My dear friend Chinatsu Aoyama introduced me to Japanese rice balls, also known as "Onigiri." They are basically balls of sticky rice with a typically salty filling. They are a great snack and very popular in Japan. I had my first taste of "Onigiri" when Chinatsu prepared one with a salty salmon filling. I loved it!!
With Chinatsu's guidance, I prepared an Indo-Japanese version of Onigiri, using Indian spiced mixes as fillings, and I also seasoned the rice with some lightly toasted sesame seeds as is sometimes done in Japan, and also with cilantro to give it that Indian touch. I made two fillings - Lentil and Spinach and the other, Flavorful Minced Meat. These fillings are just as easy, use only cumin as a dry spice and can also be eaten separately as their own dish.
I really hope some of you will try making this dish. I can assure you that it is extremely easy, and you can go crazy with the shapes of the balls as well as the fillings. If you do end up making your own versions, we would love to hear from you. - Shalini
Core Spices and Flavorings -
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Other Ingredients -
2 cups cooked sticky rice (If you can't get the Japanese sticky rice you can always use other short grained rice such as Arborio).
1/4 cup lightly toasted black sesame seeds
1 or 2 tsp of salt
1/4 cup Lentil and Spinach (See Recipe)
1/4 cup Flavorful Minced Meat (See Recipe)
1 or 2 sheets toasted seaweed (nori)
Put the sticky rice in a large bowl.
Add in the sesame seeds and cilantro gently mix with a spoon until the seasonings are blended.
Take a bowl with warm water.
Dip your hands in the bowl of water. This step is necessary as it prevents the rice from sticking to your hands as you make the balls.
Then rub just enough salt in your hand so that you can feel a few granules. (Refer to tip below)
Now take a handful of the rice mix and form a ball. Make a hole in the middle of the ball using your finger.
Take a teaspoon or two of the Lentil and Spinach and fill into the hole.
Now cover the hole with a little extra rice. At this point, you could also reshape the balls into other shapes.
Repeat the process with the rest of the fillings (Lentil and Spinach and Flavorful Minced Meat).
Cut the toasted seaweed (Nori) into long 1/2 inch strips and place it along the circumference of the balls.
Your Onigiris are now ready to be served.
Tip: A point to note - the traditional Japanese Onigiri has a very salty filling which compensates for the blander taste of the rice. I have not over salted the fillings to keep it healthy, but I would recommend either boiling the rice in salted water or rubbing some salt in your wet hands when you start shaping the rice balls. You want the rice to have just enough salt to bring out the taste in the overall dish otherwise it may taste a little bland. The other option is to dip the onigiri in a sauce or chutney when you eat it.