Onigiri has quickly found it’s way into the hearts and kitchen of me and my other half. These little Japanese rice cakes can easily be eaten as a snack or as a full meal (you only need like two or three), and the filling options are endless. This time around I made them in the shape of a panda bear – because they are just toooo cute, am I right? I bet you could trick some kids into eating these as well! Stash some spinach inside. Hehehe. And the filling is our all time favourite – spicy shiitakes with a little bit of lime juice. Dip these into a bit of soy sauce and you’re in snacking heaven.
The real artist behind this humble yet amazing recipe is my dear K – I’m just the one who shaped the onigiri into cute bears. Also, I have a food blog. But he did all the homework and copious amounts of recipe testing for which he really deserves an applause for.
If the rice cakes don’t turn out perfect the first time around, don’t give up. It’s all about practice. It took K about 4 times to make the rice perfectly balanced in terms of sugar/salt/vinegar. And it is definitely worth it!
300 g Japanese sushi rice
430 ml cold water
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp white/light brown sugar
1 Tsp salt
2 medium sized shiitake mushrooms
1 tsp hot sauce
Squeeze of lime juice
1. Wash the rice 3-5 times until the water is almost completely clear. The best way to do this, I find, is by putting the rice in a large sieve and running water through it into a pot below. When the post is full, throw the dirty water out and start again. Once the water in the pot is pretty much clear (imagine filling the pot with clear water then putting a teaspoon of milk in it) then leave then rest the rice in the strainer for 30 minutes.
2. Put the washed rice in the pot you intend to cook it in and add the water. Leave this to soak for a minimum of 30 minutes.
3. Cover the saucepan bring it to the boil on a medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.
4. Turn the heat to the minimum and cook for another 12-13 minutes. Then remove from heat and rest for 10 minutes. Be careful not to remove the lid during the whole cooking process.
5. Put your rice vinegar, sugar and salt into a small jar and mix it until everything is dissolved. This is now your complex rice vinegar mixture. Don’t be worried about putting a little too much vinegar in. I play it by eye, often adding about 1/2 Tbsp more vinegar to the mixture than what is stated above. You’ll get put off instantly if your finished rice cakes are under-seasoned.
6. After steaming the rice and making your complex vinegar, put the rice in a bowl while it’s still piping hot (a wooden bowl is best, but plastic will do too) and add the complex vinegar, using a wooden spoon to mix everything by turing and folding the rice. Be as precise and efficient with this step as possible. The rice must be mixed and folded while still hot so as to allow for any excess moisture to evaporate, as well as spreading the vinegar evenly.
7. To make the filling, finely chop the shiitakes and place them in a pan over medium heat with a bit of cooking oil. Fry until soft, then add the hot sauce (depending on how spicy you want it), a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime juice. Take off heat and place into a container.
8. Start to make your cakes. Ensure that your hands are wet before handling the rice. It’ll take a while to get used to the texture and how to mould Japanese rice but once you get it, you’ve got it. A medium handful of rice is about right. Press the rice together in your hands a couple of times to make it stick, then flatten out and put in the filling. Bring the edges together and shape into a ball, flattening it a bit for the final shape. You can now start shaping it into a panda bear!
9.To decorate (and provide an extra flavour/texture) cut the nori into shapes to be put onto the rice. If you want to make them like a panda then cut out shaped like the ones I made, but there are tons of other options as well. Enjoy these by dipping them into soy sauce or just by themselves!