This month, I stumbled upon Onigiri Action, a campaign initiated by the non-profit organization Table For Two for World Food Day. World Food Day is celebrated every year on October 16th in honor of the Food and Agriculture Organization, an agency established by the United Nations.
Although World Food Day has passed upon this post, the Onigiri Action campaign is still on until November 20th 2018. For each photo posted on the Table for Two Onigiri Action site and on social media, 5 school meals will be donated to children in need. Click here to join: Onigiri Action #OnigiriAction.
For each photo posted on the Table for Two Onigiri action site…, 5 school meals will be donated to children in need.
The first time I saw onigiri (rice ball) was when I was kid watching Pokémon and being confused when Brock infamously called them “jelly doughnuts” in the English dub.
Onigiri is the quintessential Japanese meal as symbolic and versatile as the sandwich. Traditionally, they are filled with salty or fermented ingredients such as salted fish, roe, kombu, umeboshi (pickled plum),or katsuboshi (fermented skipjack tuna).
More contemporary flavors include tuna or shrimp with mayonnaise, chicken, kimchi, and even barbecue beef―just to name a few. You can put anything you want into the rice ball; just make it according to your taste!
Onigiri is the quintessential Japanese meal as symbolic and versatile as the sandwich…
The recipe here is inspired by the onigiri made by Nami (Just One Cookbook) and Hana (One World Kitchen). Making them requires just a few simple ingredients: medium grain or short grain rice (I used the Nishiki brand), nori sheets, and sea salt or furikake and sesame seeds for the seasoning.
For the filling, I made tuna salad with canned tuna (albacore or chunk light in water), organic miso paste, and Japanese mayonnaise (Kewpie mayonnaise). Any of these ingredients can be found at your local international or Asian supermarket.
You have to use medium or short grain rice or else the rice won’t stick together. Sometimes you can get away with using Arborio rice if you can’t find short grain/medium grain rice. Don’t use sticky rice; it’s a different variety of rice called “glutinous rice“, named for its “glue-like” nature and sweeter taste; it’s better suited for desserts such as rice pudding.
The filling can be made with any tuna you wish. I mixed it with low sodium organic miso paste (I used the Marukome brand found in the refrigerated isle) and Kewpie mayonnaise. You can use any other mayonnaise, but Kewpie mayonnaise is much richer with a silky, creamy texture (it’s my new favorite mayonnaise!). A good substitute is Kensington’s mayonnaise if you can’t find Kewpie.
For vegan onigiri, you can skip the tuna and mayonnaise and use cooked kombu instead, or make a vegan “tofu salad” by mixing seasoned tofu with vegan mayonnaise and miso paste.
As a quick side note, I did not make these the traditional way with salted hands and water. As a beginner, I found the onigiri easier and neater to put together by seasoning the rice prior to making the onigiri, and creating the iconic shape using plastic wrap. I also used a spoon to insert the filling, but this is normally done with chop sticks. As a newbie, I don’t have a lot of the fancier Japanese cooking tools, so I used what was available to me.
Let’s make onigiri together for #Onigiri Action!
For Tuna Salad Filling
- 1 Can (142g) Tuna in Water
- ¼ Cup (60g) Japanese Mayonnaise I used Kewpie Mayonnaise, but you can substitute another variety.
- 3 TBSP (45g) Organic Miso Paste tan colored variety.
For the Onigiri
- 3 Cups (525g) Japanese Short Grain or Medium Grain Rice Arborio can be used as a substitute
- 4 Cups (450ml) Water
- 2 sheets or more of Nori, cut into long strips.
- Furikake Rice Seasoning to taste or sea salt. I used Shiso Fumi Furikake.
- Optional Sesame Seeds for topping I used roasted black sesame seeds.
Make the Rice
Fill a medium sauce pot with 4 Cups (450ml) of water and bring it to a boil.
Fill a large bowl with water and submerge the rice in it. With your hands, “knead” or “scrunch” the rice to polish it, releasing all of the starches.
Rinse and repeat this action 4 to 6 times until the water runs clear. This step takes a long time to finish, so I find polishing the rice at least 4 times acceptable before cooking.
Strain the polished rice and put it into the pot of boiling water. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to a simmer, and let the rice cook for 20 minutes or until airy and fluffy. Take it off the heat, and fluff it with a wooden spoon. If you don’t have a wooden spoon, a regular metal spoon with get the job done.
Make the Filling
As the rice cooks, prepare your filling. Thoroughly squeeze the water out of your tuna and mix the tuna, miso paste, and mayonnaise together. You can add more or less depending on how you prefer the texture and flavor.
*For a vegan variety, you can use vegan mayonnaise mixed with cooked silken tofu and miso, or use cooked kombu instead.
Assemble the Onigiri
Once your rice is cooked, let it cool down just enough to be able to handle. The cooler the rice becomes, the harder it is to stick it together. In a medium bowl, mix approximately a cup of rice with sea salt or furikake seasoning to taste. Mix it until just combined.
Line a small bowl with plastic wrap and place half of the seasoned rice into it.
Using a spoon or another utensil, create a small grove in the rice and fill it with a teaspoon, but no more than a tablespoon of filling. Overfilling with make the onigiri harder to seal.
Cover the filling with the remaining ½ cup of seasoned rice.
Gather the edges of the plastic wrap and gently pack the rice ball together.
Shape the rice ball into a rounded triangle by cupping your hands and fingers in a “V” shape, and molding the onigiri into the desired shape.
Release the onigiri from the plastic wrap and garnish with sesame seeds. Rewrap the onigiri in the plastic wrap, and set aside.
Repeat steps until you have made six to ten onigiri.
If you plan to eat them immediately, cut nori into 1 ½ inch strips and fold them around the base of the onigiri. Don’t use the nori until ready to eat, or else the nori will get soggy.
If you plan to eat them the next day for lunch (my favorite thing to do), keep the onigiri wrapped in plastic wrap and line them right side up in a large food storage container until ready to eat. They will stay fresher this way without drying out the rice. Keep them refrigerated. When ready to eat, wrap them in nori.
Enjoy with a drizzle of soy sauce if you desire!
- If you have a rice cooker, you can use that instead as a foolproof way to cook your rice.
- Onigiri is typically meant to be eaten the same day it’s made, but you can prepare them in advanced to eat over the work week.
- The added salts and fermented miso paste will help the onigiri last longer, giving these a fantastic shelf life of up to four days.
- “Refresh” or give your onigiri some savory life by grilling it and basting with up to a tablespoon of soy sauce.
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