One thing the gluten free diner often faces is the problem posed by packing a lunch. Oh sure, we can stave off our hunger with a Lara Bar or other protein bar- or even do creative things with lettuce leaves or tortillas, and of course we can make our own bread and our own sandwich. But, one of my favorite solutions to the gluten free diner’s lunchtime dilemma is “Onigiri, also known as Omusubi, a snack of Japanese rice formed into triangle or oval shapes and [sometimes] wrapped in nori (edible seaweed).” (source: Wikipedia) This snack holds a special place in the heart of many Japanese people- mothers often include it in their children’s first lunch away from home, and handmade onigiri is said to be made with love for the intended recipient, much like the obento, or lunch, itself. Now you can buy all kinds of onigiri in Japanese supermarket and Japanese convenience stores, varying in type from traditional flavors like fish flakes to crazy innovations like fried rice or spam- but they often contain wheat soy sauce as an ingredient. (Although the convenience store Lawson’s onigiri has many gluten free flavors…) So, whether I’m living in Mountain View, California, or Chiba City, Japan, I love to make my own onigiri. It’s filling, homey, and is especially good when served with homemade pickles and a few other nibble sized dishes. DH begs me to make tuna salad onigiri, and it’s one of my favorites, but I also love my own creation- a kimchi tuna stew filling that tastes good cold, at room temperature, or heated in the microwave. It also has the added benefit that you can use any leftover kimchi stew as a topping for rice for a hearty Korean style meal. (And the stew freezes beautifully for busy school nights!) But, for vegetarian palates, spinach, a dry Indian curry, raw veggies, miso, or natto- fermented soy, make excellent fillings. Some people love crispy seaweed nori sheets wrapped around rice balls- and I like it too, but because only the freshest toasted nori sheet has good flavor, lately I’ve been making them without.
Some suggested fillings:
Traditional- pitted and minced Umeboshi (pickled plums), katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings) mixed with small amount of GF soy sauce or GF miso paste, tuna or cooked salted salmon, Smoked salmon, Crab with mayo or crab without mayo, natto, seaweed, dried fish
Nouveau- Leftover Curried Tofu, Grilled marinated tofu, Korean BBQ tofu, Avocado cubes, cucumber, kimchi, spam (hey, not my thing, but some like it), teriyaki meat/chicken/tofu, Indian Curry, Fried rice smushed into an onigiri shape… The only limit is your imagination!
All set to make yourself some yummy, portable rice balls? Great!
To make onigiri, you need short or medium grain, high quality Japanese style rice (preferably white, but you can try brown if you don’t mind it being more crumbly), salt, sesame seeds, fillings of your choice, and saran wrap. The rice should be warm (or hot, if you can stand it and it won’t melt the plastic wrap).
note: I highly recommend making your onigiri in a small rice bowl, as she suggests, and lining it with saran wrap. But, I wasn’t quite satisfied with dampening the saran wrap and sprinkling it with salt. My salt clumped. So, if you want salted onigiri, you might try putting the saran wrap on the counter, sprinkling it with salt, and then putting down a clump of rice on the wrap. Then, lift the saran wrap with the rice on it, fit it into the rice bowl and proceed as her site directs. Or, just skip the salting until the rice ball/triangle is formed. Then sprinkle your hands with salt and clamp them around the onigiri to add the salt. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.
Or how about Yaki Onigiri,Onigiri grilled and brushed with GF soy sauce?
For creative instructions, including instructions on freezing and reheating yakionigiri, visit http://ss-biggie.livejournal.com/26421.html
Here are two fillings that I enjoyed today in my lunch Onigiri. I also like tuna with mayo, for a creative twist on a tuna fish sandwich, shrimp with mayo, smoked salmon, or umeboshi plum as filling. I usually sprinkle them with brown or black sesame seeds, and sometimes use salt as well.
Kimchi Tuna Stew
1 to 2 cups of well fermented kimchi (Read label carefully to find
one gluten free or make your own)
1 can of tuna
2 green onions(slim, or 1 if very large)
1Tbs of chopped garlic
1 Tbs of sesame oil (flavorful japanese or korean variety)
1 Tbs of fish sauce (check for wheat on label)
10-20 small korean oval mochi chips (for use as stew)
Cut kimchi into desirable size.(about 2 inch length)
Cut green onion into 2-3 inch length pieces.
Open tuna can and drain oil (or water) well.
Mix ground red pepper, chopped garlic, chopped ginger to make
In a pot, stir kimchi, seasoning, chopped garlic, sesame seed oil,
and tuna over high heat for about five minutes.
Pour 1 1/2 cups of water over it and boil. When in starts to boil,
add fish sauce and boil over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add white
rice mochi chips and boil for 5 more minutes (or follow instructions
on package for length of heating)- they should become soft and
tender, like dumplings. Add green onion before turn off the heat.
I served this with white sushi rice sprinkled with furikake, a black
sesame seed/salt garnish, and a simple blanched spinach in a tamari,
sesame oil, garlic powder sauce- sprinkled with sesame seeds.
When I use this as onigiri filling, after the stew is made I pick out the mochi chips from the part I plan to use as filling.
Spinach Sesame Okazu (side dish)
1 or 2 cups raw spinach
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tbsp GF soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sake
Light sesame seeds
Blanch spinach in salted water. drain of all water and chop. Add sesame oil to small nonstick pan, heat. Add spinach. Add GF soy sauce and sake. Turn off heat. Add sesame seeds. Sprinkle with chili oil before serving, to taste.
Another pleasant accompaniment for Onigiri, or any japanese obento for that matter, is homemade Japanese pickles. I fell in love with this particular type of pickle, called “asazuke” or lightly [salted] pickles, when living in Japan. The crisp, light flavor is wonderful in hot summer or on a warm spring day, and you only have to wait an hour before you can enjoy them.
Konbu-zuke Pickled Cucumbers with Konbu
4 Japanese cucumbers or 2 English cucumbers
2 in konbu
1 1/2 tsp salt (or less, to taste)
Slice cucumbers into 1/2 inch cylinders, cut thin strips of Konbu. Mix cucumbers and salt and konbu and put in a small ziploc bag. Seal and let sit at room temperature for an hour. Rinse if you like to remove excess salt flavor.
Excellent served in a bento (lunch box) with hearty or rich food as a crisp, fresh flavor.
More fun with Onigiri:
Here is a charming youtube video for the Lawson convenience store’s Onigiri, which is told in a letter form by an actress playing the role of an onigiri maker. Sorry, guys, it’s in Japanese- but fun to watch anyway. It’s called “Aichan no Tegami,” or Miss Ai’s letter. She begins by saying that she can’t forget the taste of the first onigiri her mother made for her, and then explains how she came to work at the Onigiri shop. Highly romanticized portrayal of working life in Japan.
In my search for video demonstrating how to make onigiri, I found these short infomercials for a Japanese saran wrap company showing you how to make yummy onigiri using their product. It’s like a cooking show, but with the product prominently placed in front of the actors, and with the product mascot dancing behind them. It’s entitled “Kyou no Omusubi” or “Omusubi of the day.” It begins with an introduction from the hosts, then you watch them make the omusubi, and then they have a panel of three judges that try the omusubi, comment, and award it points. Each judge gets 100 points that they can possibly award, and then they add up the points for a final score. It’s pretty good for showing techniques for making different kinds of Omusubi, although sometimes they make some pretty weird combinations. Here are a few of my favorites.
You can enjoy more videos by going to the poster Kichinto3’s site at You Tube