The internet is a magical place. You can buy anything, watch anything, and read anything that your heart desires. But sometimes you see things that just really blow your mind. In this case it was an adorable picture of little rice balls shaped like panda bears on a plate with some Japanese curry. Now this image was truly remarkable. It was bizarre, genre-bending, adorable and delicious. As soon as my friend Stephanie posted it on facebook, the wheels started turning and within a few hours I had made my own adorable panda curry dish.
You’ll need perfectly stick and pliable sushi rice. I suggest you use a rice cooker and follow the directions on the package of rice. However, if you’re like me and are resistant to a rice cooker until someone buys the really nice Zojrirushi one for you as a wedding present, you can just use a pot with a tight-fitting lid.
Perfect Sticky Rice (sans rice cooker)
Makes about 4 cups
You will need:
2 cups of high quality sushi rice
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Rinse the rice once with cold water and drain. Add to the heaviest pot you have with a tight-fitting lid (really important) with 3 1/3 cups water and cover. From the point on, you are NOT permitted to remove the lid until I say so. Heat over high heat and bring to a boil. The lid will start to shake when it’s boiling (about 3-5 minutes) and immediately turn the flame down to a simmer. DO NOT REMOVE THE LID.
2. Cook for 18 minutes at a simmer and then immediately remove the pot to a different burner that is cool. DO NOT REMOVE THE LID.
3. After the pot has been on the dormant burner for 5 minutes, you can FINALLY remove the lid and gently and quickly remove the rice from the pot to a large bowl. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, fold in the vinegar, sugar and salt. The rice is very steamy and delicate at this point, so be gentle. Wait for it to cool slightly before handling but you should use it right away. You can store the cooked rice for up to an hour in a bowl covered with a damp dish cloth.
Panda Bear Rice Balls
You will need:
2 cups cooked and seasoned sushi rice (warm)
1 sheet of sushi nori (seaweed)
A bowl of warm water
1.Begin by cutting out your eyes, noses and panda stripes. The sheet of seaweed is like paper so feel free to use regular scissors. 2 cups of cooked rice should yield 6-8 little pandas. Cut our small ovals for the eyes and slightly smaller rounded triangles for the nose. My eyes were about ¼ inch long, but use my photos as your guide. The stripe should be about ½ inch wide and 4 inches long.
2.Wet your hands in the warm water and grab a small handful of rice about the size of a golf ball. Form it into an oval shape in your palm and tightly squeeze the rice together. Keep your hands wet so the rice and seaweed don’t stick to you.
3.Add the eyes, nose and stripe (just use my photos as a reference) and serve with curry!
Japanese curry is sold in unhealthy, preservative-rich hunks of flavor. But, it’s one of the most easy and comforting dishes you can make so ignore the humongous sodium content for a moment. I’ve found my favorite brand but there are many different manufacturers to choose from. There’s Vermont Curry and Golden Curry and luckily Serious Eats has tested a lot of them for you already.
Japanese Vegetable Curry
You will need:
½ package Vermont brand Med/Hot Curry (or any pre-packaged Japanese curry that you like)
3 1/3 cups cold water
3-5 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
4 small white potatoes, roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces
½ yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1.In a large pot, heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, potatoes and onions, cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2.Remove the curry blocks from the package, break them up and add to the pot, along with 3 1/2 cups water.
3.Turn the flame up to high and bring the curry to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, gently break up the block of curry. Once it boils (about 5 minutes), turn the heat down to simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes and carrots are tender to your liking. Serve over rice.