These Easy Onigiri Rice Balls Are Great Fun To Make With Kids

A super cute and compact healthy lunch or afternoon snack that beats sandwiches.
asab974 via Getty Images

Cooking With Kids is a weekly recipe series on getting creative in the kitchen with the family.

Bored of the same sandwich lunch option? Enter: Onigiri rice balls, found everywhere in Japan. Your kids will love them.

Head chef and co-founder of udon noodle restaurant Koya in London, Shuko Oda loves making tje handmade rice balls with a wide range of fillings and variations with her two small children.

“Onigiri is special as the whole point of a rice ball is that each one’s different –because every hand that forms them is different,” she tells HuffPost UK. “Obviously, you get small awkward shapes with kids, but they look sweet on your plate and are good as they’re filled with warmth, love, and oddness!”

Besides forming them, little ones can get involved at any point in the process and learn a variety of skills. From cooking on the hob (with parental supervision, of course), and patience waiting for the rice to be cooked, this is a forgiving recipe that doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look perfect.

“That’s the fun bit of cooking with the small ones, as you don’t need to feel so precious about the end result,” Oda explains. “My older daughter loves the shaping process, she just wants to try different shapes and my son likes using this shaking onigiri making instrument that my mother sent me from Japan – pop rice in, close the lid and shake like a maracas.”

Onigiri Rice Balls

Serves: 2 (makes 4-6 onigiri rice balls) | Prep time: 1 hr | Cook time: 40 mins

Onigiri Rice Balls
Shuko Oda
Onigiri Rice Balls

Ingredients:

300g short-grain Japanese rice

1-1.5 big sheets (approx. 20cm square) nori sheets

Filling of your choice.

FYI: Pretty much anything can go in as filling, such as frankfurter, edamame beans, ham, umeboshi (salted Japanese plum), sweetcorn, salmon, and sesame seeds. For this recipe, Oda has chosen a tuna mayo filling, and another with cucumber and sesame seeds mixed in.

For the tuna mayo filling:

1 x tinned tuna

Mayonnaise

For the salmon cucumber filling:

50g fillet of salmon

5cm cucumber

1 tbsp sesame seeds

Method:

1. Wash the rice five times, draining water every time. Take the rice out into a colander, and transfer into a pot. Leave soaking in 400-430ml water for an hour.

2. Place lid on and bring to boil a medium to low heat, this should take about 10-15 minutes. There’s no need to open the lid at any point as you will see it boiling when you hear the rice bubbling, or when the bubbles lift the lid up

3. Once boiled, turn the heat down to low and cook for a further 10-15 minutes (if you’ve been tempted and opened the lid, give it a little booster high heat for 10 seconds!).

4. Turn the heat off and leave it to steam in the pot for further 10 minutes. After steaming, mix the rice from the bottom of the pot a few times.

5. While the rice is cooking, mix tuna with mayonnaise to make tuna mayo for the first onigiri filling.

6. For the salmon onigiri: Slice cucumber as thinly as possible into thin discs and sprinkle ½ tablespoon salt on them. Leave them for 5 mins to let off water then tightly squeeze the water out with your hands. Season salmon with a pinch of salt on both sides and grill on both sides until fully cooked, then flake them. Mix half of the rice with flaked salmon, cucumber and sesame seeds.

Split the rice mixed with salmon, cucumber, and sesame into 2-3 and form into a ball or triangle or again any shape you wish.

7. For the tuna mayo onigiri: Wet your hands, and sprinkle a small amount of salt on them, and take half of the plain rice left in the pot. Create a hole in the middle of the rice and place a tablespoon of tuna mayo inside, cover with surrounding rice. If you’re looking for the typical shape, cup the rice in both your hands to form a ball or triangle. The rice left in the pot should make 2-3 onigiri.

8. Cut the sheet of nori into 3-4 strips (you can just fold and tear it with your hands). Place an onigiri at the centre of a strip of nori and fold the sides up.