One of the nice things about going back to Japan was being reminded of all the minutiae and miscellany of day-to-day life there, the little details that made my whole experience as an expat so rich and absorbing. Things like the pleasant melodies that play before train doors close, the weird hangover remedy drinks they sell at convenience stores, and mundane supermarket staples – not the exciting stuff like fresh yuzu or sashimi-grade yellowtail, but the ordinary, taken-for-granted stuff like barley tea, kabocha squash, and zakkokumai.
Zakkokumai means ‘multi-grain rice,’ and is sold in two different forms: as packets of grains, seeds, and pulses to be mixed in with plain white rice at home, or as bags of said grains, seeds, and pulses already pre-mixed with white rice. I didn’t actually eat this stuff that much when I lived in Japan, on account that I really like plain white rice and I was surrounded by it, but I remember enjoying zakkokumai quite a lot when I did have it. Nowadays I’m much more into weird grains like bulgur wheat, millet, buckwheat, and (God help me) quinoa, and I’m also more mindful of the fact that white rice is really bad for you – basically just empty calories. So I nearly bought a few bags of zakkoku mix to bring home, but I stopped myself when I realized I could make it myself pretty easily.
So make it I did. After ordering a selection of unusual grains from Ocado, I settled on a combination of ingredients that would be flavorful and varied in texture, and that would (hopefully) cook at roughly the same rate as white rice:
100g Japanese rice
20g bulgur wheat
10g rolled oats
5g sesame seeds
I cooked the zakkokumai using the same method as I use for plain rice:
- Cover the grains with a measure of water 1.3 times the mass of the rice (in this case 260g).
- Bring to a boil quickly, with the lid off the pan.
- Place the lid on the pan and reduce heat to a very low simmer. Cook for 18 minutes.
- Remove from heat, stir the rice, place the lid back on the pan, and leave to sit for 5 minutes.
Success. The homemade zakkokumai was delicious – for me, the ratio of rice to not-rice was perfect. It ate like white rice but with a little something extra. Some of the grains (freekeh and quinoa) were slightly underdone, so next time I will increase the amount of water to 1.4 times the mass of the grains and cook for 20 minutes instead of 18. But otherwise I was very pleased. Now that I know the proportions work, I can pre-mix the zakkokumai to have on hand whenever I need it.
I folded corn into the finished rice and garnished it with butter-soy sauce furikake. It was extremely satisfying, and something that would be great at any meal – with miso soup for breakfast, as onigiri for lunch, and perhaps with a bit of fish or curry for dinner.