Friday, November 21, 2014

Sushi Rice Balls

This began as a savory finger food idea for a celebration at the neighborhood yoga studio where I teach. What could I bring that would be real food, easy to handle without utensils, filling enough to sustain after a 90 minute yoga practice, and with the least likelihood to make dietary or health problems for people? So sushi rice seemed a good start and I wanted to put something yummy inside the rice, making it possible to pop in the mouth and enjoy the flavors as they reveal themselves. I made a terrible mess the first go, and tried again, plus rolled some in Nori sheets and cut them into more normal looking sushi rolls. Not everyone likes seaweed flavor though, so I tried again for rice balls. Here's a plan that will work, with the warning that it really makes sense to keep your hands slightly moist with a water dipping bowl as you form each ball. Give yourself an hour to make these even though the rice only takes 25 minutes, since the rice soaks first while you cut up veggies, and then has to cool as you set up your production line. Once you are making them, it goes fast!

   with edamame, shiitake mushrooms, avocado & pickled ginger (plus unsalted peanuts if you like)

1 3/4 c sushi rice
1.5 cup water
1 tsp sea salt
3 TBLSP natural brown sugar
4 TBLSP rice vinegar

INSIDE (whatever you want...)
1/4 cup shelled cooked edamame (you can buy these frozen and just microwave them for 1 minute)
2 thinly sliced and cut up shiitake mushrooms
1/2 not-to-ripe avocado sliced in little bits
pickled grated or sliced ginger (you can make this yourself or buy a jar of it)
Other Options: bits of peeled seeded cucumber; roasted unsalted peanuts; bits of scallion or carrot or spiced tofu -- anything you like!

1/4 c toasted sesame seeds (you can roast them yourself in a few minutes in a small saute pan)

SAUCE: (all can be adjusted to your taste)
1/3 cup low sodium Tamari
2 TBLSP sweet black vinegar (or regular black vinegar)
2 finely chopped cloves of garlic
1/4 cup water

Sauce Option: Mix up some dry Wasabi powder with water - either runny like a sauce, or thick like a paste - if you like this spicy-hot addition (like horseradish or mustard sauce, some people love it and some don't)

Measure your rice into a strainer that fits inside a BIG BOWL in the sink. Run cold water over the rice, gentle massaging the rice in the water, as the bowl fills enough to submerge the rice (turn off the running water at this point!). Softly turn the rice over in your hand under water, releasing some of the starch. The water will get cloudly. Pour out the water and do it again - at least two, usually three times - until the water stays mostly clear. Leave the submerged rice soaking at this point for 10-20 minutes as you get all the other ingredients ready. I've been told this helps keep each kernel whole and gives it a beautiful sheen.

Cut up all your little bits of things you want in your sushi rice balls. Keep it small and simple at first - a little bit of ginger, cuke, avocado and a couple edamame are PLENTY in one rice ball.


Drain the rice. Put it in a good sauce pot (heavy bottom - even heat - good lid) with the water. Bring to a boil and as soon as it boils, cover it and turn it down to LOW. Set the timer for 15 MINUTES COOKING. If you hear it crackling before that, turn it off. In either case, 15 minutes or once you hear it crackling, turn it off, put the lid on it, take it off the heat and set the timer for 10 MORE MINUTES just sitting.

Measure out the salt, sugar and vinegar in a cup and dissolve -- perhaps even microwaving for 20 seconds to help dissolve the sugar. This needs to be fully dissolved before you use it.

After the rice has sat 10 minutes, GENTLY SCRAPE IT OUT INTO THAT LARGE BOWL. You want to keep the kernels intact. With your bamboo paddle or wooden spoon you will gently cut into the rice again and again as you drizzle the sugar/salt/vinegar over the rice. You are not mixing/stirring. NOT STIRRING. You are cutting in various directions, turning and cutting until all the kernals are soaked by the vinegar mixture. Let this cool - gently cutting to give more surface area - and traditional would have you fanning it at the same time!

This is a good time to toast your sesame seeds and set them out on a plate for use in the construction stage.


Once cool enough to handle, get your finger bowl of water ready, have all your ingredients right there, and set out a cookie sheet with wax paper on it, or the plates upon which you might want to put the balls once made. I like to put the cookie sheet of balls into the fridge for a little while before serving, so that they harden just a little and hold together better. I've set them out at a party for a couple hours before serving though, so it isn't necessary to chill them. You can actually make them a day in advance and keep them in the fridge with a plastic bag over them.

Anyway, to begin making the balls, moisten your hands, take some rice in the palm of the left hand and spread it just a little. Put your inside ingredients in the middle, and with a moistened right hand, take a little dab more rice and put it over the left hand materials, squeeze gently into a ball form, gently dabbing each ball in the toasted sesame seeds and setting them on the prepared wax paper or plate. Continue doing this -- moistening your hands, figuring out how much rice goes in the first layer, how much filling to put in, how much on top, and how much to squeeze into the ball shape.

You can always decide to make sushi rolls with the same ingredients!! Taking sheets of nori (seaweed prepared in thin sheets that you can buy at many grocery stores) on a bamboo rolling mat, you spread a spare layer of rice over the sheet, put the filling materials in a line along the middle across the sheet. Then you roll from the edge closest to you, gently tucking the front edge in and under, using steady light pressure along the bamboo mat as you continue rolling to the opposite edge -- tucking and compressing to firm up the roll. Remove the mat and then slice however thick you want your rolls - using a VERY SHARP KNIFE or you will have a squashed mess.


Most people like a soy sauce type of dipping sauce for sushi or dumplings. You can make this up as you go along - I used low sodium Tamari to reduce the salt content and make sure there was no wheat gluten in it. Regular soy sauce has wheat gluten in it.  I use Chinese Black Vinegar and Sweet Black Vinegar, and lots of garlic. You can add fresh ginger, or even pepper flakes! I know some of my family and friends love wasabi - the Asian Horseradish - so I buy the powder and mix it with water to get a fairly thin but potent sauce. If I make these into sushi rolls, I would not use as much water and let it be a soft/loose paste that is easier to put on a sushi roll slice.

ENJOY!! Remember that you can change what you put inside - if you don't like avocado, or can't eat peanuts, use something else like cucumber, little radish bits, shiso leaves, kimchi, soaked tofu or even refried black beans! My goodness the possibilities are endless.

These keep well for a day or two in the fridge, but generally won't last that long if people know they are in there...