Like Water for Onigiri 2: Vegetarian Sesame Spinach Onigiri Recipe

onigiri.jpgOnigiri, Japanese rice balls or triangles, are one of my favorite, portable snacks. I’ve made onigiri countless times, and I even posted my recipe for kimchi tuna or spinach onigiri. However, I’ve never been completely satisfied with the vegetarian onigiri that I’ve made. Traditionally, you can use an umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum), natto (fermented soybean), or hijiki (seaweed) filling for completely vegetarian onigiri. However, while I love umeboshi filling, it may be difficult to find a source of umeboshi that doesn’t contain either glucose or MSG, both of which may contain gluten. And, honestly, I’m just not that crazy about natto OR hijiki. So for some time now I’ve been daydreaming about a vegetarian onigiri filling with serious flavor that rates high on the yum scale. After I made my last Southern Style Greens, I had an idea. What if I simmered spinach like southern collards in water and got them all silky smooth and melty, and combined that not with a delicious peanut sauce but a tasty sesame paste, similar in texture to Japanese miso but similar in flavor to Japanese goma (Sesame) dressing? I got busy cooking, making my greens (remembering that spinach is more delicate than collard greens or kale so requires a shorter cooking time) and began mixing up ingredients for a really potent sesame sauce. I mixed and mixed, adding ingredients to balance the flavors, until I had come up with a sesame sauce that, while stronger than a typical dressing, would be able to add a punch of flavor to an entire rice ball and spinach too. tahinisauce.jpgDH was skeptical, and insisted that I make his favorite tuna mayo filling (like for a sandwich) as well- but I convinced him to try one of my vegetarian spinach onigiri, and he had to admit it was tasty. I was thrilled with my creation, and convinced that I had found a new favorite onigiri- and this time, one completely vegetarian and friendly to peanut allergies. Onigiri is best the day it is made, but if you want to pack it for lunch tomorrow, wrap in saran wrap and microwave before you eat it to freshen the rice. One Bento site recommends that if you can’t microwave the rice right before you eat it, to at least microwave it briefly the morning that you will pack it, and it will theoretically “refresh” your rice. I haven’t tried it myself, but it’s worth a try. So why not make yourself a tasty, totally vegetarian, completely gluten-free onigiri for your lunch? They aren’t that hard to make, and are a great food for the celiac on the go! (Way better than a protein bar, yick.)

*Note: this is a fusion recipe, so not terribly authentic. That’s what makes it fun, and tasty!*

How to Make Onigiri

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).

Here are the best instructions for making onigiri/ omusubi

spinfilling.jpgI 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.

oneonigiri.jpg spinfillingplate.jpg 3onigiri.jpg

To understand how to make traditional Japanese onigiri, do NOT watch this video.

A reader asked about furikake, the Japanese seasoning often sprinkled on onigiri. It is difficult to find this without wheat or soy sauce, but Eden Foods has some gomasio (sesame salt) and even a sesame sprinkle (furikake) that seem to be gluten-free. I was playing on amazon and found this fun widget to show you the products. i just love toys for my blog! You can click on the product to find out more about it. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Spinach Onigiri Rice Ball Recipe
2 scoops of high quality, Japanese short grain white rice
Kosher salt
Black sesame seeds (kurogoma)

Snog-worthy Sesame Spinach Filling:
1 bunch spinach, stem cut off and washed thoroughly
Water, to cover one inch of dutch oven with lid

Goma (Sesame) Sauce:
2 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
1 tbsp sugar (plus a dash or two)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tsp crushed ginger (sold at Trader joes in a jar or found at an Asian market in a tube)
1 small or 1/2 large garlic clove, pressed
sweet paprika
1/4 tsp chili sauce (vietnamese sweet spicy rooster sauce)
salt to taste (don’t be shy!)

Start your rice in a rice cooker. Prepare filling.

Bring water to a boil in the bottom of your dutch oven and add your chopped fresh spinach. Cover, lower temperature, and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until silky soft. Remove from water and drain, reserve.

Combine ingredients for Goma Sauce in a small dish and mix until creamy, like miso in texture. Taste and adjust seasonings until perfect for your taste buds.

Take drained chopped spinach and combine with enough goma sauce to make a delicious filling but not enough to overwhelm the spinach. You will have a fair amount of goma sauce left over for topping the onigiri or to use in other recipes

When rice is done, fluff it and let sit on warm for a few minutes. Then take a thick piece of saran wrap or cut open thick sandwich bag (to protect your hand from the heat) and place in a small rice bowl. Sprinkle with kosher salt and place enough rice to lightly cover the bottom. Put some filling on top of the rice and cover with a light layer of rice. Bring the bag edges together and press between the hands to form a triangle with fillings neatly enclosed inside. Put a dab of Goma paste in the center of the triangle to serve.

Enjoy these yummy, yummy vegan onigiri!

For your daily Japanese Pop Culture Fix, here’s

a Cooking Showdown from Dotch [Japanese program] Between Ochazuke and Onigiri
(Non-Veg Ingredients)

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16 Responses to “Like Water for Onigiri 2: Vegetarian Sesame Spinach Onigiri Recipe”

  1. I took a Sushi and Maki “cooking” class three years ago, yet I still haven’t ever made it at home!

  2. [...] Coming Soon: Posts On the Drawing Board Gluten Free Dining Adventures-Gluten Free Bakery and Coffee shop in Portland, Oregon La GF Tortillaria: Gluten Free Vegetarian Fajita Recipe Like Water for Onigiri 2: Vegetarian Sesame Spinach Onigiri Recipe The Gluten Free Vegetarian Grill: Grilled Kabocha and Sundried Tomato Almond Pate Gluten Free on the Road: Veggie Knish Recipe and GF Apple Turnover Recipe [...]

  3. You are so creative!
    I love your posts on japanese food. I just got a a mold for riceball. I want to make that sesame sauce if I can get my hands on some tahini

  4. Now I’m really craving Onigiri! This might be my project next week. My daughter and I loved watching the You Tube vids you included. LOL Thanks for continuing to inspire my veggie gluten free family.


  5. Hey Sea –
    Do you have a substitute for furikake (please forgive that spelling if I’m off) – rice seasoning?
    I’ve been sprinkling black sesame seeds and a bit of garlic salt on my onigiri – but would love to try a furikake. They look great but all have soy sauce with wheat in them. -(

  6. Does all Furikake have wheat in it? I have some, it doesn’t list soy sauce as an ingredient, I hope it doesn’t have wheat! It’s Mishima brand Nori Komi Furikake

  7. Hi Catherine! I became obsessed with making my own sushi, maki, and onigiri in college. It’s fantastic because it’s so much cheaper than at a sushi shop, and it’s easier to make vegetarian, gluten-free sushi if you make your own. :)

    Hi Jill- Thanks! You do want to taste test the recipe as you go- different brands of tahini have varying levels of bitterness. You can also blend or food process light sesame seeds to make your own, if you can’t find it in a store. It’s usually in the “international” aisle- I think the brand I just bought is imported from Israel.

    Hi Mars! Onigiri is a great light dinner or lunch. I’m glad you enjoyed the videos. Watching them always takes me back to our life in Japan, sniff. You’re welcome! Let me know how the onigiri turns out. :D

    Hi Kate! I just posted some links to the furikake/ gomashio that I’ve used in the past. I also sometimes just mix kosher salt with black sesame seeds together- I’ve never tried garlic salt, but onion salt could be interesting as well. You could also mix in some aonori, blue seaweed in shakable form, or dried shiso leaves, if you can find them.

    Hi Jill- most furikake has wheat in it in some form or another- wheat flour, soy sauce, or the questionable msg, or dextrose. I like to read the label in Japanese, if available, as sometimes allergen notices aren’t included in the English translation of the ingredients. I’ll try to see if I can find Mishima the next time I’m at the grocery store. :) I only found one brand possibly gluten free while I was in Japan, and it advertised itself as an allergy friendly furikake. It was basically black sesame seeds and salt.

    Yay! So many comments! *hugs to you all*

  8. [...] Other Book of Yum Recipes perfect for a packed lunch: Vegetarian Sesame Spinach Onigiri Recipe Japanese Potato Salad Recipe More Japanese Onigiri, with pescatarian Korean recipe and two Vegetarian dishes [...]

  9. mmm…we’re having this for the second night in a row, so by the time we eat leftovers for lunch tomorrow, we’ll have had onigiri for 4 out of 6 meals =)

  10. Hi Mary Frances! Onigiri is addictive stuff. In fact… this makes me want to make some myself! We just had vegan bibbinba last night… and for breakfast… and then for lunch. hahah. Gotta love leftovers! Thank you for the feedback. I’d almost forgotten about this recipe!


  11. [...] Japanese Kabocha Pumpkin Salad Onigiri Rice Balls Lotus Root [...]

  12. [...] Onigiri!!!!  Sea @ Book of Yum has a new onigiri filling and am compelled to try [...]

  13. [...] Onigiri & Sesame Spinach [...]

  14. [...] Onigiri (Seamaiden @ Book of Yum has a great post about Onigiri here) [...]

  15. Mmmm, yum! Now I know why you were so enthusiastic when I suggested I might make this, oh, 2 months ago now. It’s so good! And it’s easy (aside from trying to stir up the new bottle of tahini!), I suspect this will go into my regular dinner rotation. Thank you for the recipe!

  16. [...] with Burdock and Lotus Root and Inari Zushi Fusion Tiffin with Thai Lemongrass Corn and Quesadillas Spinach Sesame Onigiri (Japanese Rice Ball) for Bento Assorted Avocado Fusion Onigiri recipes for [...]

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