Recipe: Onigiri Rice Balls with Miso Tuna

Think of onigiri–Japanese rice balls–as the Japanese sandwich. 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?

Make sure to use Japanese rice as 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.

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


  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.

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Onigiri Variations


Just like sandwiches, you can personalize your onigiri with your favourite fillings. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Japanese pickles (e.g. daikon radish, cucumber or eggplant pickles)
  • umeboshi pickled plum
  • leftover grilled salmon
  • nori (seaweed) paste
  • tuna* or chicken salad

*My favourite filling is a Japanese-inspired tuna salad. Simply empty a can of tuna and add Japanese mayonnaise, miso paste, soy sauce, a touch of sugar, and if you have it, a smidgen of yuzu kosho (a peppery citrus paste)

Seasonings for rice:

To vary your onigiri, consider adding some of the following seasonings to your rice. Simply mix it into the rice in step 1:

  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Gomashio (a mixture of sesame seeds and course salt)
  • Furikake seasonings (a variety flavours like kelp, shrimp, salmon, etc. available dried)
  • Dried or fresh shiso leaves