Hand-held onigiri (rice balls) are the ultimate quick meal or snack. Available in an infinite variety of flavors and fillings, onigiri are commonly eaten for breakfast, packed in bento box lunches, and enjoyed on picnics and hikes. They provide a burst of energy and sustenance without being overly rich, making them the perfect traveling food.
While the most popular version of onigiri consists of plain white rice wrapped around a filling, this recipe for mentsuyu onigiri stirs toppings and seasonings directly into rice to create one homogenous mixture. We use tenkasu (tempura bits) for crunch, aonori (seaweed flakes) or negi (green onion) for flavor, and mentsuyu and katsuoboshi (bonito flakes) for umami. The mentsuyu flavors the rice and turns it a light brown color.
Onigiri come in a variety of shapes, from triangular to round to cylindrical. For this recipe, triangular or round shapes work best. Feel free to use a mold if you have one handy, otherwise simply shape the onigiri using your hands. Spoon the prepared rice onto a sheet of cling film, then twist and mold it into your desired shape. Unwrap the cling film, remove the rice, and place a strip of nori (dried seaweed) on each rice ball. Alternatively, you can use a shiso leaf in place of nori.
Portable, filling, and endlessly customizable, onigiri are the quintessential on-the-go food in Japan. Try this recipe for mentsuyu onigiri to understand what makes onigiri so special!
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 3 tbsp tenkasu (tempura bits) (see below for recipe)
- 1 tsp aonori (seaweed flakes) or 1 tspnegi (green onion) (chopped)
- 1 tbsp mentsuyu
- Pinch of leftover katsuobushi from making dashi (chopped)
- Nori sheets, shiso leaf, etc (optional)
To make tenkasu
- 30g tempura flour
- 20ml water
- 1 tsp vinegar
- Oil for cooking
- Mix the tempura flour, water and vinegar.
- Add oil to a frying pan on medium heat to about 1cm depth. Drop a bit of the batter from step 1 into the oil. If it floats, the oil is ready.
- Drop bits of the rest of the batter into the oil while stirring quickly with chopsticks. Scoop out with a mini strainer and place on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
- Mix the tenkasu, aonori (or negi), mentsuyu and leftover katsuobushi with the cooked rice.
- Mold into triangles or balls and wrap with a nori sheet or shiso leaf if desired.
Introduction courtesy of Britney Budiman
Britney Budiman (@booritney) is a writer, minimalist, aspiring effective altruist, and runner-in-progress with a penchant for saying “yes.” Previously, she has worked in Cambodia at a traditional arts NGO, in Brazil as a social sciences researcher, and in San Francisco at a housing start-up. She currently lives in the countryside of Kagoshima, Japan, where she teaches English. Her favorite thing in the world is good conversation.