I spent seven years of my childhood living in Tokyo; today, so many of the meals I cook at home are inspired by the snacks and dishes I ate there. Luckily, my son now loves both rice and soy sauce, which is why for this week’s column I decided to recreate one of my absolute favorite snacks: yaki onigiri, or grilled rice balls.

To make the recipe more hands-on, we decided to play with the shape of the rice balls instead of sticking strictly to the classic triangle shape. We had a lot of fun, even though there were a lot of sticky fingers to clean off.

Challenge your kids to make unique shapes, but remember that the more obscure the shape, the more likely it is to fall apart in the pan – this is a great opportunity to teach your kids to laugh at themselves and to not always take cooking so seriously. After all, the messiest foods are often the yummiest!

Yaki Onigiri (Grilled Rice Balls)

Serves | 4 |

Yaki Onigiri

  • 2 cups sushi rice, cooked according to package
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp kosher salt
  • ¼ cup cooking oil (I used canola)

Dipping Sauce

  • ⅓ cup soy sauce (use liquid aminos for a healthier alternative)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder

| Preparation – Yaki Onigiri | Allow cooked rice to cool down enough for you and your kids to handle. In a bowl, add water. In a separate bowl, add salt. Once rice has cooled down, dip your hands in water and sprinkle a little salt on them. Scoop approximately ½ cup rice into your hands and smoosh it into a ball between your palms. From here, use your hands to mold the rice ball into whatever shape you want. Firmly press down around the edges of your shape to keep the rice together through the grilling process. Repeat steps with remaining rice.

Once all the rice has been shaped, heat a skillet (preferably cast iron for extra crispness) over medium heat; add 2 tablespoons oil. Depending on how big the skillet is, I suggest cooking three shapes at a time. Place shapes in skillet and cook, 3 minutes per side. While the first batch cooks, make the dipping sauce (recipe follows).

Once rice balls are cooked on both sides, brush on sauce; cook, another 30 seconds per side. (This will add extra crunch to the exterior, but don’t overcook, or the sugars from the soy sauce and honey could burn.) Using remaining oil, repeat the process. Once all rice balls have been cooked and sauced, serve warm with extra dipping sauce, if desired – and remember, this is finger food, so let them eat with their hands!

| Preparation – Dipping Sauce | In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients.

Julia Calleo is a freelance photographer for editorial magazines including Feast. She is also a food and prop stylist at a commercial production studio and blogger in St. Louis.

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