Sharing Onigiri Rice-Balls
Last week, there was another ‘Sharing Lunch’ day at school, and while I should have been nervous about cooking for a large group after such a long cooking hiatus, luckily Magnus put me at ease. He made a very specific request – to make onigiri rice-balls – so I felt better right away that there was very little chance for me to mess it up. So I was full of hope when I woke up in the morning, make Magnus’ bento box, then set up everything to make them right before lunchtime.
Onigiri are Japanese rice-balls, usually make with fresh rice, either plain or with some kind of fish, seasonings or pickled plums. It is usually wrapped with nori seaweed and served room temperature. In Japan, this is a go-to meal for picnics, bento-boxes and kids. They are easy to make and keeps well, and the texture of the rice is dense and much like sushi-rice, since each onigiri needs to be gripped and packed into neat triangles, balls or other kinds of shapes.
Even though these rice-balls are simple to make, I was still a bit nervous when I finally stood over my steaming bowl of rice, a small water bowl and cut-up pieces of seaweed. It has been so long. Onigiri, much like sushi, its all about the gripping of the rice. You have to be firm but not too hard in cradling and pressing the rice in your hands else they fall apart as soon as you put them down. If you squeeze too hard, they become like glue and lose the fluffy rice-ness texture. For the first rice-ball, I succeeded without making too much of a mess, but I found myself clenching my teeth. But then it came easier after the second rice-ball. Soon enough they were in neat rows and I was off to school with the warm bundles of rice. I was happy. It felt good.
For this lunch, since I knew that I would be serving the rice-balls pretty much right after making them, I decided to fold in some freshly grilled salmon with a bit of salt for extra flavor, protein and DHA Omega 3. I then tied a thin piece of nori seaweed around the balls for easy holding. The nori, an added DHA element, becomes moist when wrapped around an onigiri for an extended time, so it is better to keep the pieces small as they tend to get chewy and hard to swallow.
Luckily, all of the kids loved them and there was not a single onigiri left.
And today I happily made more for the teachers who did not get to taste them last week.
It is such an easy dish to prepare, and perfect for large parties, lunches and snacks. And now that I have regained my Oningiri confidence back, maybe I can throw more rice-ball lunches and picnics as the weather gets better.
Onigiri Rice Balls with Salmon (Makes about 30 rice-balls)
4 cups cooked rice
½ cup salmon (half of a filet)
Large Nori Seaweed (can be found at most supermarkets and Whole Foods)
1. On a grill or on a skillet, salt the salmon and cook for 5-7 minutes, until it is well cooked and can be flaked into small pieces with a spoon.
2. In a bowl, add the rice, the salmon and a bit of salt. Mix well.
3. Cut the nori seaweed into thin strips, about the length of a thumb and the width of the top part of your index fingers.
4. Prepare a large serving platter or plate, and prepare a bowl of cold water.
5. Dip your clean hands in the bowl of water (this is so the rice does not stick to your hands), then take about 3-4 tablespoons of rice into the palm of your hands, press the rice and turn it inside the palm of your hands until it forms a ball. Don’t be afraid to squeeze the rice – it makes for a denser rice ball and all the more tastier – keep pressing the ball for a few more seconds until it is firmly shaped into a ball. Wrap a piece of nori strip around it, and place on the serving platter/plate. Repeat until all of the rice is used. Serve warm or at room temperature.