When I was growing up, my absolute favorite grocery store was Uwajimaya, a giant Japanese grocery store in Seattle. They had pocky yogurt sticks, melon flavored gum, and these funny clear sodas that were sealed with a marble. But one of my favorite treats – and one of the only things that could credibly pass as lunch – were little rice balls called onigiri.
Onigiri (that’s fun to say!) are rice balls that are often wrapped in nori and stuffed with salmon or something pickled. In Japan they’re so common that many kids eat them for lunch, and you can buy them in almost any convenience store.
When Hollie suggested we make onigiri for one of our Joyful 12 summer recipes, I was so excited. Onigiri are easy to make, easy to transport, and were incredibly fun to eat when I was a kid. The best part about onigiri is that you can stuff them with basically anything that goes well with rice. Hollie’s idea was to dice different colored bell peppers and do a quick pickle, which makes a really colorful onigiri filling.
You could buy special onigiri molds, but it’s just as easy to use a small bowl and some plastic wrap for your onigiri. These are the perfect snacks to make with kids, where they get to build their onigiri, decide what goes inside, and have fun forming it into a ball or triangle with their hands. Throw in some colorful peppers and you have a great snack!
- sushi rice, 2 cups (uncooked)
- bell peppers, 3 (a mix of colors: red, orange, yellow, or green)
- limes, 2
- rice wine vinegar, ⅓ cup
- hot chili flakes, ¼ teaspoon
- sugar, 2 tablespoons
- sesame seeds, black, 2 tablespoons
- nori, 1 package
- salt, 2-3 teaspoons
- Note on substitutions: onigiri are such a fun, simple snack that you can stuff them and decorate them with your favorite things: smoked salmon or carrots or the traditional pickled plum. Have fun with these and make them your own! They don’t have to be perfect, but you can bet they will be tasty and so much fun to make with your kids.
- Take 5 minutes to get out all your ingredients, measuring and cooking equipment needed, and place them on a cookie sheet within easy reach.
- Cook the sushi rice according to package instructions. Let cool before handling.
- Dice bell peppers.
- Juice and zest the limes and mix with the sugar, hot chili flakes, and rice wine vinegar in a bowl. Toss the diced bell peppers in this mixture for a quick pickle effect.
- A bowl of water to dip your fingers in before handling the rice (this will keep it from sticking to you)
- A small teacup for making the shape of the onigiri
- Plastic wrap
- A few teaspoons salt
- The pickled bell peppers
- Black sesame seeds
- Line the teacup with plastic wrap. Push down into the tea cup and have enough wrap that it is hanging out over the sides.
- With your fingers sprinkle some water inside the plastic wrap and a sprinkle of salt. This will keep the rice from sticking too much and the salt flavors the rice.
- Wet your fingers. Then grab some rice and fill the teacup. No need to press down.
- Make a small hole with your finger in the middle of the rice. Then stuff that hole with the pickled bell peppers.
- Put a little more rice on top of the peppers to cover them.
- Gather the plastic wrap at the top and twist it until you have a tight ball.
- To form the onigiri in a triangle, cup the rice underneath with one hand and the other in the shape of an L, and keep moving around the rice to make the triangle shape.
- Remove the plastic wrap and decorate with black sesame seeds, more bell peppers, and a strip of nori. It’s fun to make a face on the onigiri like you are decorating a snow man, especially if your children request these for their lunch box.