#54 o-nigiri

This delicious Japanese food is a much simpler & humbler way to enjoy your sushi cravings at home.  Not to be confused with the type of sushi known as nigiri, onigiri – or omusubi – are a whole other thing.  These traditionally triangular or cylindrical ‘balls’ make use of leftovers and other yummy ingredients, hiding them inside the lightly-salted rice.  Because of their popularity in Japan, they have gone from being traditionally handmade & filled with pickled, salty or sour ingredients to being commercially produced in a much broader range of fillings and flavors.  They soon leaked out to the rest of the world, where onigiri shops have become popular in some of the bigger cities.

Unlike sushi, onigiri is made with plain lightly-salted rice (no rice vinegar or sugar).  Their history dates back to the 11th century, where since then people in Japan are known to have eaten rice balls as a quick and easy to-go, easy-to-pack-up meal.  Think Bento box!  Fillings include anything you might be able to fit in there, and the outside is usually decorated with fun ideas.  Some of the more traditional Japanese options for fillings are tuna, dried fish like mackerel, fried foods like tempura, pork, caviar, squid, pickled fruit & vegetables…but on this side of the world, we use regular Western food like chicken, cucumber, avocado, & cheese!

For the Rice

  • 2 cups of Japanese / Basmati rice
  • Salt

For the Filling

  • 1 chicken breast, diced into cubes
  • 5 thin slices of ginger
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon of Sriracha sauce
  • 1 avocado, finely diced
  • 1 cucumber, finely diced
  • Fresh herder’s cheese, finely diced

Add chicken, garlic, & soy sauce in a bowl and mix well.  Marinade for about 30 minutes.  Cook rice according to package instructions, and when done let cool.  Meanwhile, mix mayonnaise and Sriracha sauce together in a bowl and set aside.  Add salt to the rice and using a wooden spoon, fluff it lightly (do not over mix or toss) until the salt is evenly mixed in.

In a small pan over medium heat, add oil, carrots, and ginger and fry for 2-3 minutes, until vegetables are soft but still yielding a slight crunch.  Transfer to a plate and set aside.  Using the same pan, add chicken and cook through, on medium heat.  Set aside.

To assemble the onigiri, set a bowl of water next to all your ingredients.  It’ll get sticky & messy!  Grab a small handful of rice and flatten a bit on your palm.  Add a hint of the mayonnaise and a tiny bit of each of the ingredients, just enough for a small taste of each: chicken, carrot, avocado, cucumber, and cheese.  If this seems like too much, alternate always using a minimum of three.  These are not meant to be large rice bombs, so keep the size at a friendly & somewhat larger bite-size.  Roll the ball up, making sure the ingredients are packed tightly inside.  I discovered a little trick, where you place the ball in plastic wrap and squeeze it until it’s tight and firm.  This way, the balls hold tight and the rice remains moist.  Add any of the ingredients on top to decorate.  Serve together with soy sauce and enjoy!

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