Seared onigiri (Japanese rice balls) with pickled plum

Seared onigiri (Japanese rice balls) with pickled plum
The beginnings of umeboshi made from wild California plums.

The beginnings of umeboshi made from wild California plums.

Last year I was diligent enough to get my hands on some wild plums and turn them into a California-inspired version of umeboshi, the umami-rich pickled plum condiment from Japan. You can find more about umeboshi and how I made it here, but the most important piece of information in this blog post is that as a result of my making umeboshi, I might be invited on an - I kid you not - Japanese game show. "Who Wants to Come to Japan" is a show that essentially, sends people who are interested in a particular aspect of Japanese culture and have never been to Japan and films their experience. They came across my umeboshi post and reached out to me about being a contestant. Naturally, I jumped at this opportunity. I have never been to Japan and have always wanted to go to explore Japanese foodways and the culture in general. Given it's a Japanese game show, there's definitely a high probability of ridiculousness and, although I may be the brunt of the ridicule, YOLO amiright? 

Sometimes you need a little extra umeboshi paste.

Sometimes you need a little extra umeboshi paste.

So - to honor this momentous occasion (they're visiting tomorrow!) I decided to finally get around to posting my method for umeboshi onigiri, or rice balls stuffed with umeboshi paste - a delicious way to use up leftover rice! I like to sear my onigiri (technically yaki-onigiri), kind in the same vein as aracini, if you've ever had the Italian fried rice ball appetizer, but pan-seared instead of fried.

This recipe, in combination with other umeboshi dishes including asparagus with wild onion and umami and simply a corn-butter-umeboshi sauté, are so good that I am almost out of my umeboshi supply and sadly, didn't get around to pickling any this year. I guess I'll just have to savor what I have left!

The below recipe makes about 8 small onigiri and can be expanded as needed.

  • 2 cups cooked short-grained rice (preferably sticky rice), cooled* - great way to use up your leftovers! Especially delicious is using leftover coconut rice either from a restaurant or made at home (cook rice with half water/half coconut milk). 
  • 1-2 teaspoons sesame seeds or furikake flakes (Japanese seasoning mix) 
  • Sea salt
  • 4 pickled plums (umeboshi), pitted and diced or smashed into a paste
  • Grapeseed oil, for searing
  • Soy or tamari sauce, optional (above photo was plain onigiri with umeboshi paste on the side)
  1. In medium bowl, stir sesame seeds or furikake flakes into sticky rice to combine.
  2. Wet hands lightly with water then spread a pinch of salt across your palms. Scoop 2 tablespoons of rice mixture from bowl and gently squeeze into ball. Flatten ball then form a well in the center. Add about 1/2 teaspoon umeboshi paste to well, then fold edges of rice over paste to cover. 
  3. Gently squeeze into ball then flatten again. Continue process with more rice and umeboshi until rice is gone.
  4. Lightly oil a cast iron pan and heat on medium-high. Once oil is hot, add onigiri and sear until lightly brown, about 1-2 minutes on each side. 
  5. Serve with optional soy or tamari sauce (though you probably won't need it!)

*If rice isn't originally sticky and/or not sticky enough, you can make it "stickier" (technically, to be sticky rice, it must be a certain variety of rice that's high in a certain time of pasty starch) by heating pre-cooked rice on medium-low with 1-2 tablespoons water for about 5 minutes or until sticky, stirring occasionally. Here's a recipe for sticky rice, but I just cook rice as I always do then make it stickier after with this method.