In Japanese, the word for food is the same as the one for rice. Without it, a meal is not a meal.

The real genius of rice is revealed when you think about it in reverse: Add just about anything to a bowl of it and, voilà! you’ve got dinner.

But don’t think of it as a throwaway fill-you-up starch. Properly cooked short-grain white rice is a craveable study in subtlety and texture, to be mixed and matched at will.

We have some Japanese options here for topping your rice, but take your inspiration from anywhere your taste buds lead you. All of these toppings are highly seasoned, which is true for a lot of Japanese food that is meant to be served with rice. Building a meal around the grain is all about bold flavors against rice’s magical blank canvas.

Note that white rice is used here, though some will argue that brown rice is more healthful.

Brown rice does have more fiber than white, and if that is what motivates you, use brown. But we (and billions of other people) prefer the clean flavor and polished texture of white rice.

Now let’s make some rice.

Reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit.

Steamed Japanese Rice

Serves 4.

Note: From Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, for Bon Appétit magazine, Jan. 2016.

• 2 c. short-grain white rice


Place rice in a large saucepan, add water to cover, and swirl rice with your hand (water will become cloudy). Drain through a fine-mesh sieve; return rice to saucepan. Repeat process until water is clear when mixed with rice (3 or 4 times total). Drain rice a final time and cover sieve with a kitchen towel; let rest 15 minutes (this will help the grains hydrate evenly).

Return rice to same saucepan and add 2 cups water. Partly cover pot and bring to a boil. Stir once, cover and reduce heat. Simmer until water is mostly absorbed and rice is very fragrant and tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest, covered, 10 minutes. Fluff rice with a large spoon, re-cover pot, and let sit 5 minutes before serving.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 340 Fat 1 g Sodium 5 mg Saturated fat 0 g

Carbohydrates 74 g Calcium 26 mg

Protein 7 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 1 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 3 bread/starch, 2 other carb.

Soboro Beef

Serves 4.

Note: From Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, for Bon Appétit magazine, Jan. 2016.

• 2 tsp. vegetable oil

• 8 oz. ground beef chuck (20 percent fat)

• 2 tbsp. sake

• 2 tbsp. mirin

• 1 tbsp. soy sauce

• 2 chopped green onions


Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high. Cook ground beef, stirring and breaking into small pieces until browned and nearly cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add sake and cook until evaporated, about 1 minute. Add mirin and soy sauce, and cook until pan is almost dry, about 1 minute longer. Add green onions and toss to combine. Place atop rice.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 130 Fat 9 g Sodium 250 mg Saturated fat 3 g

Carbohydrates 1 g Calcium 16 mg

Protein 10 g Cholesterol 34 mg Dietary fiber 0 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1½ medium-fat meat, ½ fat.

Pickled Vegetables

Serves 4.

Note: It might seem fussy to separate the vegetables when pickling, but if they’re combined, the colors will bleed and they won’t be as vibrant. From Bon Appétit magazine, Feb. 2014.

• 6 radishes, trimmed, thinly sliced

• 2 large carrots, peeled, julienne

• 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

• 1/2 English hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced

• 2 tbsp. sugar

• 1 tbsp. kosher salt

• 1 c. unseasoned rice vinegar, divided


Place radishes, carrots, onion, and cucumber in 4 separate bowls or jars.

Bring sugar, salt, vinegar and 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Pour pickling liquid over vegetables to cover; let cool. Cover and chill at least 1 hour. Store in refrigerator; drain before using.

Pickled Nori

Makes 1 3/4 cup.

Note: This is a traditional condiment in Japan, in which toasted nori sheets (dried seaweed) is pickled and simmered down to a silken paste that lends a complex flavor — salty, sweet and umami — to everything that it’s eaten with. Nori is often used to wrap sushi. It’s available in both sheets and in crumbled pieces. From Saveur magazine, Sept. 2010.

• 2 oz. nori sheets

• 1⁄2 c. soy sauce

• 3 tbsp. mirin

• 3 tbsp. rice vinegar

• 1 1⁄2 tbsp. sugar


Soak the sheets of nori in water for 5 minutes; drain them. Transfer the wet nori to the center of a tea towel and squeeze it to expel the excess liquid.

Put the nori into a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat and add the soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar and sugar. Bring the nori mixture to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Transfer the pickled nori to a bowl and chill.

Tofu Yum-Yum Rice Bowl

Serves 4.

Note: The marinade is ridiculously delicious; you’ll also want to use it on ribs or chicken. You will need a deep-fry thermometer for this recipe. To toast sesame seeds, place in a dry pan over medium heat and warm until fragrant and slightly browned; stirring occasionally. From Sameh Wadi of World Street Kitchen in Minneapolis. From Bon Appétit magazine, April 2015.


• 1 (14-oz.) pkg. extra-firm tofu, drained, cut into 8 pieces

• 1 small head garlic, cloves coarsely chopped (about 1/4 c.)

• 1/2 c. soy sauce

• 1/4 c. hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)

• 1/4 c. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

• 1 1/2 tsp. coarsely chopped peeled ginger


• 2 c. short-grain rice

• Kosher salt

• Vegetable oil (for frying; about 4 c.)

• 1/2 c. cornstarch

• 4 poached eggs

• 1 c. kimchi (pickled, fermented vegetables)

• 1 c. fresh cilantro leaves

• 1/2 c. fresh basil leaves

• Thinly sliced green onions, for serving

• 1/4 c. unsalted, roasted peanuts, lightly crushed

• 2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (see Note)


To prepare tofu: Place tofu on a rimmed baking sheet layered with paper towels; top with several more paper towels and press gently to squeeze out excess liquid. Transfer tofu to a shallow baking dish.

Give garlic, soy sauce, chili paste, 1/4 cup cilantro, and ginger a whirl in a blender, scraping down the sides as needed, until smooth, about 3 minutes (consistency will be similar to ketchup). Pour over tofu and turn to coat. Chill at least 2 hours. The tofu can be marinated 12 hours ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

To prepare rice: Place rice in a sieve and rinse under cold running water, rubbing with your fingers, until water runs clear. (This yields fluffy grains that won’t clump.) Let drain 5 minutes. Transfer rice to a medium saucepan; cover with 3 cups water and season with salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes.

Remove saucepan from heat and fluff rice with a fork. Cover with a kitchen towel, then replace lid. Let sit 10 minutes for steam to absorb.

Pour oil into a medium pot to a depth of 2 inches and fit pot with thermometer. Heat oil over medium-high until thermometer registers 350 degrees. Place cornstarch in a shallow bowl. Working in batches, remove tofu from marinade (do not scrape it off) and toss in cornstarch; shake off excess.

Working in batches, fry tofu, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet; let drain.

Divide rice among bowls. Make a small well in the center of each and nestle a poached egg inside. Top with fried tofu, then kimchi, cilantro, basil, green onions, peanuts, and sesame seeds.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 830 Sodium 1,475 mg Fat 35 g

Sat. fat 6 g

Carbohydrates 102 g Calcium 310 mg

Protein 30 g Cholesterol 190 mg

Dietary fiber 4 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 3 bread/starch, 4 other carb, 3 lean meat, 5 fat.