Onigiri may be new to Americans, but in Japan it is a common snack and bento box lunch treat for kids. Usually, they are small round or triangular rice balls filled with vegetable surprises. Onigiri is an ancient food that history tells us was wrapped in leaves and carried by Samuri warriors into battle. Today, making the cutest Onigiri, shaped and decorated like animals or people, has become somewhat of a crafty competition among Japanese mothers when preparing school lunches.
With Easter approaching I was inspired to try making something I’d never seen — Easter Onigiri! It was a little tricky getting the colors I wanted naturally, without going the standard food coloring route, but I think these turned out pretty cute. They’re really not that hard to make and would be a fun project to do with the kids. What a colorful addition to an Easter buffet table instead of the usual hard-boiled eggs — and no messy eggshells to deal with!
1 cup sushi rice
3 Tbs. rice vinegar
1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. evaporated cane sugar
1 1/4 sea salt
1 sheet nori (to cut up for decorating)
Fillings: 1/2 inch slices canned baby corn, pickled radish (yummy!), red bell pepper, thawed frozen corn, diced avocado, etc.
I recommend making one color rice at a time. To make the different colors you will need:
1 tsp. Turmeric – yellow
1 tsp. red beet powder (I’m sure Hallelujah Acres BeetMax* would work, too. You may have to adjust the amount to get the color you want) – pink
1 Tbs. Hallelujah Acres BarleyMax* – green (For brightest color, in a shaker cup put 1 ice-cube the BarleyMax and enough water to measure 1 1/2 cup. Shake vigorously until ice-cube dissolves. Add mixture, foam and all, to rice and cook as directed)
If you want to decorate white eggs, then add no coloring.
Rinse and drain rice several times (It takes about 5 times until the water is no longer cloudy). Place in a heavy saucepan with 1 1/2 cups water and whatever coloring you choose. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to med/low. Simmer 12 minutes (don’t peek!) Remove from heat and let stand 1 minute.
Meanwhile, in a medium size bowl whisk together rice vinegar, sugar, and sea salt. Mix in the hot rice until the liquid is absorbed. Spread on a foil covered baking sheet to cool for about 5 minutes.
Place a square of plastic wrap over a 1/2 c. custard bowl. Scoop a spoonful of rice into center of plastic wrap making a thumbprint indentation. Fill indentation with your choice of fillings. Cover with another spoonful of rice and pull up sides of plastic wrap. Twist and squeeze wrap around rice, forming a tight, smooth egg shape around filling. Unwrap and place onigiri on a large flat plate. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Decorate Onigiri with cut up nori. Have a bowl of water nearby to glue down nori decorations. If rice sticks to your fingers wet them to solve that problem. I used die cut stamps (the kind used for scrapbooking) to stamp out flower and duck shapes, and a paper punch for little dots. Be creative — go wild!