Easily transportable and infinitely adaptable, Japanese rice balls or onigiri are an ideal snack. They’re sold in convenience stores across Japan and in Japanese grocery stores around the U.S., but you can easily learn how to make onigiri at home.
“The balls are stuffed with flavorful and often salty fillings that pair well with the sticky rice,” shares recipe developer Diana Yen. Salmon, cod roe, a classic tuna-mayo combo, spicy tuna, and umeboshi (tart pickled plums), are all popular fillings. But, kimchi works well, too—“even yesterday’s chicken salad works,” she adds.
Make sure to give the short grain rice the prep time and attention it deserves, meaning washing it and allowing it to soak, which yields evenly-cooked rice—there’s no need for a rice cooker here. The fun part of any onigiri recipe is forming them, often into a triangular shape, but you can also find them in rounds or logs. “The secret is to use slightly warm rice,” writes Yen. She also recommends working with wet hands to prevent sticking, but be sure to dry them with a paper towel before touching the crispy sheets of nori. (There are also onigiri molds, if you’d prefer).
This recipe makes 3 to 4 of each onigiri: tuna, umeboshi, and kimchi. You can prepare them up to two days in advance, bundle tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Pack them in lunch boxes or a picnic basket and enjoy at room temperature.