Rice Crackers, and they come in shoyu, Thai or Sriracha flavors. They are made with heirloom brown and black rice, and have a tasty glaze that is just a little sweet.
Because I didn’t have traditional Japanese pickled vegetables on hand, I went with a locally made Sesame-Seaweed Kraut from Fierce Ferments. It’s a lively Japanese-inspired fresh kraut, with cabbage, daikon, turnip, burdock, scallions, sesame, celtic sea salt, kombu, wakame and arame. For a garnish, I used some seasoned nori strips I picked up at the Asian market, which have a crispy texture and a light coating of sesame and perilla oil and sea salt.
Once I had my tea brewed and everything ready to go, it was just a matter of pouring the tea, and topping the rice with pickled veggies, rice crackers and slivered seaweed pieces. For a fun garnish, bring out your Japanese pickled ginger, or sprinkle with black or brown sesame seeds. I sprinkled on some Schichimi Togarashi, a Japanese condiment I made from orange zest, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds and salt.
If desired, you can always add some shoyu or tamari to the tea, or a pinch of salt. It would be really good with a tablespoon or so of red miso whisked into the tea, too.
Getting back to my bowl roots is a good way to keep my bowls fresh. Ochazuke is definitely soul food for the bowl lover.
8 ounces extra firm tofu
tamari and canola oil
1 cup cooked short grain brown rice
3 cups brewed Sencha tea ( 3 cups 170 F water, 1 tablespoon sencha)
1/2 cup pickled veggies
1/4 cup pickled ginger (gari)
6 pieces toasted seasoned nori, or 1 sheet nori, slivered
1/2 cup rice crackers, or more to taste
Schchimi Togarashi or sesame seeds
To bake the tofu, preheat the oven to 400 F. Lightly oil a sheet pan. Drain and pat dry the tofu, then slice in 1/2 inch thick slices. Place the slices on the pan and sprinkle with tamari to cover, then flip the slices and sprinkle that side. Bake for 20 minutes, then use a spatula to turn the tofu and bake for 10 minutes longer. Cool the pan on a rack.
Cook the brown rice, or use leftover.
Steep the tea for 2 minutes, and save the leaves for another steep. You can use them at least three times.
In each bowl, place 1/2 cup rice, and arrange slices of tofu against one side. Pour the tea over the rice, and let stand to warm the rice for a couple of minutes. Top with pickled veggies, pickled ginger, nori and rice crackers. Sprinkle with Togarashi or sesame and serve.