Japanese Picnic from Boiled Wheat Blog by Kristen McSorley, Boiled Wheat Photography, Montana food and travel photographer
Recipes,  Savory

A Japanese Picnic Pt. II | Onigiri Two Ways

Japanese Picnic from Boiled Wheat Blog by Kristen McSorley, Boiled Wheat Photography, Montana food and travel photographer
Japanese Picnic from Boiled Wheat Blog by Kristen McSorley, Boiled Wheat Photography, Montana food and travel photographer

Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls) Two Ways


For the Onigiri:

  • 1 c. uncooked calrose or Japanese sushi rice
  • water
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 T mirin

For the Fillings:

  • finely chopped kimchi, liquid squeezed out
  • tuna Salad (add mayo, mustard, and spices to your taste, but don’t make it very wet/mushy)
  • nori sheets, cut into strips
  • sesame seeds (regular or black)

To make the rice:

Add the rice to a heavy, medium-sized pot or the bowl of your rice cooker. Add enough water to cover the rice by a centimeter, then mix with your fingers until water becomes milky and opaque. Strain out the water, and repeat the process until the water runs clear. Add salt and mirin, then add 1-1 1/2 cups of water (rice needs a 1:1 ratio of dry rice to water in order to be perfectly cooked, however, you typically want to add extra to account for evaporation. Please note that rice cookers usually have calculated this already, and simply following the rice cooker directions should give you correct results). Cover rice and bring to a low simmer on medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, and keep covered until the rice has steamed through and is fluffy and tender.

As soon as the rice is cooked through, remove the lid (or open rice cooker) and fluff the rice with a fork, tipping it into a large bowl where it can cool and release excess moisture. Continue lightly stirring and fluffing the rice for a few minutes until it is cool enough to handle. At this point, taste the rice and add salt as needed. It should be salty enough to eat plain, because the amount of filling is so small that it won’t largely affect the overall flavor.

To shape the onigiri:

Onigiri can really be any shape, but the classic triangular shape shown in the photos is my favorite. This is accomplished by wetting your hands, then cupping your right hand underneath your left hand (which will also be cupped), and lightly squeezing a small portion of rice between your palms, turning, and squeezing again until a triangle forms. If you’re having trouble with the shape, you can watch this video I found, that should make it a bit easier. Line a sheet pan or large plate with wax or parchment paper, and place your shaped onigiri there and continue with the next one.

Wet your hands between each rice ball to keep from sticking, and create as many even-sized triangles from your rice as you can. Once they’re all shaped, I like to wet my hands again and go over them all once more, perfecting the shape and “smushing” any stray grains of rice back in.

To fill the onigiri:

Once your rice balls are all uniform and holding together, it’s time to add filling. Filling can be added during shaping and enclosed inside the onigiri, but I prefer to add it after so that I can see what’s inside (and I also just think it looks nice, particularly when I’m using a bright red kimchi).

Take one rice ball, and use a teaspoon or your fingers to remove a small chunk from one side of the onigiri, creating an indentation. Add about a teaspoon of filling (tuna salad or kimchi), and press it into the rice, so that it’s even with the side of the onigiri. If your fillings are too wet, it may cause the rice to break up or fall apart. If this is happening to you, simply strain your fillings a little more and pat them dry with a paper towel. After filling each rice ball, individually wrap them with strips of nori, if desired. Roll in sesame seeds, or simply sprinkle them on top.

Serve plain, or with soy sauce.

Japanese Picnic from Boiled Wheat Blog by Kristen McSorley, Boiled Wheat Photography, Montana food and travel photographer
Japanese Picnic from Boiled Wheat Blog by Kristen McSorley, Boiled Wheat Photography, Montana food and travel photographer

In my last post, I mentioned what a great picnic food that coleslaw is. Well, rice balls are even more convenient. I would probably call them the ultimate convenience food for outdoor activities. They require no flatware, and really no dishes other than a container to carry them in. Unlike a sandwich where the fillings can soak through the bread and leave you with an unappealing mess, onigiri are even better the longer they rest. The flavors of the fillings really seep into the rice, without making it fall apart.

Going on a hike? Onigiri. Need a work lunch that you don’t have to stop working for? Onigiri. Feeling blue and want to eat something cute? Onigiri.

There’s literally no way to lose with this one.

Shiitake Mushrooms by Kristen McSorley, Boiled Wheat Photography, Montana food and travel photographer
Japanese Picnic from Boiled Wheat Blog by Kristen McSorley, Boiled Wheat Photography, Montana food and travel photographer

Now, there’s a *thing* I do with my onigiri, that may not be Japanese Kosher in any way.

It might even be dangerous for me to tell you.

But I dip my onigiri in miso soup.

It’s like doughnuts and coffee. But not.

If you’re into breakfast picnics, I highly, highly suggest bringing along a thermos of miso soup. This is even better in the fall when the crisp weather really begs for a hot liquid. You can get my recipe for my breakfast miso soup here, or you can literally just mix up some miso paste in some hot water and call it good. I like to add mushrooms. 100% optional. And if you happen to bring along some onigiri, just try it. Dip in in the soup. It might have just been because I was already feeling cozy, but when I first tried it, my whole body was filled to the brim with the warmest, coziest, if-there-was-a-japanese-word-for-hygge feeling. 10/10, I would recommend.

Japanese Picnic from Boiled Wheat Blog by Kristen McSorley, Boiled Wheat Photography, Montana food and travel photographer

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