Jan 15

Zakkoku Mai Onigiri—Japanese Mixed Grain Rice Balls

in Bento, Fuji Favorites, Japanese, Onigiri, Oyatsu/Snack, Rice & Noodles

Inevitably when I make a pot of rice to go along with dinner we don’t eat it all.  More often than not, the rice that is left over isn’t enough to accompany another meal.  So what to do with that little bit of leftover rice?  This conundrum presented itself the other day after we had zakkoku mai with our roast chicken.  I had a little less than a cup and a half of rice left.

Leftover zakkoku mai

So I did what I always do with leftover rice–I made onigiri (Japanese rice balls).  There are many different ways to make onigiri, but I went with a simple no fuss method and made small onigiri.

Zakkoku Mai Onigiri

How to make Zakkoku Mai Onigiri

To use this method, you will need:

  • 1/4 cup measuring cup
  • a sheet of plastic wrap
  • a clean spray bottle filled with water
  • salt
  • leftover zakkoku mai (or steamed Japanese rice)
  • leftover salmon/tuna (or you can use canned salmon/tuna)

1. Add some leftover salmon to the rice (just eyeball it),

Add some salmon to the rice

and then mix it with a fork so the salmon becomes evenly mixed throughout the rice.

Mix the fish into the rice

2. Then cut a large square of plastic wrap and rest it over the measuring cup.

Square of plastic wrap and a measuring cup

3. Lightly spray the plastic wrap with the water bottle, and then sprinkle it with a bit of salt (the water helps the salt stick).

Special onigiri making equipment

4. Then spoon some of the rice mixture into the cup (roughly 1/4 cup of the mixture).

Put the rice mixture in the measuring cup

5. Gather the plastic wrap up around the rice.

Gather up the plastic wrap for the onigiri

6. Then twist the plastic wrap, sealing the rice inside, and firmly press the rice into a ball shape (don’t press too hard or you’ll turn everything into zakkoku mai mash . . . eeeeew!).

Pressing the rice to form the onigiri

7. Unwrap the ball, set it on a plate and repeat the process with the rest of the rice mixture!

Finished onigiri

You can eat the onigiri plain or wrapped in nori (sheets of seaweed), or however you darn well please.  Squirrel likes them both ways, but chose to eat hers au naturel this time around.

Squirrel eating her onigiri

Onigiri make great snacks, or lunches.  You can keep them wrapped in saran wrap and add them to a bento lunch.  Just make sure you use Japanese rice (shorter grain rice).  Using a long grain rice won’t work because the grains of rice won’t stick to each other.  By spraying the plastic wrap with water and sprinkling it with salt, the salt sticks to the rice when you form the balls.  This helps add a bit of seasoning to the balls, which makes it so you don’t have to add any extra salt to the rice or fillings that you add.  I find that they are a fabulous way to use up leftovers, and to sneak more vegetables into a child’s meal.  You can add chopped up steamed veggies, leftover roast chicken, the sky is the limit!



Do you use those packets of instant miso soup? How about dashi granules to make your stock for miso soup? Or do you think it’s too hard all together and you get your miso soup at a Japanese restaurant?  It is TIME TO REFORM!  Next week we’ll be demystifying miso soup by talking about all of the ingredients needed to make miso soup from scratch (FOUR if you include water), HOW to make it, and different ideas of what to put in it!

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Debi(Table Talk) January 15, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Your daughter is adorable! Look at those baby blues. I know my girls would have fun making/eating these.


Paula - bell'alimento January 15, 2010 at 5:22 pm

What a brilliant idea ; ) & hello Squirrel just gets cuter every day!


Mrs Beans January 15, 2010 at 8:07 pm

I love Onigiri and often make them with leftover rice. I usually just make them plain with an ume in the middle and nori on the outside…..but I LoVE this idea and think I will try it! Oishii!


Bob January 15, 2010 at 8:46 pm

That’s awesome, I need to find some short grain rice.


Lauren January 15, 2010 at 9:03 pm

What a great plan! We have leftover rice all the time, and its never enough for later. I love this!


MaryMoh January 16, 2010 at 12:50 am

This looks so fun to make and eat. I would really like that. Have to try.


The Cooking Ninja January 16, 2010 at 12:55 am

I used to make and bring Onigiri as lunch during my university days. They are easy and quick to make. Alternatively I cook shredded carrots together with japanese rice and mix rice with some toasted sesame seeds. So yummy.


sophia January 16, 2010 at 1:50 am

You have amazing pictures, but Squirrel rocks it. What a sweet, beautiful kid.
I usually detest rice, but your addition of so many different textures and flavors makes me rethink my abhorrence for rice!


Fuji Mama (Rachael) January 16, 2010 at 10:03 am

Thanks Sophia! We think she’s pretty cute too. :)


[email protected] January 16, 2010 at 5:15 am

These look great Rachael! And Squirrel is, as usual, too cute for words!


Hannah January 16, 2010 at 5:19 am

That looks delicious! I’m definately going to have to try this…
My only question is, because I am a big veggie fan, about when in the recipe do you add the vegetables to the rice?


Fuji Mama (Rachael) January 16, 2010 at 10:01 am

Hannah– To add veggies, you just add them at the same time you would add salmon! Just make sure your veggies are chopped up really small, otherwise the rice won’t make cohesive balls!


[email protected] in Iowa January 16, 2010 at 7:01 am

What a great way to use leftover rice and include canned salmon! I’ve really been wanting to use more canned wild atlantic salmon and include that in my diet. I’ll have to try this for sure :D


Brad Theodore January 16, 2010 at 10:32 am

Great Idea and judging by the little one it’s a winner! Amazingly enough, there is a similar recipe that I have heard southerners use with their leftover grits from breakfast of what have you. They use ground beef or diced tenderloin, and then bake.


Cahide (Turkish food) January 17, 2010 at 5:06 am

Çok güzel bir pilav,çok beğendim…



Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction January 17, 2010 at 1:12 pm

These look wonderful! I always seem to have leftover rice hanging around, so I’ll give these a try next time!


Erika from The Pastry Chef At Home January 17, 2010 at 2:17 pm

I’ve seen onigiri wrapped in seaweed before – I think there’s a food shop in nyc that specializes in them! I love the naked look – they look like savory Japanese truffles!


Juls January 17, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Great use of leftovers! can’t wait to read about miso soup, is one of my favourite!
have a good week!


Japanese words January 17, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Great article on making Onigiri. We have always made them by hand into more of a triangle shape, but using a measuring cup is a clever idea.


Mauro Demarchi January 18, 2010 at 2:45 am

I liked and I will try to do it to my little daughter.


Christine @ Fresh Local and Best January 18, 2010 at 7:48 pm

This is an excellent idea to use up leftover rice! Your onigiri balls look like so much fun to eat!


Brooke @ Food Woolf January 19, 2010 at 9:16 am

Wow, what a great snack. I’ve been in the habit of sprinkling nori flakes and sesame seeds on left over rice, but this…THIS is the most good looking left over rice solution of all time. Thank you for sharing it. Can’t wait to make it.


Brooke @ Food Woolf January 27, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Okay, so I just had to come back and say THANK YOU for getting me to start thinking about cooking rice this way. I just made my version of your recipe for myself and my husband it was EXACTLY what we needed: brain fuel to write the whole day. Thanks!


shorty December 31, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Could you make these ahead and stick a bunch in the fridge for the week? Would they be alright to make a weeks worth?


Greg February 25, 2011 at 7:39 pm

A conundrum is an unsolvable riddle. Leftover rice is not. Please choose your words carefully.


gleek February 25, 2011 at 8:45 pm

gregg, from the Oxford American English dictionary, conundrum means “a confusing and difficult problem or question.” don’t be rude! this is a perfectly fine use of the term!

and fujimama, love onigiri! great idea!


Smee February 26, 2011 at 9:27 am

Wow. I’m wondering when we started using red pens to comment.
On another note, the kids seem to really enjoy the rice balls!


kitchenMage February 26, 2011 at 9:38 am

Great idea, of course, and the photos are gorgeous. ( What are you using for lighting?) I also feel better knowing that you can’t get the rice quantity perfect either. You’d think by now…


Desmond @ Onigiri recipe April 12, 2012 at 3:28 am

Very adorable child! Awesome photos and you made Onigiri looks interesting and fun to eat.


Kevin Kappler, Ph.D. February 11, 2014 at 5:50 am

love your approach to such simple joys


gizem922 March 14, 2015 at 9:52 am

These pics are amazing. i will share them on my blog here:http://simgekutman.blog.com


Leave a Comment

{ 4 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: