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Onigiri おにぎり (Japanese Rice Balls)

Sunday, February 27, 2011 | Labels: , , |

Onigiri or Japanese rice balls are commonly packed in bentos and are used as travelling food - these are basically shaped rice balls with fillings that you can tailor make however you wish.  What could be more convenient than that? What's more, they are easy to prepare - cook some rice, add some filling and shape!  To untrained hands however (like yours truly I must admit), the shaping part is probably the trickiest.  Onigiri are traditionally shaped into a rounded triangular shape, tubular shapes and just into rice balls.  Nowadays of course there are a myriad of shapes one can make depending on what you fancy with the many differently shaped moulds sold.  I still remember that the first time I saw these cute rice balls was in a Japanese tv series years ago, "Love Generation" the highly popular series that starred Takuya Kimura and Takako Matsu.  I think there was one scene when the lead actress was trying to impress the lead actor with some homemade onigiri which unfortunately were criticised by him for the odd shapes and sizes.  Somehow, that scene stuck in my head, I was probably thinking along the lines of 'how hard can it be to shape some rice?"


I was wrong! True, if you have been doing this for a while, it should come naturally but I find sushi easier to shape than onigiri (sans moulds) - the vinegar in the sushi definitely helps the rice to hold its' shape better.  Anyhow, it was still a fun process to make these, I think the trick is that you really should shape these while the rice is still pretty warm and don't forget the salt water which you dip your hands into to avoid the rice from sticking to your hands (instead of to each other).  Rather much like making sushi where you dip your hands into hand vinegar while shaping the sushi.  Apparently though, if you are skilled enough you don't even need the hand vinegar while making sushi if your hands are nimble and quick enough - unfortunately I am not going to be a sushi master anytime soon so hand vinegar it is. 


Anyway, I digress.  For part of today's feature, I used a simple filling of tuna flakes and cherry tomatoes for a nice hint of sweet tartness, does that sound a tad conflicting?  Somehow, the tomatoes I bought today were just that, sweet and tart.  I wrapped some of the onigiri with some toasted seaweed strips (nori) and although not perfectly shaped the taste was good.  For the other part, I just used some dried wakame mix which was a savoury mix of wakame and tiny dried shrimp, good simple flavours with a traditional filling of umeboshi.  If you want yours to be perfectly shaped, do get the moulds that are sold in most Japanese grocery stores.



2 cups of cooked short-grain rice (soak for 30 minutes before cooking)
1 tsp salt


1/2 canned tuna flakes
6 cherry tomatoes
4 tbsps of dried wakame mix
6 umeboshi plums (optional)
1 sheet of nori (toasted seaweed) - if you happen to have untoasted versions, just quickly toast the seaweed over a low open flame, by 'waving' the seaweed on top of the flame until you feel the sheet start being crackly
Handful of toasted sesame seeds



After your rice is cooked, allow to steam in the rice cooker for another 10-15 minutes.  Spoon out into two separate bowls (large enough for mixing).  Add in the wakame mix into the first bowl and mix well with a rice paddle or spoon.  Do a taste test as the mixes can be rather salty.  If salty enough, do not add more salt and vice versa.

Add in 1/2 tsp of salt into the second bowl of rice and mix well with rice paddle.

Prepare a bowl of water mixed with 1/2 tsp salt.  Now you are ready for the shaping. 

Wet your hands with the salt water mixture.  Grab a rough ball of rice from the first bowl and place into your cupped left hand (assuming you are right handed like me) add one umeboshi plum into the center and wrap gently with rice to form a ball.  With your right hand, pack the rice gently into a tighter ball.  Now, create a rounded triangular angle with your left hand's thumb and index plus third fingers where your index and third fingers should form a rough 45 degree angle to your thumb.  Gently start rolling, pressing as you go the rice ball into that angle you created with your left hand to get the usual triangular shapes you see.  Repeat with remaining or you can shape into balls.

Now for the filled onigiri, also wet your hands with the salt water mixture and with your right hand grab a rough ball of rice and place in your cupped left hand.  Gently make an indentation into the 'ball' and place a cherry tomato and some tuna flakes into the dent.  Wrap loosely into a rough rice ball.  Repeat the above instructions for shaping into triangular shapes or just shape into balls.

Prepare strips of nori wide enough to wrap the edges of your triangular onigiri.  For the rice balls, you can opt to place a strip of nori across the balls.  Done!



Cooking Gallery said...

Oh no, I just had onigiri, and now you make me hungry for some again ;)! But you're right, I find maki sushi easier to make too. Normally I need longer to make onigiri than sushi. Weird but true...!

wiffy said...

I love onigiri too, they look so adorable and they are a great use of leftover sushi rice too.

Tastes of Home (Jen) said...

Thanks Lyndset - I didnt have a chance to take step by step photos since I was making those alone haha..your daughter is cute! I am sure she loves the cute ones you make :D

Tastes of Home (Jen) said...

You're right! even nigiri sushi is way easier hehe

Tastes of Home (Jen) said...

good point! thank you, it was my first time, hopefully I will get better with practice :)

Tastes of Home (Jen) said...

they do, they are just so cute haha

Tastes of Home (Jen) said...

Min, thank you so much!

Gali said...

I haven't had onigiri in ages! Your post just made me crave some.

food for tots said...

I'm not good at shaping the rice balls too. That's why I need the help of the rice mould. Hehehe! Luckily my boy is not very particular. So he just walloped any shapes I made. lol!

MaryMoh said...

Love pretty and neat. I use sushi mould when I want to make these. I don't think I can do it free hand. You are really good. Hope you have a wonderful day. MaryMoh at

tigerfish said...

I always dream of making these with leftover rice but seldom I have leftover rice unless I intentionally cook more. ;p

Tastes of Home (Jen) said...

Gali, thanks for dropping by! :D

Tastes of Home (Jen) said...

Mary, thanks for your kind words! I hope to improve with practice :D

Anncoo said...

WOW Jen! These rice balls look so well shaped...nice...nice :)

Tastes of Home (Jen) said...

Kristy, thanks for the award! Hope you'll like these if you do make them :)

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