Thursday, January 13, 2011

How-To: Brown Rice Onigiri (Rice Balls) and Inarizushi (Sushi Inari)

Onigiri and Inarizushi, Sexy Vegan Mama-style
The kids scarfed down the makizushi I made recently and, because we have a wrestler in the family, I'm all for low-fat meals that provide good energy with whole grains. So I tried making onigiri (rice balls) with brown rice, in spite of warnings from a few authentic Japanese sites that sushi rice - and only sushi rice - was the sole acceptable base for makizushi and onigiri. (Read more here on my preference for brown rice.)

It worked. Who would have guessed?

I also made inarizushi (sushi inari), because it's long been a family favorite.

One of the things I love about making rice balls and sushi inari is a mama doesn't have to have a ton of experience or crafty tools like a bamboo mat or sushi machine to make a beautiful meal and let her family think she's a culinary genius.

In other words, it's sneaky, and it makes me look good. What's not to love about that idea?

I made a pot of rice in my rice cooker, starting with 2 cups of uncooked brown rice and about 4 1/2 cups of water. Your water-to-rice ratio will vary, depending on the rice and your cooking method. After measuring water and rice into the pot, I use gloved hands to rub the grains of rice between my palms to release some of the natural starch into the water.

(Authentic Japanese chefs are dropping dead of heart trauma as they read this, I'm sure.)

After the rice was cooked, I divided it in half, preparing half for inarizushi, and leaving half plain for onigiri.

For the inarizushi, I used the rice preparation (divided in half) for my makizushi, but added one medium-sized carrot, grated. Here's the halved recipe, including the carrot:

Brown Rice Inarizushi Filling with Flax and Black Sesame Seeds

Prepare 1 cup uncooked brown rice (or, you know, half of the 2 cups I told you to prepare earlier)

Once cooked, mix and add:

1/4 c. rice vinegar
2 T. cane juice crystals (I use Zulka)
1 1/2 t. canola or vegetable oil (olive oil is too strongly flavored for my taste in sushi)
1/2 t. black sesame seeds
1/2 t. flax seeds
1 medium carrot, grated

Let cool to body temperature before using.

I'll come back to the preparation of the inarizushi in a bit (you can skip over all the onigiri instructions, if you're only making inari). I only put the rice prep in here now because by the time you're done, your plain rice for the onigiri will still be hot but cool enough to work with. It's important not to let the rice cool too much before starting the onigiri. Hot rice works best.

Some of the onigiri I had in Japan was just molded rice with strips of nori wrapped around them, but my favorites had hidden treasures inside, like pickled plums (umeboshi) or small pieces of Japanese pickles (tsukemono).

Did I have any of those on-hand? Nope. Did it stop me from making onigiri? Heck, no.

I used slivered almonds and pieces of baby corn, wrapped in baby spinach leaves. If I used these fillings again, I'd definitely marinate them in a sweet sake sauce or something, but next time I'll probably just use umeboshi.

Onigiri Directions:

Wash, wash, wash your hands!

Have a small cup or bowl of sea salt and water in your prep area. Keep your hands coated in the salty water while working with the rice, as it will keep it from sticking to your hands.
Just add water!

Scoop approximately 1/2 cup of hot rice into a small bowl or cup and create a hole in the middle. Insert your filling in the hole, then cover with rice from the cup and press the rice into a rough ball shape. Gently turn the cup over into your hand to release the ball, then use your hands to compress and evenly shape the rice ball.

Wrap the ball with a strip of nori. (I simply cut nori sheets into strips.)

Inarizushi Directions:

You're going to need your prepared rice (above), and inarizushi wrappers (unless you miraculously know how to make your own!). They are fried bean curd "pockets," marinated in a sweet sauce with a soy base. I use a canned variety, though I understand they also come vacuum-packed or frozen. The brand I use is Shirakiku Inarizushi No Moto. They are cut and ready to fill when they come out of the can.
Drain and carefully remove the wrappers. They will be rectangular in shape, with a cut edge on one of the longer sides. (Think of them as pillowcases that open on the top instead of the side.) Gently open the cut end to expand the pocket - don't force or open it too far, or you'll split the seams on the bottom and sides.

Using a small spoon or your clean fingers, press a small amount of rice into a rectangle a bit smaller than the wrapper and insert into the pocket. You can now fold over the open edge and tuck it under the filled, rounded pocket.

You're done!

How easy was THAT?!

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  1. Sounds delicious! I normally use California rice to make sure that it sticks together for bentos. ^^

  2. Thanks for swinging by, Aiko! I've never used California rice, but maybe I'll try some next time I get a craving for sushi! <3