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Sesame-Spinach Onigiri (Rice Balls) Recipe

Sesame-Spinach Onigiri (Rice Balls) Recipe

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My family was vegetarian from 1998 to 2004 while my cousin from India was living with us and attending college. I wasn't surprised (or upset) to find these in my lunch box the day after the rice ball class.

Click here to see 8 Easy Vegetarian Dishes.


  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ½ pound spinach, washed
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, plus more for garnish (optional)
  • 1 cup cooked Japanese short-grain rice
  • 1 sheet nori (Japanese seaweed), cut into 2 inch-wide strips


Heat sesame oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then sauté garlic for 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add spinach and sauté until just cooked through, another 2-3 minutes. Toss with sesame seeds and set aside to cool.

Line a small bowl or ramekin with plastic wrap and loosely press a 1-inch layer of rice into the bottom. Add 2 tablespoons of spinach to the center, then add another layer of rice on top to cover.

Fold the sides of the plastic wrap in, then twist to make a sealed package. Flatten the rice ball between your hands. Mold it into a triangular shape, apply firm pressure with both hands, then remove plastic wrap.

Lightly press a nori strip around the bottom of the rice ball, sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired, and serve.

Recipe Summary

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • salt
  • 1 sheet nori (dry seaweed), cut into 1-inch strips, or as desired (Optional)

Combine 2 cups water, rice, and a pinch of salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent rice from sticking, until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes. Fluff with a fork cool rice until easily handled, about 10 minutes.

Fill a small bowl with water. Place 2 tablespoons of salt in another small bowl.

Dip hands in water and rub salt over hands. Take a handful of warm rice and form it into a ball. Gently squish ball with your hands in an "L" or "C" shape, apply gentle pressure to the sides to make a triangle shape.

Wrap a strip of nori around the triangle, using a bit of water to help it stick if necessary.

Learn How to Make Onigiri at Home

The Japanese have been making filled rice snacks since before chopsticks were invented. Called onigiri, these Japanese rice balls are an easy way to eat without utensils.

But they’re great for another reason, too: The rice preserves the savory fillings inside. And they make a great brown bag lunch.

Sometimes you’ll find actual rice balls or rice molded into cute shapes like kitties and bunny rabbits, but triangles are the most common. And no matter how you shape them, these compact wonders hide delicious surprises inside.

These onigiri are adorable, delicious self-contained meals. Less boring than a sandwich, they’re the ideal snack to take to work, to school, or to the park. Sneak them into the movies or bring them along for a long plane, train, or bus ride.

Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)

If you love rice, onigiri is a must-try: a humble rice ball accented by a variety of fillings, wrapped in roasted seaweed (nori), and perfect for snacking or a light meal. Onigiri is open to customization and experimentation&mdashfillings popular in Japan include fish roe, karaage (small pieces of fried chicken), various veggies, and grilled beef.

Below, we give three different filling options: miso salmon, spicy tuna, and umeboshi (pickled plum) dotted with furikake (a variety of Japanese seasoning mixes). You can stuff whatever your heart desires inside each ball, or, simply mix the rice with your favorite seasonings to create a super flavorful rice ball. It's the perfect cooking project to do with the whole family.

The type of rice

Because the heart and soul of onirigi is the rice, the quality of your grain is super important here. Go with the good stuff, Japanese varieties are definitely preferred. Short grain white rice gives you the proper amount of stickiness for a cohesive rice ball. You can substitute brown rice, but I&rsquod recommend glutinous brown rice for a better hold&mdashthe longer the grain, the looser the hold, the crumblier your rice ball will be, which is something you definitely don't want in this application!

There are two types of starches in rice: amylose and amylopectin. Amylose content is higher in long grain rice and amylopectin content is higher in short grain rice and glutinous rice. Amylopectin is responsible for the desirable stickiness that we need for our onigiri: During the cooking process, the starch granules burst and gelatinize, creating a tackiness in the rice that is crucial to holding the signature triangular shape we want our onigiri to stay in.

Cooking the rice

Be sure to soak your rice in water for at least 30 minutes prior to cooking. There are two ways to cook your rice. Boiling the rice directly in the pot with an almost 1:1 ratio of rice to water is the traditional method. This yields a soft, creamy, tender rice kernel that is perfect for eating straight or for forming into onigiri.

The second method, which is the one we used in our video and in the instructions below, is a much more experimental technique that's more often used in Thai cooking to make glutinous, sticky rice: The soaked rice is placed in a steamer basket (or a fine-mesh strainer) and cooked over a pot of boiling water. Because the rice never touches the water directly, this method yields a much more al dente grain of rice: bouncier and chewier than traditional onigiri rice is. The choice is yours!

If you made your rice using the second method and find that the grains are too al dente, worry not, you can make it softer! With the rice still in the strainer, pour about 1/2 cup of boiling water evenly over the rice, then use a spoon to thoroughly stir the rice and distribute the water (any excess water will drain right into the pot below!). Clamp on the lid to your pot and bring the water to a boil again steam the rice for another 5 minutes. With the added water content and steam action, your rice should be much softer now!

The filling

For ease, the recipe below uses canned salmon for the miso salmon mixture. You can just as well use fresh salmon! Or, if you have any leftover baked salmon, feel free to jazz that up with a little miso and use that instead. Onigiri is a great vehicle to repurpose leftovers of all kinds. Get experimental! Stuff it with pulled pork, diced garlic butter mushrooms, spicy Korean fried chicken, or super crispy bacon.

Eat as soon as possible!

Shaped by lightly salted and dampened hands, onigiri is a way to temporarily preserve rice at room temperature. It is best when eaten fresh right after shaping. To preserve the moisture in the rice for a little while longer, you can tightly wrap each rice balls individually in plastic wrap.

Rice starch tends to harden when refrigerated, which is why chilled rice always tastes starchy and chalky. If you must, onigiri can be kept in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for 1 to 2 days. To reheat, unwrap each onigiri and sprinkle a tablespoon of water on top, cover with a damp paper towel, and microwave until rice is steaming hot, about 2 to 3 minutes. (Let stand a minute before eating, to avoid burning yourself!)

If you've made this recipe, let us know down below in the comments how you liked it!

Related Questions

What’s the difference between onigiri and sushi?

The biggest difference between the two is that onigiri is made from plain steamed rice while sushi includes seasoned rice mixed with vinegar and salt. Furthermore, unlike sushi, onigiri has fillings stuff inside a closed ball of rice.

What’s the best way to save onigiri for the next day?

If you have a lot of leftovers from an onigiri dinner, and you want to save it for the next day or you simply wish to make your breakfast in advance wrap the rice balls in a plastic wrap and then with a thick kitchen towel. This will prevent the rice from getting too cold or hard inside the refrigerator.

How can you warm up cold onigiri?

If you like your onigiri to be a little warm like freshly-made then we suggest that you slightly brush the rice balls with sesame oil and toast it for 2-3 minutes per side on the pan. This will make the outer layer toasty and crispy with a light brown color.

Easy Homemade Sushi

Hi, I am James. I have been a sushi enthusiast since my Japanese friend introduced me to this wonderful delicacy. I have endlessly researched on sushi and wish to share the wealth of information with you.

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Recipe Summary

  • 4 cups uncooked short-grain white rice
  • 4 ½ cups water
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup bonito shavings (dry fish flakes)
  • 2 sheets nori (dry seaweed), cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Wash the rice in a mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Combine washed rice and 4 1/2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low cover. Simmer rice until the water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Let rice rest, for 15 minutes to allow the rice to continue to steam and become tender. Allow cooked rice to cool.

Combine 1 cup water with the salt in a small bowl. Use this water to dampen hands before handling the rice. Divide the cooked rice into 8 equal portions. Use one portion of rice for each onigiri.

Divide one portion of rice in two. Create a dimple in the rice and fill with a heaping teaspoon of bonito flakes. Cover with the remaining portion of rice and press lightly to enclose filling inside rice ball. Gently press the rice to shape into a triangle. Wrap shaped onigiri with a strip of nori. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Repeat to make a total of 8 onigiri.

Onigiri Molds & Accessories

There are so many accessories to make Japanese Rice Balls! I’ve collected quite a few over the years and really do think they can be helpful- especially for those of you making Onigiri for the first time. The main accessory is Onigiri Molds that come in a couple different shapes and sizes. The Double Onigiri Mold I used in the photographs below is my favourite shape. Triangular but slightly rounded and the perfect size to place in bentos. The pink and beige single Larger Triangular Mold is made from silicon, around the size of the ones you find at convenient stores. It’s awesome for on-the-go eating. The Green Mold with the handle makes three small cylinder rice balls. And the round green mold makes onigiri shaped in cupcakes! There are also Nori rollers that pokes holes in the seaweed to make them easier for wrapping.

Vegan Recipe: Onigiri (Rice Balls)

A traditional Japanese version of fast food, these rice balls are seasoned and sometimes stuffed with a filling for a tasty breakfast or snack. By Christine Wong, from her new cookbook The Plantiful Plate: Vegan Vinyasas from the Yommme Kitchen

Choose Your Favorite Combination

RICE (2 cups)

Purple sticky
Short- grain brown
Short-grain white

1 tablespoon rice vinegar + ½ teaspoon salt


Nori seaweed strips
Perilla/shiso leaves

FILLING (8 teaspoons)

Adzuki beans (cooked)
Carrot Lox
Mock “Tuna” Salad
Mushroom Tapenade


1 cup short- grain white rice
1 cup short-grain brown rice
3½ cups filtered water
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 or 2 chard leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sesame seeds

Combine the rice varieties in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse well. Drain and transfer to a saucepan with a tight- fitting lid.

Add the water and place over high heat. Bring to a boil. Cover immediately, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the chopped carrot, chard leaves, rice vinegar, and salt. Cover with a dish towel and set aside to cool slightly (it will be warm but not too hot to handle).

Wet your hands with warm water to keep the rice from sticking to them. Place a scant ½ cup of the mixture in the palm of your hand and slightly flatten it. Firmly press until a tight ball forms. Gently roll the ball in the sesame seeds and transfer to a plate. Continue with the remaining mixture until all of it has been used.

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Cook's Notes:

You can be very creative with these - they're the Japanese equivalent of a sandwich. If you don't like seafood or seaweed, you can just make them plain. Here are some other combinations you might try instead of seaweed and tuna:

Cook the rice with taco seasoning and use shredded chicken as a filling

Cook the rice with 2 eggs and use ketchup as a filling

Add a few tablespoons of curry paste and use steak or lamb as a filling