A tribute to good rice and umeboshi.
There aren’t too many things in life I can’t live without, but rice is definitely one of them. In my 25 years of living I haven’t gone over a month without eating rice…minus the first few years with no teeth and a non fully-functioning digestive system. The sense of gratefulness and warmth I feel when I smell a freshly-made batch of rice has truly never gotten old.
Due to the nature of my current job, I often have a lot of work around noon. This means I’m pretty bad about eating lunch, so I’ve been trying to cook food that is quick to make but still satisfies my palate. As a result I turn to Japanese-style cooking for it’s simplicity. Onigiri has become one of my staple foods due to it’s simplicity and customizability, but also because rice is truly the star of the show and I can enjoy it fully without much effort.
My obsession: Umeboshi
The ingredients I use to make onigiri vary but I almost always use umeboshi (pickled plums). Available at Japanese grocery stores, they have a very sour + salty taste that I am obsessed with. As I get older I think I start to gravitate more towards extreme sourness and bitterness. This has also proven by the fact that I am also now obsessed with my former childhood enemy, bittermelon. Whenever I have a bad day, eating either of these will always cheer me right up.
Anyway, the taste of umeboshi might not be for everyone but if you’re willing to give it a try please do! If you chop them up and mix into the rice the taste is less intense :) I get umeboshi with the shiso leaves used to dye them, so I like to add a small amount too.
Filling vs. No filling
Normally, I don’t add a filling to onigiri. This is because I often pair it with marinated eggs (ramen eggs or ajitama) so each bite has egg substituting for a filling (pictured below). It’s also easier to shape without filling. However, I had made some pickled shiitake the night before making these and wanted to add them.
If you want to try other ingredient combos here are ones I’ve either done in the past or are common ones that are pretty popular:
- Salmon + furikake
- Tempe stir fry + avocado (I’ve made onigirazu with this filling before, might post in the future)
- Tuna + mayo
- Leek stir-fry (grill the outsides and brush with soy)
There’s a million other fillings that you can look up like tarako, mentaiko, etc. so I won’t get into it. If I don’t want to put too much effort my main ingredients are umeboshi, shiso, green onion/negi, and edamame. You can see the pictures below are all some combination of these ingredients. Today’s recipe has all of these except edamame. Just experiment and add what you like to eat!
Make sure you use short or medium grain rice, long grain rice won’t work since there’s not enough starch to keep the rice stuck to each other. Since rice is the primary ingredients in onigiri I would highly recommend getting some good quality Japanese rice.
I tried my best to include photos of how to shape the onigiri but if you’re unsure you can just look up a video. It was kind of hard to take pics though cuz I needed both hands. I think it’s pretty intuitive though, take one hand and cup it over the other and squeeze and you can see how it creates a triangle shape. I’ll also probably post one on my IG at some point so look out for that. You can also buy onigiri molds if you’re not confident about it! It’s a lot easier to shape these without a filling and when everything is just mixed in, so if you want to practice then start without a filling first! Using cling film to shape them is also easier I think but I don’t encourage the use of single use plastic.
Onigiri (+ Pickled Shiitake)
- 350~400 g cooked short grain rice around 2 cups, more or less depending on how much rice you can eat
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp sesame seeds
- 2~3 umeboshi (pickled plums) pitted and chopped
- 1~2 stalks green onion finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
Pickled Shiitake Filling
- 8~10 fresh shiitake mushrooms destemmed and sliced
- 3 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp Laoganma chili crisp or preferred chili oil
- 2 tsp gochugaru
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- Dash of white pepper
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
Please feel free to use any filling/combination of seasonings you want
- Heat oil in a pan on medium high. Add the shiitake mushrooms and let cook for 2~3min. Mix to cook the other sides and cook another 2min.
- Add all the other ingredients and mix evenly. Taste and adjust accordingly. Set aside and let cool.
- Place cooked rice in a mixing bowl (if you're taking it out of the fridge you should heat it up) along with all the other ingredients for the rice mixture.
- Mix the ingredients in bowl thoroughly using a rice spatula. Portion the rice out into four equal parts, or however many onigiri you want to make depending on the size.
- Wet your hands to make sure the rice doesn't stick to your hands. Scoop the rice into one open hand, you can leave a bit of the portion to add at the end on top of the filling to make it easier, if you aren't using a filling just put all of it in your hand.
- Curve your hand inward a little bit and make a small dent in the middle. Add a tsp or so of filling into the middle. If you reserved a bit of the rice add it on top to close it.
- Continue to curve your hand inward to mold the rice so that it covers the filling with the help of your other hand, and then shape the onigiri into a triangle by cupping one hand over the other and pressing firmly.
- Continue to rotate and shape the onigiri until it's an even triangular shape.
- Continue the steps above until you've finished molding all the onigiri. And you're done! Enjoy :)