Japanese rice balls are called onigiri or omusubi. They are usually shaped into rounds or triangles by hand. They're fun to make and are a staple of Japanese lunchboxes (bento). Much like sandwiches in the West, onigiri are readily available in convenience stores across Japan and are great for a quick and easy snack. Recently, they have enjoyed a surge of popularity among food trucks, where they are made fresh and grilled lightly to order. However, making onigiri at home is irresistibly economical and easy.
The rice can also be mixed with a flavorful add-in like furikake. Furikake is like the salt and pepper of Japan and consists of toasted sesame seeds, sea salt, nori, bonito flakes and an optional pinch of sugar.
Fillings can vary, so it's good to use your favorites. You can put almost anything in an onigiri; try grilled salmon, pickled plums, beef, pork, turkey, katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) seasoned with soy sauce, or tuna with mayonnaise.
Usually wrapped in nori (dried seaweed) or rolled in sesame seeds, consider shichimi togarashi as a topping. This is a Japanese spice blend made up of ground sesame seeds, orange peel, and chili pepper. Or, If you want to be fancy, you can use your kitchen shears to cut little shapes out of the seaweed. Two semicircles, two ovals, a little triangle of a nose, and a pointy little sliver of a mouth gives you a panda.
If you're in the mood for a warm meal, just toast your onigiri lightly for 2 to 3 minutes per side on a pan brushed with sesame oil. The outer layer of rice will get toasty and golden-brown and a little bit crackly.
- 4 cups steamed Japanese rice
- Dash salt (or to taste)
- Optional: Black sesame seeds
- Optional: 1 to 2 sheets of dried nori seaweed
- For the Fillings:
- Optional: Ume (pickled plum)
- Optional: Grilled salted salmon (small chunks)
- Cut each nori sheet into 8-9 strips.
- Put about a half cup of steamed rice in a rice bowl.
- Wet your hands with water so that the rice won't stick, then rub some salt on your hands.
- Place the steamed rice on your hand, making sure it is dense and thick.
- Put your favorite filling, such as umeboshi or grilled salmon on the rice.
- Push the filling into the rice lightly.
- Hold the rice between your palms.
- Form the rice into a round, a triangle, or a cylinder by pressing lightly with your both palms.
- Roll the rice ball in your hands a few times, pressing lightly.
- Wrap the rice ball with a strip or two of nori, or sprinkle some sesame seeds on them.