Onigiri rice balls on Pai’s Kitchen

I love collaborating in the kitchen, and was so excited to be asked to be a guest on an episode of “Pai’s Kitchen“, the new YouTube cooking show by Pailin Chongchitnant of “Hot Thai Kitchen” fame. (You may also recognize her as the Thai host on Gusto TV’s One World Kitchen.) We made onigiri rice balls, and it was super fun.Thanks, Pai, for the fun afternoon!

As promised, I’m sharing the recipe for onigiri here for all of you who have seen the Pai’s Kitchen episode, or for all of you who just want to learn how to make onigiri. And for those of you who watched the video and were inspired to cook even more Japanese recipes, please click here for a specially priced copy of Let’s Cooking available to Pai’s kitchen fans.

Happy Cooking!

Onigiri – Japanese Rice Balls

Think of onigiri as the Japanese sandwich. Super versatile, super easy, and super satisfying. A parcel of rice stuffed with a variety of healthy and creative fillings, onigiri rice balls are ubiquitous in children’s lunchboxes, picnic baskets, and even in convenience stores. Tasty, healthy, gluten-free, portable and customizable–what’s not to love about onigiri?

Ingredients (per onigiri):

  • ¾ cup cooked Japanese rice (hot)
  • filling of your choice (see below)
  • seasoning of your choice (optional, see below)
  • 1 strip roasted nori seaweed

Tip: Make sure to use Japanese rice for onigiri because other types aren’t sticky enough. For a healthier onigiri, use a 50/50 mixture of white and brown rice. You’ll need at least 50% white rice to get the onigiri rice to stick to itself!


  1. Portion the cooked rice. Put about ¾ cup of hot rice into a bowl. Allow the rice to cool just a little before handling.
  2. Stuff the onigiri. Shake the bowl a little to “round out” the rice inside. Turn the bowl of rice out onto a large piece of cling wrap. In the centre, make a dent and place the filling inside. Pick up the corners of the cling wrap and shape the rice into a ball, making sure to “wrap” the rice up and around the filling.
  3. Shape it. Using two hands, press the rice into the shape that you desire. Triangles are the most popular, but a flat, round disc is the easiest to make. Remove the cling film.
  4. Wrap with nori. Wrap a strip of nori around it and enjoy!

Tip: If you’re packing onigiri for a lunchbox or a picnic, simply wrap it in the cling film and pack the nori strips separately. Nori will taste best when it’s fresh and crispy.

For the Miso Tuna Salad

  • 1 can tuna
  • 2 Tbsp Japanese mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp miso paste (or to taste)
  • ¼ tsp yuzu kosho (optional)
  • soy sauce and pepper to taste

Add more mayo for extra creaminess, miso paste for that salty-umami kick, or yuzu kosho for a burst of zesty, peppery citrus. There’s no “right” recipe, just the one that tastes best to you!

For Grilled Onigiri

  • 1 onigiri rice ball (plain, or filled with meat, cheese or cooked veg)
  • 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce

It’s easy to make grilled onigiri – my favourite Japanese pub treat. Just pop a hot onigiri on the BBQ or on a very lightly oiled, medium-hot pan, and cook for 5 – 10 minutes per side. (Seriously, it takes that long!) Cook until the first side is brown and crispy, flip, and then baste the crunchy side with soy sauce. Once the second side is brown and crunchy, flip and baste the second side. Enjoy with a cold beer!

Customize your onigiri!

Just like you can vary the bread flavours and fillings for sandwiches, you can customize your onigiri with all sorts of fillings and rice seasonings! Here are a few suggestions, but the sky is the limit! Use your imagination to come up with your own favourite.

Stuff it with fillings like:

  • grilled fish like salmon or mackerel
  • leftover bits of cooked meat like chicken teriyaki, sukiyaki beef, bits of sausage
  • anything you’d put in a sandwich, like chicken or shrimp salad
  • nori (seaweed) paste
  • any kind of Japanese pickles, like umeboshi pickled plum, yellow takuan, or pink eggplant pickles)
  • things you’d put in sushi, like sashimi-grade tuna, avocado, or crab meat

Mix these seasonings into your rice:

  • toasted black and/or white sesame seeds
  • gomashio (a mixture of sesame seeds and course salt)
  • furikake rice seasoning (literally “shake onto”, furikake comes in a variety of flavours like kelp, shrimp, salmon, and wasabi)
  • dried or fresh shiso leaves, or any other herb
  • aonori seaweed
  • cooked edamame beans
  • fried, seasoned ground meat
  • finely chopped up Japanese pickles of any kind