There are some foods in Japan that are so humble that the idea alone is a comfort. Sometimes a person just needs something uncomplicated in the midst of all the craziness we are faced with. Sometimes something as little as a change of plans or a trip on the sidewalk can make you lose sight of what really matters. Suddenly you feel the ground shaking beneath you and what was certain is no longer that. These feelings can happen in a split second and last as little as that or as long as what feels like forever. In times like this, you realize your soul needs a break from the drama. You need something to pull you out of the darkness and into the light. A soul needs patience. A soul needs love. And sometimes, a soul needs grilled sticky rice with soy sauce.
Yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls) is the kind of food that embodies all things simple. The combination of flavors and textures in these little rice gems is perfect. The soft sticky rice and the crisp, sweet outer crust created from the hot soy sauce is the ideal combination of sweet and salty. I have become fond of sprinkling some chopped green onions of chives on top of my yaki onigiri to help add a little freshness. It’s like putting on a warm scarf on a cold day. A new favorite comfort food of mine.
Yaki onigiri does not have to be grilled. I found this out because I wanted to make my own but do not own a grill that can be conveniently used for this purpose. Instead, I placed the onigiri (rice ball) in a baking pan brushed with soy sauce on all sides and put them in the oven at 375 degrees F (190 C) for 10 minutes, flipping half way through.
This has become a new favorite food of mine since moving to Japan and I hope you will give it a try. After all, don’t we all need a little sticky rice and soy sauce for our souls?
Leftover, but still warm, white rice (you will need at least 1/2 cup for one rice ball)
Light soy sauce for brushing
chopped green onions or chives (optional)
Heat a small, heavy skillet over medium-high heat.
Shape the sticky rice into a triangle or circle using wet hands. To do this, begin by firmly pressing the rice into the shape of a baseball. Next, use your hands to shape the rice as desired. The finished rice ball should fit comfortably in the palm of your hand and be tightly packed.
Once you have shaped the onigiri, place it, flat side down, in your heated skillet. Allow the rice to toast for about 3 minutes on the first side, then turn and toast the second side. Brush the toasted side with soy sauce. Keep repeating this process of toasting and brushing until both sides of the rice are a deep golden brown with a crisp crust.
Allow to cool slightly before eating or cool to room temperature, wrap very tightly in plastic wrap, refrigerate, and enjoy within 24 hours.