Japanese Rice Balls

Japanese Rice Balls (aka Onigiri) are super easy to make and are so freaking delicious I can't believe it took me this long to learn about them! 

One weekend we found ourselves (grabbing a much-needed bite) at the cafeteria at the incredible Kidspace Museum and munching away at sub-par food. Looking around the tables, all I saw were parents desperately trying to feed their little ones while they simultaneously attempted to shovel food into their own mouths. 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw this lovely Japanese woman quietly feeding her baby. For the life of me I couldn't figure out what she was giving him, but it looked like some sort of white ball in Saran wrap. I shyly walked up to her and asked what she was feeding him. 

She said, "Oh, it's Onigiri". I was still confused. She told me she takes steamed white rice and adds tiny pieces of vegetables and fish for calcium. What a genius idea. All she had to do after making them was wrap them up and it was the perfect meal to travel with for an outing. 

So, I made them for the kids for dinner one night. You should have seen their eyes light up when I put them on their plates. This recipe is great for small children too! By cooking the rice to make it sticky, it makes it super easy for them to hold it, bite into it and eat the little pieces of rice that stick to their fingers. If you have a little leftover fish and vegetables, throw them in the food processor that he wanted to eat off the spoon. 

This recipe isn't just for kids, either! After I made these, my husband came down looking for a snack, popped one in his mouth, and grinned from ear to ear. They're awfully delicious. He asked me to make him a batch after he tried them! 

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Japanese Rice Balls (15 Balls, depending on the size you make them)

Prep Time: 5 mins Cook Time: 35 mins

egg free

nut free

dairy free


  • 1 cup short or medium grain white rice
  • 1 1/5 cups water
  • 8 baby carrots
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 piece sole, or any mild white fish


1. Wash 1 cup of rice in a bowl and throw the water out (“washing” rice consists of filling a bowl with rice, covering it with water, rubbing the rice and then immediately dumping the water out).

2. Repeat washing the rice 4 or 5 times throwing the water out.

3. Put the washed rice in a heavy bottomed pot, add 1 1/5 cups of water. Let rice soak for 30 minutes.

4. Put the lid on the pot and bring the rice to a boil for 5 minutes. Change the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice sit covered for 15 minutes so it can steam.

5. Stir the rice with a flat spoon so that the rice does not completely stick together.

6. While the rice is cooking, put the carrots in a steamer pot over boiling water for 3 minutes. Add the broccoli and steam for 2 more minutes. Add the fish and steam for another 3 minutes or until everything is cooked through and fork tender.

7. Place the fish and vegetables in a food processor and pulse. Do not puree the mixture, though. You want it to have a little texture, but be dry. No not add extra liquid.

8. Take 1-2 Tablespoons of rice and 1 tsp of the vegetable/fish mixture and combine.

9. With moistened hands, roll into a ball, about the size of a golf ball. Alternatively, you can add all of the vegetable/fish mixture to the rice, but make sure that the mixture isn’t too wet or the balls will fall apart.

10. Serve.

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Hi, I’m Catherine. Mama of three. A Kentucky girl living in California. Here’s what I know: all kids can be great eaters and mealtime must be easy. I create simple, healthy recipes the whole family will love.

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  • Ann

    i LOVE LOVE LOVE your website!
    your pictures are beautiful and your food looks absolutely delicious.
    i am toying around with the idea of making baby food for my little one
    who is almost 6 months and your website makes me think i can do it!
    great job!!!!

    btw, have you ever used the magic bullet? i haven't but my sister swears by it.
    she says clean up is a snap with the bullet. i'm deciding what tools to get
    and i'm probably going to get that cuisinart you recommended but i was just
    wondering if you had tried the bullet. =)

    leave a comment

  • Wendi

    I was thinking of making these tonight, but curious if you can freeze them or how long they stay in the fridge? If so, how would you reheat them? My daughter is a tiny eater, so I wouldn't go through all 15 balls at once!=) Thanks!

    leave a comment

    • Catherine

      I would keep these frozen in a ziploc bag for up to 3 months. make sure you label it! :) When i'm ready to serve, I would just let them thaw in the fridge over night or just keep it at room temperature for one hour then heat in a preheated oven,you can put them in a microwave, or steamer pot over boiling water.

      leave a comment

  • Natasha

    We loved these! I actually used leftover chicken and they were a hit :)

    leave a comment

  • MicIhelle

    Total FAIL! I didn't listen to your directions for making sticky rice, as I have what I thought was sticky rice already. Well it is sticky, but it sticks to everything, including my hands, so I wasn't able to roll these into balls. I ended up freezing them in ice cube trays. I hope it works!

    leave a comment

    • Dixi

      Yes, it is very sticky. You need to slightly moisten your hands and that should solve the problem. Either that or place them on a small square of plastic wrap and then form it.

      leave a comment

  • [email protected]

    Do you think you could do these with brown rice?

    leave a comment

    • Kendall

      I was wondering the same thing 3 years later. Did you ever try it with brown rice? Did it work? That's all we have in the house right now, so I'm really curious.

      leave a comment

  • Vanessa Rodríguez

    Just tried these today with sushi rice and they turned out perfect. Also, I used smoked salmon instead of sole and when they were done I rolled them in a bowl of sesame seeds so it would stick on the outside. Delicious!!!

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  • Teresa Robertson

    looking forward to emails

    leave a comment

  • Pam

    This recipe is definitely a keeper. My 13 month loves this onigiri! I also grated some cheese and mix with the veggies. Other times I added shredded beef/pork and he loves all the variation.

    leave a comment

  • Melinda

    These look lovely cant wait to try them. Im also thinking of trying a more sushi type version with cucumber nori and crab. maybe a little cream cheese in the center and serve cold with wasabi soy or spicy may ?? what do you think

    leave a comment

    • McCord

      Sounds delicious!

      leave a comment

  • Jane George

    Can't wait to try the Japanese Rice Balls

    leave a comment

  • Jeanie

    Will brown rice be sticky enough?

    leave a comment

    • Victoria

      It will work. Make sure you use short grain rice; long grain rice cooks up drier. Here is a link to a how-to on making onigiri with brown rice: http://www.onehundredeggs.com/brown-rice-onigiri-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-make-my-lunch/

      leave a comment

  • Jenn

    These look great! Quick question. My kiddos love sushi and for the fish I was thinking I would use sushi grade tuna instead and seedless cucumber instead of broccoli. Thoughts?

    leave a comment