Onigiri (Japanese rice balls) are a great snack, appetizer, or lunch box treat.  Making these delicious little morsels is also a great way to practice making sushi rice.  I’ve heard many times that the key to good sushi rolls is getting the rice right.  I like to use Nishiki rice for my sushi.

Sushi rice is made from rice cooked in water and a bit of sake then mixed with a rice vinegar sauce. To make the rice, you wash the rice several times until the rinsing water comes out clear.  Then you soak the rice in your cooking water for about 30 minutes.  Then, you add a bit of sake to the rice and water and cook the rice.  While the rice is cooking, you can make the vinegar sauce.  You can buy seasoned rice wine vinegar for sushi rice or you can make your own. I make my own because that way I can adjust the seasoning.

To make the vinegar sauce, I put 1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat. I add 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt.  You can adjust the sugar and salt to your taste.  I let the sugar and salt dissolve in the vinegar and then I take the saucepan off the stove. I set it aside to cool.  I let the rice cool and then carefully mix in the vinegar sauce.  Now, you are ready to make rice balls or onigiri.  I learned how to form the rice balls from my favorite Japanese food website http://www.justhungry.com.  Take a ziploc bag, put about 4 tablespoons of water in it, and a pinch of salt.

Squeeze the rice into a corner of the ball and then roll it around in your hand to make a ball.

Then sprinkle on toasted sesame seeds, toasted seaweed, Japanese pickled plum (umeboshi), or you can buy a mix of toasted seaweed and toasted sesame seeds at a Japanese market.  You can also put things in the center — pickled plum or a salmon salad are often put in these balls.  Check out http://www.justhungry.com for other ideas.

Here are the onigiri I made. The first two have toasted seaweed and sesame seeds sprinkled on top and the other two have a bit of Japanese pickled plum on them.  Aren’t they cute? They are super tasty and a good way to practice making sushi rice. They are also a fun snack for kids. Children can form the rice balls and top them with what they like which always makes them happy and more likely to try new foods.

Sushi Rice

Time: 30 to 40 minutes

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt, plus 1 pinch

2 cups short-grain white rice

1 teaspoon sake, optional

1. Wash rice in several changes of water until water runs clear. Combine with sake, a pinch of salt, and 2 1/2 cups water (if you’re using a rice cooker) or 3 cups water (if you’re cooking it on stovetop). Cook until water is absorbed, 38 minutes in a rice cooker, about 25 minutes in a covered pot over medium-low heat.

2. While the rice is cooking, cook the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar and salt dissolve in the vinegar.  Take off burner and let cool.

3. Turn rice into a large bowl, preferably wooden, and let cool for 15 minutes.

4. Using a rubber spatula, a wooden paddle or spoon, gently fold sweetened vinegar into rice, a little at a time. Rice should be glistening and moist but not wet, and sweet but not overly so.

Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)

1 recipe of sushi rice

Water

Salt

Ziploc sandwich bag

Toppings — toasted seaweed, toasted sesame seeds, pickled plum, smoked salmon

Put 3-4 tablespoons of water and a generous pinch of salt into a ziploc sandwich bag.  Add a small handful of sushi rice.  Squeeze the rice into a corner of the bag and roll in your hand to form a ball.  Sprinkle with toppings of your choice.  Some good toppings are toasted seaweed, toasted sesame seeds, toasted seaweed/toasted sesame seed, Japanese pickled plum (umeboshi).

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