I never gave much thought to onigiri growing up.  I would see my Japanese mother take some hot rice (or sometimes warmed leftover rice), dip her hand in a little salt,  stuff the rice ball with a pickled plum (umeboshi) or other fillings, form it into a triangle or round shape, stick some seaweed on it and either eat it or place it in her obento (lunch box) for later if she was going somewhere that required a bring-your-own lunch.  I didn’t really care much for it, preferring a typical American sandwich in my lunch box.  If I brought onigiri to school, or anywhere for that matter, I’m sure I thought people would laugh at me.  In fact, when friends came to my house I would open our pantry and show them my mother’s tiny dried whole fish and ribbons of gourd or packs of seaweed to get a good laugh.  This was way before Food Network and Travel Channel, back in the 60’s and 70’s when packaged convenience food and TV dinners were staples.  Foreign food was just weird to the kids I knew. Years later, I lived in Japan and saw my mother’s food everywhere.  I gained an appreciation for local, seasonal, fresh food as beautiful to look at as it was to eat.  I saw people eating onigiri at picnics, I spotted it in restaurant windows, and  department store food displays.  I still didn’t eat it, preferring sushi or ramen.  Fast forward to 2006, the year my mother died. She was in the long term care hospital, having just come out of a week stay in intensive care on a ventilator.  I asked her if I could bring her anything to eat and she replied, “Make me some onigiri.”  I went home, cooked a pot of Japanese rice, did what she told me to do, and showed up at her hospital room with the ugliest onigiri she had ever seen.  It was too big, the ratio of filling to rice was way off, and it was simply awful.  She didn’t say any of that–just quietly ate the onigiri and said it was delicious.  She asked me to bring her more next time I came, but “please make it a little smaller”.  I obliged and the second batch was a little better, but still nothing to brag about.  That was the last food I made for my mother.  A few days later she died. It was many years before I tried making onigiri again, this time for a big Fort Worth Japanese Society luncheon.  I was trying hard to make dozens of them by hand, measuring out the rice in equal portions, salting my hands, then trying to create uniform round onigiri from the burning hot rice.  I had enlisted the help of other Japanese Society members and one of my mother’s old friends, Asako-san, told me it would take forever to make them by hand.  She pulled out some plastic onigiri molds, dipped one in a bowl of water, added rice, filling, and presto–perfect onigiri! Mine still didn’t turn out very well, even with the plastic molds.  I either made a too heavy onigiri by over packing the rice or didn’t add enough rice and they fell apart.  Over the years I’ve improved, and last week I made 120 onigiri for a luncheon at the Fort Worth Japanese Society.  I filled them with savory mushroom teriyaki, hijiki seaweed and carrots, simmered tofu with ginger, and umeboshi.  For the most part, they looked decent, uniform in size, not falling apart, and not hard as rocks. The Japanese people attending the luncheon devoured them, and a few of my mother’s friends made a point to tell me how much they loved the onigiri.  One asked me what type of rice I used, another loved the fillings, and another said they were just delicious.  I must confess.  I had a moment.  I dearly wished I had taken the time to learn how to make such perfect onigiri for my mother during her final days.  How was I to know I would never have the chance to show her these beautiful creations.  So, mom, this onigiri is for you.  It would make you proud.
Authorchef-Julia.com
DifficultyBeginner

Onigiri, or rice balls, typically filled with assertively flavored ingredients, such as umeboshi plum, and wrapped with nori seaweed are packed into lunch boxes (obento) or eaten as a snack or meal. Plant based fillings such as mushrooms with ginger and garlic, simmered tofu, Japanese sweet potatoes, eggplant, and hijiki seaweed with carrots make the most scrumptious onigiri.

Yields4 Servings
Prep Time45 minsCook Time42 minsTotal Time1 hr 27 mins
Mushroom Filling
 8 oz mushrooms (shiitake or crimini), washed and chopped fine
 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
 3 small garlic cloves, minced
 4 scallions, finely chopped
 2 tsp soy sauce or tamari
 1 tbsp pickled ginger, minced
Tofu Filling
 1 16 ounce block of extra firm tofu
 2 tbsp soy sauce (low sodium)
 1 tbsp tahini
 1 tsp roasted white sesame seeds
 3 scallions, chopped finely
 ½ tsp salt (optional)
 1 tsp nutritional yeast
 2 tbsp finely cut up nori seaweed
 ¼ tsp Shichimi Togarashi
Hijiki Seaweed and Carrot Filling
 ½ oz dried hijiki seaweed, soaked in water for 30 minutes
 1 carrot, washed, scraped, and cut into julienne slices
 2 oz leftover tofu filling
 2 tbsp soy sauce
 2 tbsp mirin
 1 tsp Takii (mushroom powder)
Other Fillings and Toppings
 1 package umeboshi plums or ume plum paste
 1 package furikake or Eden Shake
Rice
 2 cups high quality sushi rice
Mushroom Filling
1

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for approximately 3 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, scallions and soy sauce and continue cooking for 5 or more minutes, until the mushrooms have softened. Leftover mushroom filling can be frozen and used another time.

Tofu Filling
2

Remove tofu from package and drain the liquid. Wrap the tofu in several layers of paper towels and place on a flat surface. Place a cutting board on top of the tofu along with a heavy book or other object that will press the liquid out of the tofu. Leave it for at least 30 minutes. After 30 minutes discard the paper towels and cut the tofu into 1/4 inch cubes.
Place the tofu cubes and all the other ingredients in a bowl and combine.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and spread the tofu cubes out. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Bake a few more minutes if you like the tofu firmer and chewier. Allow tofu to cool. If you have leftover tofu filling, freeze it and use it another time.

Hijiki Seaweed and Carrot Filling
3

Rinse hijiki seaweed and drain well.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Ad the seaweed, carrots, and tofu and cook for 1 minute. Add the soy sauce, and mirin and cook until the moisture has evaporated.
You can use the hijiki filling as a filling or mix it with the rice and form it into a ball. Leftover hijiki filling can be frozen and used another time.

Rice and Onigiri Instructions
4

Measure out 2 cups of rice and place in a bowl. Rinse the rice 10 times or until the water is fairly clear. Place the rice in a colander and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes place the rice in a rice cooker, or a medium size pot, and add 2 cups of water. Add 2 1/2 cups of water if using the stove top method. Allow the rice to soak for 20 minutes. Turn on the rice cooker and when the cooker indicates the rice is done, lift the lid and fluff up the rice with a paddle. If using a pot on the stove, bring the water to a boil and reduce to simmer. Cook the rice for approximately 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to steam, covered, for another 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, lift the lid and fluff up the rice with a rice paddle.

For the onigiri, for every cup of uncooked rice yields about 2 cups of cooked rice. 1/2 cup of cooked rice makes 1 onigiri. This recipe will will make 8 onigiri. You may have extra fillings, so make more rice if you want to use all the fillings at one time.

Place a bowl of kosher salt on the work surface next to the pot of hot rice, and a bowl of water. Moisten your hands with a little water and grab a pinch of salt. Place 1/2 cup of hot rice in your hands and make an indentation to add the filling. Cover the filling and begin forming the desired shape onigiri. When finished add a strip of nori seaweed..

Ingredients

Mushroom Filling
 8 oz mushrooms (shiitake or crimini), washed and chopped fine
 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
 3 small garlic cloves, minced
 4 scallions, finely chopped
 2 tsp soy sauce or tamari
 1 tbsp pickled ginger, minced
Tofu Filling
 1 16 ounce block of extra firm tofu
 2 tbsp soy sauce (low sodium)
 1 tbsp tahini
 1 tsp roasted white sesame seeds
 3 scallions, chopped finely
 ½ tsp salt (optional)
 1 tsp nutritional yeast
 2 tbsp finely cut up nori seaweed
 ¼ tsp Shichimi Togarashi
Hijiki Seaweed and Carrot Filling
 ½ oz dried hijiki seaweed, soaked in water for 30 minutes
 1 carrot, washed, scraped, and cut into julienne slices
 2 oz leftover tofu filling
 2 tbsp soy sauce
 2 tbsp mirin
 1 tsp Takii (mushroom powder)
Other Fillings and Toppings
 1 package umeboshi plums or ume plum paste
 1 package furikake or Eden Shake
Rice
 2 cups high quality sushi rice

Directions

Mushroom Filling
1

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for approximately 3 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, scallions and soy sauce and continue cooking for 5 or more minutes, until the mushrooms have softened. Leftover mushroom filling can be frozen and used another time.

Tofu Filling
2

Remove tofu from package and drain the liquid. Wrap the tofu in several layers of paper towels and place on a flat surface. Place a cutting board on top of the tofu along with a heavy book or other object that will press the liquid out of the tofu. Leave it for at least 30 minutes. After 30 minutes discard the paper towels and cut the tofu into 1/4 inch cubes.
Place the tofu cubes and all the other ingredients in a bowl and combine.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and spread the tofu cubes out. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Bake a few more minutes if you like the tofu firmer and chewier. Allow tofu to cool. If you have leftover tofu filling, freeze it and use it another time.

Hijiki Seaweed and Carrot Filling
3

Rinse hijiki seaweed and drain well.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Ad the seaweed, carrots, and tofu and cook for 1 minute. Add the soy sauce, and mirin and cook until the moisture has evaporated.
You can use the hijiki filling as a filling or mix it with the rice and form it into a ball. Leftover hijiki filling can be frozen and used another time.

Rice and Onigiri Instructions
4

Measure out 2 cups of rice and place in a bowl. Rinse the rice 10 times or until the water is fairly clear. Place the rice in a colander and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes place the rice in a rice cooker, or a medium size pot, and add 2 cups of water. Add 2 1/2 cups of water if using the stove top method. Allow the rice to soak for 20 minutes. Turn on the rice cooker and when the cooker indicates the rice is done, lift the lid and fluff up the rice with a paddle. If using a pot on the stove, bring the water to a boil and reduce to simmer. Cook the rice for approximately 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to steam, covered, for another 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, lift the lid and fluff up the rice with a rice paddle.

For the onigiri, for every cup of uncooked rice yields about 2 cups of cooked rice. 1/2 cup of cooked rice makes 1 onigiri. This recipe will will make 8 onigiri. You may have extra fillings, so make more rice if you want to use all the fillings at one time.

Place a bowl of kosher salt on the work surface next to the pot of hot rice, and a bowl of water. Moisten your hands with a little water and grab a pinch of salt. Place 1/2 cup of hot rice in your hands and make an indentation to add the filling. Cover the filling and begin forming the desired shape onigiri. When finished add a strip of nori seaweed..

Plant Based Onigiri
   
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