Rice Balls

Onigiri

MAKES: 4 to 8 servings

TIME: 30 minutes

Rice balls are a part of daily life in Japan, a fast snack, something to be grabbed on the run or part of a boxed lunch and clearly somewhat healthier than potato chips. There’s almost nothing to them: cooked short-grain rice, gently pressed together and shaped with salt-coated hands they should be quite tender, shaped just firmly enough to hold together sometimes stuffed with a piece of food, sometimes wrapped with nori, sometimes both and sometimes neither. They can also be grilled after shaping, which is a nice touch.

Serve these as a side dish with Japanese dishes like Edamame Salad with Seaweed “Mayo” or as an appetizer with Simple Miso Dipping Sauce.

Salt

4 cups cooked white or brown short-grain rice, still warm

Pickled plums (umeboshi), pickled daikon (takuan), and/or lightly salted cucumber (optional)

Soy sauce

4 sheets nori, lightly toasted (see Nori Chips)

Work with wet hands; sprinkle a little salt on your hands, then grab about 1/2 cup of rice and gently shape it into a ball; the rice should hold together easily. If you want to stuff the rice balls, poke a hole in each and put in a bit of any of the fillings. Reclose the hole.

Brush each ball lightly with soy sauce.

Brush each of the nori sheets with a little soy sauce, then cut each piece in half (most easily done with scissors). Wrap each ball with a piece of nori, shiny side out. Serve within a few hours.

Variations

Rice Balls with Sesame. Sprinkle the balls with toasted sesame seeds (see The Nut and Seed Lexicon) before wrapping.

Grilled Rice Balls. Before wrapping in nori, gently grill the rice balls over a medium-low flame, turning and basting with soy sauce as they’re grilling, for a total of 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot or warm, wrapped in nori or not, as you choose.