One of the most common foods in anime has got to be onigiri… Sports days, picnics, bento, after school snacks, convenience stores… you name it! Those iconic balls of rice and nori (seaweed) simply show up everywhere!
Today’s recipe will feature episode 3 of Special A, in which Hikari must make lunch for Kei because of a bet she lost to him in the previous episode. She spends the entire episode making rice and onigiri, mostly without much success at all… In fact, she can’t even make rice… even with a rice cooker! Turns out, that while Hikari excels at sports and academics, she’s simply terrible at cooking!
Lunch time arrives, and Hikari happily presents Kei with a huge, shiny, and unnaturally smooth bowling ball of rice…. then proceeds to trip and drop it on the ground. It falls like a cannonball, denting the floor because of how dense it is… unable to let Kei eat dirty, sub-par food, she wolfs it down in front of him (much to his dismay) to prevent him from eating it himself….
But, as it turns out, while Hikari is obsessed with making perfect onigiri, Kei just wants to taste a home cooked meal that was made with his wellbeing in mind. A flashback reveals that his parents were largely absent during his childhood, and that his extreme wealth set him apart from his peers…. And, while he was eating a 5 star meal served to him by a butler while on a field trip, his classmate were chowing down on homemade onigiri instead… For Kei, onigiri represents happiness, simplicity, and the warmth of family – things he has seldom experienced before.
Realizing what Kei wants, Hikari finally manages to make him food that actually resembles onigiri, rather than her previous bowling ball (the sun is setting by the time this happens…). But, just as she presents it to him, Hajime, thinking that Hikari made it all for him, steps in and takes a bite…. only to drop the onigiri on the ground because they taste bad…
But, Kei picks up the onigiri and eats it all anyways, saying that it tastes delicious… Ah, the power of love combined with the spice of hunger…
About the recipe:
Onigiri makes for a great snack, a light lunch, or an easy to eat picnic. They’re great for taking on the go, such as on a road trip, or while hiking. For added variety, you can use differnt flavourings and fillings to create a great mix of onigiri. And, unlike Hikari’s efforts, it’s also very easy to make!
Onigiri makes a great addition to a bento! Pair it with a hardboiled egg, some tonkatsu, chicken teriyaki, or yakitori, cherry tomatoes, vegetable sticks, picked vegetables, and a fruit of some description, and you have a nice lunch!
But, what shape should you make onigiri? Round? Triangular? Logs? Honestly, it doesn’t matter! You should shape your onigiri to suit the circumstances in which you will be eating them.
By that, I mean, if you’re taking onigiri for a lunch and your lunch box is narrow and low, maybe a round or squared off pillar shape it best so that the rice balls will fit nicely into your container. Going traditional? Try forming the rice into triangles – perfect for wrapping up in a bamboo leaf or displaying on a plate! Maybe you like eating round, spherical rice balls? Maybe you have a mould shaped like Hello Kitty’s face? Or, are round, flat onigiri better for you? You decide!
About the ingredients:
White Japanese short grain rice is the main ingredient in this recipe. It’s best to use this type of rice and not another white rice such as jasmine, because of the difference in taste and texture. Japanese short grain rice has a bit more stickiness to it, which will be just perfect for allowing your rice ball hold it’s shape. Make sure that your rice is freshly cooked. Leftover rice will be drier and less sticky than fresh rice, and will not hold its shape as easily. The texture of leftover will also be more hard and grainy, due to being kept cold in the fridge.
The other main ingredient for onigiri is nori, and is basically a sheet of dried seaweed. You’ve probably seen it wrapping up sushi rolls… In this recipe, nori makes for a great place to hold on to the onigiri while eating it, and also helps to keep the rice from falling apart. If you like your nori crispy, don’t wrap it around your onigiri until you’re ready to eat it. The moisture from the rice will quickly make the nori lose its crunchiness.
Beyond the basics of rice and nori, you can also bring your onigiri to the next level with various flavourings or fillings! Here are some typical onigiri accompaniments:
Furikake: a dry Japanese condiment, that is generally sprinkled on top of rice…. but, you can also mix it into your rice before you form your onigiri, thereby creating flavoured rice onigiri! Furikake can be bought in Asian grocery stores, and comes in a variety of flavours, such as shiso, bonito, salmon…. It can be salty, slightly sweet, or even spicy. Choose your favourite furikake and make yummy onigiri!
Umeboshi: also known as Japanese picked plum… It’s salty, sour, and slightly sweet… Usually comes in a jar or container, and submerged in its brining water. Be aware that umeboshi will typically contain a small pit… be careful not to eat it! You can find umeboshi in Asian grocery stores.
Mentaiko: marinated roe of pollock (a type of fish) that is salty and pretty delicious all on its own. Makes a great filling for onigiri. It is often sold frozen, and it comes in a spicy version too. To use, just defrost it! The mentaiko will be covered in a clear casing that is edible. I suggest cutting the mentaiko into smaller pieces while it is still frozen because it will be less messy and easier to handle (otherwise, you’ll have little eggs going everywhere).
Sometimes, it can be hard to find furikake, umeboshi, and mentaiko, especially if you don’t live near an Asian grocery store. But, don’t worry, because you can still make great onigiri with some more common ingredients.
Canned tuna: simply take a can of tuna, drain off the water, and place in a bowl. Stir in soy sauce and some chopped green onion, and flake the tuna into small pieces. Optional additions could be sesame seeds, a drizzle of roasted sesame seed oil, or Japanese mayonaise. Don’t make it too wet… if you need it to be more salty, but don’t want to risk making the tuna wet with soy sauce, simply add some salt instead.
Bonito flakes and soy sauce: wet some bonito flakes with a small amount of soy sauce to create a salty filling.
Tonkatsu: yes, you can make onigiri and fill it with a small piece of tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet)…. Here’s the recipe! Add a drizzle of tonkatsu sauce for added zing!
Spam: popular in Hawai’i and Okinawa! Hasn’t quite taken off in the rest of Japan though….
Onigiri (rice balls)
Makes 4 large onigiri
- 4 cups cooked white Japanese short grain rice (about 1 1/4 cups dry)
- 2 sheets of toasted nori, cut into 2 inch wide strips
- Water (for wetting hands)
Fillings and flavourings:
- Canned tuna with soy sauce
- Bonito flakes with soy sauce
1. Wash and cook your rice. Gently fluff rice and divide it into 1 cup portions. If you wish to add furikake, mix it into your rice at this point. Let cool slightly until it can be handled comfortably with your bare hands before forming the rice into onigiri.
2. Dampen your clean hands with water, and then sprinkle them with salt. Scoop up one portion of the rice into one hand. Gently make an indentation in the rice using your free hand. Place 1-2 tsp of filling into the indentation. Wrap the rice around the filling, forming it into a ball shape.
3. From here, you can shape your onigiri into pretty much any shape you wish. To make it into the iconic triangle shape, keep your fingers straight and create the triangle’s corners at the place where your palms and fingers meet. turn the rice over and over in your hands to form the triangle shape until you’re satisfied.
If you’re not comfortable with using your hands to shape the rice ball, you can also place the rice (with the filling inside) onto a piece of plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to envelop the rice ball, and then gently mould it into your preferred shape.
4. Wrap with a strip or two of nori and serve!
Source: Just Bento