Sweet, savoury miso sauce delicately brushed on warm, fluffy rice balls is the epitome of comfort for me. It’s a simple and humble dish that I find incredibly warming. Onigiri (rice balls) are one of the most versatile dishes found in Japan, you’ll likely to come across them in convenience stores, traditional Japanese homes and even kids lunchboxes. Usually, they’re formed into ovals or triangles and sprinkled with a variety of flavours.
Surprisingly these warm, fluffy and almost animated little balls were once a samurais food of choice to help fortify them during battle – which sends them all the way back to the 11th century. YAKI Onigiri, however, is a variation on the traditional onigiri, where the rice balls are grilled with miso sauce, the heat caramelises the miso creating a delicious crust, which makes them even more irresistible; and we all love a little balance of textures in our food.
Because Onigiri goes so far back, salt was often used to preserve foods, especially on long journeys. People would rub salt on their hands before handling food to seal the food and prevent it from spoiling. Sushi rice will often lose its fluffiness when you store it in the refrigerator and fall apart when reheated, to prevent that we still use the salt method to keep the rice fresh and prevent the rice balls from losing their shape. We both love umami flavours, and miso is the perfect balance of sweet and savoury, slathering it over sticky, fluffy rice makes the perfect snack, or when paired with our gut healing vegetable – makes for a substantial and delicious meal.
1. Miso and the Umami Flavours
Packed with so much umami, remember that a little goes a long way. Miso is a protein-rich paste made from fermented soybeans. In stores, you’ll often find 2 varieties; Korean or Japanese. The only difference as far as I can tell is the method by which they’re made, the tastes are pretty similar but you will find the textures differ. Miso comes in a variety of shades, I prefer using red miso as I prefer the flavour, but feel free to alternate depending on your preference. They will all increase the number of probiotics in your food and aid digestions and absorption of other nutrients.
Simply combine it with a tablespoon of mirin sauce, and a teaspoon of sugar, mix together, taste and adjust and set aside until serving. The flavours will combine beautifully to create the perfect sauce for brushing your rice balls at a later stage.
2. Picking and Prepping your Rice
This rule actually applies to all cooking ingredients, make sure you’re using the right variant for your chosen outcome. There is a multitude of rice at your disposal at any supermarket, so make sure you do some research before picking one. For onigiri, you’ll need either a Japanese short or medium grain rice, anything else and your rice balls are likely to fall apart.
When cooking your rice, make sure you work with a 1:2 ratio, 1 cup of rice + 2 cups of water = 3 cups of cooked rice. Japanese rice is meant to be brought to a boil first, then reduced to a slight and covered while cooking for +-8 minutes, without stirring. Disturbing the rice only breaks it apart and leaves you with a whole lot of bits.
3. Mix and Combine
Once your rice is cooked it’s time to add your flavours, we used black sesame seeds and some mint leaves. The sesame seeds provide a lovely extra crunch factor amongst all the soft and fluffy rice bits.
The mint leaves, however, can be substituted for a variety of other ingredients such as more traditional shiso leaves; these provide a unique flavour that’s somewhere between mint, basil and a citrus flavour. If you’re able to get your hands on I highly suggest you use them, also give me a shout and let me know where you located these elusive leaves.
4. Add a Little Salt
Some people believe in not adding any salt to food, I happen to strongly disagree, along with the idea of using 1 garlic clove (why even bother). In long forgotten times, before refrigerators were invented, people used salt for more than just flavouring a bland meal; it was actually used for more practical reasons – to preserve food. In the case of onigiri, it serves 2 important purposes; when using Japanese rice you should try and avoid refrigeration (it stiffens up the rice and it eventually loses its fluffiness and shape) and secondly to add some flavour. If you eat a lot of plain rice, you’ll eventually understand why the addition of salt becomes a necessity.
When making these balls, make sure you dip your hands in a little water, dip your fingers in some salt and distribute the salt over your hands. The water helps prevent the rice from sticking to your hands while the salt adds some flavour.
5. You Better Shape Up
Now that your hands are prepped, it’s time to really get up close and personal with your rice. You can either measure using your hands, or a 1/4 cup to scoop out those fluffy grains and gently press them into flattened balls using your palms. Don’t try and roll them into balls, unless you know something I don’t, they will fall apart. – This is actually my favourite part.
6. Brush Up
Using a pastry brush or a knife, if you’re kitchen is as well stocked as ours, brush your miso sauce over your rice balls. You only really need to do the top and bottom as these are the sides that will come into contact with the pan, but feel free to brush the sides too if you want some extra flavour.
7. Cook and Flip
A little trick I’ve learnt when cooking with miso, because it burns really quickly it can be a nightmare to clean if you don’t have an incredibly reliable non-stick pan. The solution: cut a circle out of baking paper and line your pan, I promise you, it will change your life. you should be ready to fry your miso rice balls. Make sure your pan is on a medium heat; you want an even colouring, fry for 3 minutes and flip and repeat.
Remove from the heat and enjoy warm as a picnic or lunchbox snack, OR keep reading if you want to create a more substantial meal…
9. Bonus Round
This week we also shared with you, one of my personal favourite recipes; a Gut Healing Vegetable Broth. Eaten on its own it has tons of nutritional value but, doesn’t make for the most substantial meal, but paired with crispily fried lotus root and our magical rice balls, it’s a meal you definitely want to come home to.
Because you’ve probably made a boatload of vegetable broth and have some in the freezer ready to go, whip up a batch of these rice balls, fry off some lotus root and you’ll have the perfect meal to satiate your hunger and lovingly heal your gut at the same time.
- 1 cup Sushi Rice (Short-Grain Japanese Rice)
- 1 tbsp Sushi Vinegar
- 2 tbsp Red Miso
- 1 tbsp Maple Syrup
- 1 tbsp Mirin
- 10 Mint Leaves sliced
- 2 tsp Black Sesame Seeds
- 1 bag Lotus Root in brine
Rinse your sushi rice like you would any other rice, making sure the water runs clear. Then place your rice in a medium-sized pot, and add water until it just about covers the rice. You should work by a 1:2 ratio. 1 Cup of rice to 2 cups of water. Add some salt and cook on high heat until the water is boiling and then reduce the heat to low and cook covered for 6 - 8 minutes, do not stir unless you need to add more water.
Once your rice is cooked, transfer to a bowl to cool and add 1 tablespoon of sushi rice vinegar, mix well and let cool.
In a small bowl combine your miso paste, mirin and maple syrup, use a fork to whisk until all the ingredients are combined. Set aside for brushing the rice balls.
Once your rice is cooled and you're able to handle it without burning. add your mint leaves and sesame seeds, mix until combined.
Prepare a small bowl of water and a plate/bowl of salt. Wet your hands using the water, and dip your fingers in the salt and lightly salt your hands. Then using a 1/4 cup scoop the rice mixture out and gently shape into rice balls, flattening them slightly at the top and bottom - you should be able to make 6 large balls.
Cut some baking paper to fit a frying pan, and lightly drizzle with some vegetable oil. Using baking paper prevents the miso from sticking to the pan.
Place the rice balls on top of the parchment paper, in the pan and cook on medium heat. make sure you don't overcrowd the pan. Rather do the balls in 2 batches as the rice balls will stick to each other.
Use a pastry brush or a knife to brush on your miso, cook for about 3 minutes on each side, making sure they don't burn. Gently flip the balls and repeat. If you're going to use your hands to flip the balls, remember to dip your hands in water first. Miso burns really quickly, so make sure you keep an eye on them.
Remove from pan and set aside until serving.
Drain all the excess liquid off the lotus root, rinse and pat dry and make sure to wipe off all the liquid.
Add vegetable oil to a frying pan (enough to shallow fry) and heat to about 170 degrees Celcius - the oil will start creating veins at the bottom of the pan. Drop a piece of lotus root in and if starts bubbling and float to the top the oil is ready.
Make sure not to overcrowd the pan, and avoid shifting them around in the pan, shallow fry the lotus root until they're golden brown and crispy. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
Sprinkle with salt and serve alongside your vegetable broth and miso rice balls.
Rice hardens and loses it's fluffiness when refrigerated if you do plan on keeping them for a day or two, make sure you keep them at room temperature. Salt naturally preserves them and keeps them fresh.