If you’ve never savored a Japanese rice ball, known as onigiri, you’re about to enter a world of delicious simplicity. These easy-to-craft, portable and healthy little pouches can be made vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian or even carnivorous, and they’re an attractive and crowd-pleasing way to get your lunch on. Join Japanese writer, author and TV host Sonoko Sakai and discover onigiri her way.
Ume plum vinegar is available at gourmet supermarkets, health food stores, and online. If you cannot find ume plum vinegar, use rice vinegar. The pickled radishes taste great by themselves and would make a nice side dish, or use the slices to garnish your onigiri, as I’ve done here. I use beet to dye the radish pink. You can omit that step.
- 8 red or white radishes, cut crosswise into 1/16-inch slices
- 1/2 cup sushi vinegar
- 1 beet, cut crosswise into 1/16-inch slices (optional)
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- About 5 cups short-grain rice, cooked
- 3 tablespoons sesame Furikake
For the ongiri
In a bowl, combine the radishes with the sushi vinegar and beet (if using) and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours.
Remove the pickled radishes from the vinegar and drain well. Set aside 12 slices to decorate the top of your onigiri, if you like. Cut the slices into 1/16-inch [2-millimeter] dice. Blot dry with paper towels. Eat the beet slices as a snack.
Have ready a large plate or cutting board to hold the finished onigiri. Prepare a small bowl of water for wetting your hands and a small bowl containing the salt. Arrange near the plate.
Fold the diced radish, parsley, and lemon zest into the rice, combining gently, without mashing the grains.
Divide the rice into 12 equal portions. Scoop one portion into a small teacup or bowl.
Moisten your hands with the water to keep the rice from sticking to them. Lightly dip the tips of the index, middle, and ring fingers of one hand into the bowl of water, then into the bowl of salt. Rub the salt onto your palms. You should have a light coating on your palms.
Gently tap the teacup or bowl to loosen the rice into your palm. Press gently into your palm, then use the index finger, middle finger, and thumb of your other hand to gently press the two ends of the ball to form a log, about 1 1/2 inches [4 centimeters] wide and 2 1/2 inches [6 centimeters] long. Now use your index finger, middle finger, and thumb to complete the log shape. Don’t press too hard; the onigiri should be firm on the outside but soft and airy inside. Place the finished onigiri on the prepared plate. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
Cut a slit halfway through a slice of radish, without cutting it in half. Twist the slice to make a butterfly shape. Repeat with remaining slices. Sprinkle the onigiri with the furikake and top each with a radish twist. Eat immediately.