These Japanese Yaki Onigiri are simple crispy grilled rice balls that are stuffed with avocado and salted peanuts and coated in a tasty dumpling dipping sauce and sesame. They’re way easier to make than vegan sushi but so delicious thanks to their tasty crispy pan-fried rice crust on the outside while being soft on the inside. The perfect take out dish to eat on the go for lunch or as an appetizer or side dish for summer, spring, or any time of the year!
If you love vegan sushi but are looking for an easier option, try this Japanese Yaki Onigiri recipe! These rice snacks are just made of cooked seasoned short-grain rice, that is formed into balls and stuffed with avocado chunks and chopped peanuts. Then they’re coated with a flavorful dumpling dipping sauce and sesame seeds, and finally, pan-fried until crispy. It’s so delicious!
What is Onigiri?
Traditional Onigiri, also known as omusubi or nigirimeshi, is usually formed into a triangular or cylindrical rice ball that is often wrapped in nori (seaweed). Honestly, I found it way easier to form the sticky rice into balls rather than triangles but if you are more patient, feel free to make the traditional shape.
While traditional Japanese onigiri recipes are just made with plain white rice, I love to season it with vinegar, sugar, and salt like sushi rice. However, feel free to skip the vinegar mixture, if you prefer the traditional way – That’s totally up to you!
Stuffed Onigiri Rice Balls
The balls can be kept simple without fillings or can be stuffed with different ingredients and flavors, making them an ideal quick snack and fun alternative to sandwiches. The most common Japanese fillings include pickles, salmon, combo, or any other salty or sour ingredients.
For my vegan Onigiri, I used avocado and peanuts but you can also use vegan carrot lox and cashew cream cheese, steamed sweet potato, smoked tofu chunks, or any vegetables and dairy-free spreads you like!
Tips for cooking rice on the stove or in a rice cooker
Whether you cook Japanese short-grain rice on the stove or in a rice cooker, the thumb ratio of water to rice in cups is 1:1. That means 1 cup water to 1 cup rice. However, if you are cooking on a stovetop, then you can add a little more water since the heat will evaporate the water.
Anyway, using a rice cooker is definitely the easier way to cook rice because there’s no need to watch the rice while it cooks. Thanks to the automatic timer, it will let you know when the rice is done. Also, it is able to bring the water up to boil quickly and ensure a consistent temperature for the rice to cook evenly.
US Cups vs Rice Cooker Cups
However, if you use a rice cooker, measuring and cooking guides can get confusing. Usually, rice cookers come with a rice cup measure that is much smaller than a US cup. While the standard US cup measure is 240 ml, a rice cup according to rice industry standards is 180 ml which equals 3/4 cup standard US measure.
American measuring cup (240 ml)
1 cup Japanese short-grain rice (200 g)
1 cup water (240 ml)
Rice Cooker Cup (180 ml)
1 cup Japanese short-grain rice (150 g)
1 cup water (180 ml)
How to make Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)
Step 1: Cook the Rice
Put the rice into a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cool running water until the water runs clear. Then drain well and transfer to a saucepan. Pour in fresh water, cover and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes, until the liquid has been completely absorbed by the rice. Then remove from the heat and leave it covered to steam for another 5-10 minutes.
Tip: Do not disturb the rice while it cooks. Leave the lid closed to ensure even cooking and do not stir while it cooks!
Step 2: Make the vinegar seasoned sushi rice
In the meantime, heat the rice vinegar, salt, and sugar in a small saucepan and stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved.
Once the rice is tender, transfer it to a bowl (preferably a wooden hangiri) and stir gently to loosen it. (Please be careful not to break up the rice grains, otherwise, it will become mushy). Drizzle the rice vinegar mixture over it, add the nori flakes, and mix gently to combine. Cover with a damp kitchen towel which will help prevent the rice from drying out. Allow to cool completely.
Step 3: Form Onigiri Rice Balls
Now place 1 heaped tablespoon of rice on a piece of cling foil, flattening it gently into a round shape. Add 2-3 pieces of avocado and 1 teaspoon of chopped peanuts in the middle. Cover with another tablespoon of rice, seal the cling foil and shape into a ball. Flatten it slightly, then carefully remove the cling foil and place your Onigiri on a plate. Continue this process with the rest of the rice and filling until everything is used up.
Step 4: Pan-fry or grill until crispy
Lightly brush the rice balls with the dumpling dipping sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Heat a large non-stick pan or skillet or grill with sesame oil. Place the balls in the hot oil so that the marinated side is facing down and fry for about 3-5 minutes. Meanwhile, brush the top side with a little dipping sauce and sprinkle with sesame. Once the bottom is crispy, gently flip the onigiri and fry the other side until golden brown. Serve them warm or cold with the remaining dipping sauce. Enjoy!
How to store and freeze rice balls
Japanese Yaki Onigiri is best eaten straight after pan-frying or grilling. However, you can also wrap the uncooked rice balls individually in wax paper or plastic wrap to keep them from getting soggy. Then store in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. Before serving, leave at room temperature for a few minutes to soften. Then pan-fry or grill as instructed in the recipe box below. You can also wrap a small nori sheet around the onigiri so it’s easier to eat warm.
To freeze, first, wrap each individual onigiri in plastic wrap, then put them all in a freezer bag for longer-term storage.
These Japanese Yaki Onigiri are:
- Vegan (meat-free, fish-free)
- Dairy-free (lactose-free)
- Easy to make
- Stuffed with avocado
- & salted peanuts
- So delicious!
- The perfect crispy grilled rice balls for a tasty grab and go snack!
More Vegan Asian, Chinese, or Thai Recipes to try:
- Vegan Sushi
- Korean Bibimbap with crispy Tofu
- Vegan Pad Thai with Veggie Noodles and Tofu
- Chinese Eggplant with Chili Garlic Sauce
- Vegan dumplings with vegetable filling
- Scallion Pancakes (Chinese flatbread)
- Asian Peanut Noodles with Crispy Tofu
- Crispy Sesame Tofu with Tahini Peanut Sauce
- General Tso’s Tofu with Sweet-Sour Sauce
- Asian Chili Garlic Noodles
If you try these vegan Japanese Yaki Onigiri, please leave a comment and rating on how you liked the recipe! And if you take a photo of your crispy grilled rice balls and share it on Instagram, please tag me with @biancazapatka and use the hashtag #biancazapatka because I love to see your remakes! Enjoy!
Japanese Yaki Onigiri (Crispy Rice Balls)
Sushi Rice (can be made ahead)
Sushi Rice (can be made ahead)
- Put the rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cool running water until the water runs clear. Then drain well and transfer to a saucepan (or rice cooker). Pour in the water, cover, and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes, until the liquid has been completely absorbed by the rice (if it looks too dry, add a few more tablespoons of water). Then remove from the heat and leave covered to steam for another 5-10 minutes. (Tip: Do not disturb the rice while it cooks. Leave the lid closed to ensure even cooking and do not stir!)
- In the meantime, heat the rice vinegar, salt, and sugar in a small saucepan and stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved.
- Once the rice is tender, transfer it into a bowl (preferably a wooden hangiri) and stir gently to loosen it. (Please be careful not to break the rice grains, otherwise, the rice will become mushy). Drizzle the rice vinegar mixture over it, add the nori flakes, and mix gently to combine. Cover with a damp kitchen towel which will help prevent the rice from drying out. Allow to cool completely.
- Now place 1 heaped tablespoon of rice on a piece of cling foil, flattening it gently into a round shape. Add 2-3 pieces of avocado and 1 teaspoon of chopped peanuts in the middle. Cover with another tablespoon of rice, seal the foil and form into a ball. Flatten it slightly with your hands, then carefully remove the cling foil. Continue this process with the rest of the rice and filling until everything is used up.
- Lightly brush the rice balls with the dipping sauce and sprinkle with a little sesame.
- Heat the sesame oil in a large non-stick pan or skillet or grill. Pan-fry or grill the rice balls on each side for 3-5 minutes, or until the rice forms a crisp skin.
- Serve warm or cold with the remaining dipping sauce. You can also wrap a small nori sheet around the onigiri so it’s easier to eat warm.
- Please read my blog post for further information on storage, freezing, and helpful tips for cooking rice, etc.
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