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Vegan Yaki Onigiri aka Japanese Grilled Rice Balls with Chickpea "Chuna" Filling

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 short-grain white rice, aka sushi rice, it yields the best result. DO NOT use long-grain rice like basmati or brown rice for this, they don't stick together or hold shape, pretty much guaranteed to fall apart in the pan;

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.


INGREDIENTS:

2 rice cooker cup sushi rice, 1 1/2 US cup

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 teaspoon brown sugar or maple syrup

1 nori sheet, cut into 1-inch wide strips

Furikake flakes for topping, optional

Oil for cooking


For the Chickpea "Chuna" Filling -

1 15 oz can chickpea

1 scallion, chopped

2-3 tablespoon homemade Silken Tofu Mayo

1 tablespoon sriracha sauce

Small pinch of salt and white pepper


TO MAKE:

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

- Drain and rinse the chickpeas, in a wide bowl, coarsely mash them but leaving some texture;

- Add chopped scallion, silken tofu mayo, sriracha, salt and white pepper, mix evenly, set aside;

- 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, start shaping the rice balls while the rice is still warm;

- Wet your hands to prevent sticking, add about 1/2 cup amount of rice in your palm, press firmly into a ball, then flatten, and poke a dent in the middle;

- Add chickpea filling to the dent, then cover with more rice, press again into a ball, use your thumbs and index fingers to form a triangle shape;

- Repeat till you use up the rice, you might have left over fillings depending on how much you can stuff them in the onigiri, simply enjoy the rest of the fillings as a salad;

- Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat, brush on a little bit of oil, pan-grill the onigiris till golden brown, about 3 - 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 sweetener, when both sides of the onigiri are golden brown, brush the sauce on one side, and before you flip the sauced the side down onto the pan, LOWER the heat to low, keep in mind the sauce can burn easily;

- Flip the side with the sauce onto the pan, grill for about 1 minute to 1 1/2 minute to caramelize, brush sauce onto the other side, flip, grill for another minute or so, remove from heat and transfer onto a plate;

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

- Top with some furikake, this is optional but I like the added ocean flavor and extra crunch;

- Serve hot or cooled down, enjoy!


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