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Vegan Yaki Onigiri Japanese Grilled Rice Balls

Your next lunchbox, picnic, snack, appetizer, for just for anything! These yaki onigiris, aka grilled rice balls, are simply the best thing you can do with rice - you get a golden crunchy crust that's glazed with a umami and sweet sauce, yet the rice inside remains fluffy and steamy, the savory aroma from the grilled nori, plus whatever fillings you heart desires.

How do you make a seemingly ordinary ingredient exciting? Look no further. With a few simple steps and some culinary magic, voila, you can turn good old white rice into these irresistible flavor bombs. My favorite part is that golden brown crispy crust, I honestly can't stop crunching them away!

Yaki onigiri is one of those things that if you know the tricks and hacks then they are a breeze to make; but if you don't know where you can potentially fail, chances are something is gonna go wrong. So here are some very important points to keep in mind:

1. Use freshly made rice while they're still hot. This is the MOST IMPORTANT thing. Rice tends to harden when refrigerated and the grains won't be sticky enough to hold together well. I've tried making onigiris with leftover overnight rice before, they can work, but they're way too easy to fall apart in the pan if you plan on grilling them;

2. Choose the right kind of rice. Your best option is sushi rice, it yields the best result. Other acceptable alternatives are white jasmine rice and short-grain white rice, do not use long-grain or basmati rice for this, they don't hold shape as well;

3. Press firmly. This is easy to understand but a little more pressure during the shaping step really saves you a lot of headaches later on;

4. If you're using fillings, DO NOT overfill, make sure the fillings are encased by rice on all sides, otherwise, your onigiri could break from where fillings are when you try to flip. Also make sure your filling is not too "saucy", too much liquid will also comprise the sturdiness of the rice ball.

Watch the video below for a more visual guide. If you have more questions come find me on Instagram and Tiktok.


INGREDIENTS:

2 rice cooker cup sushi rice

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1 nori sheet, cut into 1 inch wide strips

Fillings of choice, I used a Japanese vegan short rib

Canola oil for cooking


TO MAKE:

- Rinse and cook your rice in a rice cooker or stovetop;

- If using any fillings, cook the fillings while the rice is cooking, I fried off my vegan "short rib" in a pan, and cut them into smaller pieces;

- When rice is ready, fluff it up with a spatula and let it cool down a little till it won't burn your hands, but do not let it cool down completely;

- Press down a layer of rice in an onigiri mold, about half of the heigh, press a well in the middle;

- Add fillings, if using, to the well;

- Top off with more rice till level with the mold, wet your hands and press the top till the entire structure is firm;

- Heat a generous drizzle of oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat, pan-fry the onigiris till golden brown, about 4 - 5 minutes per side. Do not flip too often! Let one side crisp up then flip to fry the other side, too much flipping can cause the onigiri to fall apart;

- Meanwhile, mix together the soy sauce and syrup, when one side of the onigiris are golden crispy, brush on the sauce, flip and grill for 30 seconds to 1 minute, lower the heat once you add the sauce, it can easily burn;

- Wrap on the nori strips while the onigiris are hot, the heat from the crust will give the nori a nice toasted aroma;

- Serve hot or cooled down, enjoy!


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