Weekend project: Homemade onigiri

Weekend project: Homemade onigiri
Homemade onigiri make a great weekend project. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Ever made -- or heard of -- onigiri? A couple of years ago, food writer Sonoko Sakai did a great piece on onigiri for Food. She wrote:

"Onigiri is a quick and satisfying Japanese fast food made with rice. You might find some resemblance to those sushi rolls you have been snacking on lately, but fundamentally they are two different things. Sushi's focal point is the fish, which sits on top of rice seasoned with a sweet vinegar and salt mixture. The vinegared rice acts basically to preserve the raw fish.


"Onigiri, on the other hand, is more about eating rice. The filling is the added bonus, to give the otherwise plain rice some flavor and punch. Onigiri tastes especially divine when it is made by hand, with fresh, hot rice. It can also be served in place of a bowl of rice or bread. It is the most versatile Japanese finger food I know."

Onigiri can come in a variety of shapes (I've even seen Hello Kitty molds). Have fun and be creative! It might take a little while to get the hang of it, but that's what makes it such a great weekend project. Continue reading Sonoko's story to learn more about onigiri, and check out the recipes below.


Basic onigiri

Smoked salmon onigiri filling

Fresh pea and umeboshi onigiri filling

Grilled onigiri with miso and chives

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Total time: 1 hour / Servings: 8 onigiri

Note: Made with rice, salt and toasted nori seaweed, this onigiri is basic. Recipes for 2 types of filling (smoked salmon flakes with roasted sesame seeds, and fresh peas and umeboshi) are given separately, and can be prepared while the rice is cooking. You can also come up with your own variations. To keep the rice from sticking to your hands, wet your hands with salt water (1 teaspoon salt dissolved in 1 cup water).

2 cups white short-grain rice, such as Koshihikari or California rice, preferably new crop

2 1/2 cups of water (or follow rice cooker manufacturer's instructions)

Salt water (see note above)

3 sheets of toasted nori seaweed

Fillings, as desired (see links to recipes above)

Roasted sesame seeds

1. Prepare the rice first. Cook the rice with the measured 2½ cups water, or cook according to the manufacturer's instructions.

2. Cut each sheet of nori in half, crosswise, to be used to wrap the onigiri. Or if you want smaller strips, fold the sheet twice more to get 8 strips.

3. When the rice is cooked, divide it into eight equal parts. Make the onigiri while the rice is hot. Take one portion of rice and put it in a small teacup or bowl.

4. Fill and shape the onigiri: Moisten your hands with the salt water to keep the rice from sticking (if you like your onigiri saltier, moisten your hands in the water, then rub a pinch of salt on your palm and rub your hands together). Make an indentation in the rice, and fill it with a little of the filling. Cover the filling with rice and mold the rice using your hands: For a triangular shape, cup one hand to hold the rice ball. Press gently with your other hand to create the top corner of the triangle, using your index and middle fingers and thumb as a guide. Turn the ball and repeat 2 more times to give the onigiri 3 corners; it will be approximately 1 inch thick. The onigiri can also be round or oval in shape.

5. Repeat with the rest of the rice and fillings to form 8 onigiri.

6. Wrap the onigiri with nori and press some roasted sesame seeds on the rice. Serve immediately. If you don't plan to eat the onigiri right away, wrap them in plastic but do not refrigerate.

Each basic onigiri (without optional fillings): 160 calories; 4 grams protein; 30 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 2 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 0 sugar; 310 mg sodium.

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