Monday, December 23, 2013

Sweet Potato and Avocado Yaki Onigiri

SWEET POTATO & AVOCADO 
YAKI ONIGIRI

Garrett and I are getting up early tomorrow to drive out to Flint, MI for Christmas, so we're going to need some good car trip snacks for the five-hour haul.  Perhaps Japanese finger foods don't immediately come to mind on this occasion (road trips or Christmas), but based on my experience they should.

Onigiri are the perfect to-go food: balls of sticky rice with a tasty filling that comes with a built in seaweed handle.  They are a staple at Japanese convenient stores and food kiosks especially for that reason.  I trained across Japan a few years ago, and always embarked with onigiri of a mysterious flavor.  Since I don't read Japanese, I experienced a wide range of fillings - from just a little teriyaki, to red bean paste, smoked salmon, and once in a while, some offensive fermented root vegetable.  But really, the star of the show with onigiri is the slightly sweet and slightly vingary sticky rice.  Most onigiri from an average market wouldn't be grilled, but yaki ("grilled") onigiri has the extra pleasure of crunchy bite leading to the warm, sticky filling.

Besides road trips or picnics, onigiri makes a great party finger food.  If you've ever been tempted to make sushi but found all the chopping and rolling a hassle, onigiri make an excellent alternative.  The onigiri pictured here would be a little big as party hors d'ouevre, but could be scaled down to your liking.  Try out different fillings (like variations of your favorite sushi rolls) for your New Year's Eve party.

Ingredients (makes 5-6 large onigiri, depending on size):
  • 1 1/2 cups white sushi rice
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 sweet potato
  • 1 oz. avocado, smashed or diced
  • 1 sheet seaweed paper/nori
  • 3 tbsp. teriyaki sauce (low-sodium & gluten-free)
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1/2 tbsp. freshly ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp. sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bring the rice and 2 cups of water to a low boil on the stove top, then lower the heat and cover for 20 minutes until rice has absorbed all the water and is sticky.  Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for ten minutes.
While the rice cooks, prepare the sweet potato filling by peeling the potato, and cutting it into 1/4 inch slabs.  Square the slabs down to size, depending on what you will use for your onigiri mold.  I used a standard 1-cup measuring cup, and needed about 1.25" x 1.25" squares.

Mix together the teriyaki sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and honey in a bowl and toss the squares of sweet potato to coat lightly.  Save the remaining sauce for after the sweet potato is cooked.  Spread the squares on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.
When the rice has cooled a bit, dissolve the sugar and salt in the rice vinegar and add the solution to the rice.  Fluff with a fork until the rice is evenly coated.  
Meanwhile, cut the nori into 1 1/2 inch strips for later, and prepare the avocado for filling.  
When the rice and sweet potato are both cooked and cooled, you are ready to assemble the onigiri.  While you don't need to use a mold and can shape the unigiri by hand, for an even look use a cookie cutter or measuring cup.  I lined a 1-cup measuring cup with plastic wrap for easy removal.

With wet hands, press about 2 tbsp. of rice into the mold.  Layer in a piece of sweet potato dipped in the remaining teriyaki sauce, along with a piece of avocado.  Wet your hands again and top with another 2 tbsp. of rice.  Flip and tap onto a plate, pulling the plastic wrap a little to remove.
Once you've formed all the onigiri, sprinkle with sesame seeds and grill in pan with just a little sesame oil.  Each side should brown in about 3-4 minutes on high heat.  
Wrap with a piece of nori and dip in teriyaki to enjoy.

24 comments:

  1. Seems a little ambitious but I'm just going to have to make them. Beautiful food and excellent photographs, well done!

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    1. After making these a second time I do have a time-saving tip: I found that dicing up the sweet potato and using a faster cooking method (i.e. steaming them in a pan or microwave) really doesn't change the taste at all. That way, the only ingredient that really needs any cooking time is the rice! Assembly can still be a process, but if you don't mind them not being uniform, just shape them by hand.

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  2. ok. this is f'ing genius. love it!

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    1. ha! I need more comments like this on the blog...

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  3. Just made these, they were great! Thanks for the recipe :)

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    1. You're very welcome! Glad you enjoyed, Penelope.

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  4. I am training for an Ironman and looking for easily digestible, tasty, natural energy food. White rice is the perfect energy food. These look delicious!! I will make them this weekend, and give them a test run (besides, 2 of my favorite foods are yams and avocados).

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    1. wow, that is so impressive! very glad these little power packs can contribute to your awesomeness. best of luck with the Ironman!

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  5. OMG! These are delicious!! I made a small batch tonight, ate 2 and saved 2 for lunch tomorrow. Mine did not turn out as picturesque as your's did, but I think they will improve with practice. Thanks for posting this.

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  6. These look amazing and I would love to try them tonight! Though since i"m vegan and can't use honey, would it make much difference if I cut out the honey? Could Agave be used instead maybe? xx

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  7. Also could you use a rice cooker (same a prepping for sushi) and steam the sweet potato in the basket at the same time?

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    1. Hi Candida, These are definitely make-ahead friendly! I think they are designed to be sort of a Japanese meal-on-the-go. Unfortunately I've never used a rice cooker in my life, so I'm not sure how steaming the rice and the sweet potato together would work...but I say try it!

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  8. I loved this recipe!

    I made my adaptation of this recipe and blogged it to my blog (here's the link http://maikinmokomin.blogspot.fi/2015/01/japanilaisia-evaita-yaki-onigirit.html ).
    I mentioned this post as a recipe source. Thank you for inspiration :)

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    1. Yours look absolutely fantastic! I'm so glad you liked them.

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  9. I love cooking i even play restaurant management and cooking papas games but I know very little about Japanese kitchen and i've only seen onigiri in Animes lol... Always wanted to know if there's something inside those rice balls :) thanks for the recipe :D

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  10. I just tried to make these but I found they really really stuck to the pan and then fell to bits when I tried to move/flip them. I'm wondering if maybe it's because I used olive oil because I didn't have any sesame oil, would that make a difference? or maybe I just didn't use enough oil? Any idea?

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    1. Try using a well-seasoned iron skillet and make sure it comes to temp. Olive oil shouldn't matter but will affect the flavor outcome. Toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on will help with that.

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  11. I just came across your site while researching bento friendly recipes. This looks great and I'm going to try it.

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  12. The calories in an avocado count in half an avocado depends on the type and size. California avocados have a dark-green, bumpy peel and are small enough to hold in the...

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  13. OMG they are addictive.......Thanks for this great recipe!!!

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