'Norwegian Wood' Love Food: Rice Balls for Rebels
Midori is a totally groovy liberated girl of the ’60s, man. I dug her vibe from the beginning of Norwegian Wood, the novel by Haruki Murakami. I absolutely fell in love with her when she cooked for the book’s narrator, Toru Watanabe. I love her for her love of cooking. For Midori, food is not just love. Love is food.
Case in point: she starts singing a song she wrote herself and the opening lyric is “I’d love to cook a stew for you”. I identify. I know I am getting serious about a guy when I find myself daydreaming about what I want to cook for him. Some girls want to make babies with their fellas, some just want to make them pies.
Midori goes on to describe her perfect lover as someone who will run out and buy her strawberry shortcake, then not mind if she has changes her mind by the time he gets back to her with it. Her dream lover would then deduce whether what she really requires is chocolate mousse or cheesecake. Oh, and Midori’s mantra? Life is a box of cookies. Grand.
Norwegian Wood is not just about Midori, though. It is a tale of two loves. And several lovers. I mean, there is a lot of sex in this book. And a lot of food. This ain’t no Goodnight Moon. And as carnal as I am making it sound, it really is a book about our place on this earth. And our place off of it, so to speak. It is not a new book (it was originally published in Japanese in 1987), but it got a lot of attention and is worthy of our jaded modern mind’s attention.
The narrator, Watanabe, has two central women he is rather attached to. One is tying him to death, one to life. Naoko was the girlfriend of Watanabe’s best friend, who killed himself. She is therefore linked with death. Midori is all about sex. Naoko has some major issues about making it. Death versus sex. Literally life versus death, if you think about it.
There is a complex sort of circle of life thing going on because Naoko is chasing after the memory of her ex. Watanabe is chasing after Naoko. Midori is chasing after Watanabe. This is the platform the author, Haruki Murakami uses to spit out lovely little nothings like “death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of it”.
I root for Midori not just because I share her views on food and love. I cheer for her because she is friggin’ awesome. She is the girl who drinks five rounds of vodka tonics with pistachios (a solid choice) and wants to chase it with some tree climbing. I aspire to that height of badassery. I once managed two glasses of wine and some gate climbing but that had to do more with being locked out than being cool.
When not conquering trees and men, Midori stands up for being herself. Midori doesn’t just fight authority, she fights the people who claim to be the revolutionaries-I believe these days we would just call them posers. Poseurs, if they are posh. The righteous fakers Midori fights against claim they want a revolution but really just want to debate Marx while their women cook. The last straw for Midori is when the “liberal” group requires the women to make 20 rice balls. So she plays along.
She brings her balls to the meeting, dutifully made and complete with “umeboshi inside and nori outside”. And yet, she is chastised because other women did not just bring the rice balls. They bring slices of fried egg to go with.
The men just brought their balls and misogynist tendencies.
I decided to make some rebellious rice balls and some Midori’d up sliced egg.
The eggs are Midori’d up due to the addition of some green. Simple idea. Midori means green. Sorry, I wish I had a better philosophy behind my eggs but there you go.
The rice balls, however are made of Forbidden rice. Boom, instantly the rice balls go from staid, pretty little nibbles to balls that make deals with the dark forces. They look cool, at any rate. I think Midori would approve.
Rebel Rice Balls with Midori’d Up Egg Roll-Ups (adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman)
For Rice Balls:
- Forbidden Rice (or if you want less rebellious but more stable balls get some regular sticky rice)
- umeboshi paste
- soy sauce
- sheets of nori, sliced into thin strips
For Egg Rolls:
- 4 cups water
- 1 chunk ginger
- 1 piece kombu (dried seaweed)
- 6 Eggs
- 2 tsp. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. sugar
- pinch salt
- handful baby spinach
- soy sauce
- pickled ginger
For the rice balls, cook as much rice as you think you will want according to package instructions. For me this meant bringing to a boil the rice with double the amount of water and a pinch of salt. Then I reduced the heat to a simmer, covered, and simmered for a half hour. When rice is done transfer it to a bowl and stir the heck out of it to get it sticky. Once you start shaping, keep on wetting your hands. If you are using forbidden rice these will not make such cohesive balls as you would get with traditional sticky rice. But they will look cool for a minute. Then you’ll have to probably give up and eat them like regular non-balled up rice. Anywho. First get a handful and make a patty.Then get a dab (about a 1/4 tsp.) of umeboshi paste. Add the paste, then put a little more rice on top and squish all into a ball. Brush your balls with soy sauce. Then take a strips of nori, brush with soy sauce, and wrap around your balls.
For Eggs: First we are going to make some dashi. It will be way more than you need but leftovers can be used for things like miso soup. Put the water, kombu and ginger in a pot. Bring to a boil. Take off the heat and remove the kombu. After a couple of minutes strain out the ginger. Take 1/4 cup of the broth and mix it with the eggs, soy sauce, sugar and salt. Lightly spray a skillet with nonstick spray and heat to medium high heat. Pour in a few tablespoons of egg mixture, allow to cook for a minute until it starts to look set. Quickly lay spinach leaves atop it then roll to the back of the skillet. Then scoot the entire roll back to where it started. Ladle in more egg and repeat. Repeat a third time then take the big roll out of the pan and slice.
To finish: serve balls and egg slices with soy sauce and wasabi for dipping, and bits of ginger and more sliced nori for nibbling. Climb a tree.