Sushi is so wildly popular in the US that it’s really become as much a part of the American culinary melting pot as pizza or tacos. I’ve been making sushi, and teaching people how to make sushi, for many years. You can easily enjoy the flavors of your favorite sushi without learning how to make rolls. Onigiri and Inari are the perfect answer to a sushi craving, with no special tools or much investment of your time. I made this with the Shiso leaves I grew in my garden, but you can enjoy this without, it too. Inari and Onigiri are entry-level Japanese rice shapes that anyone can make.
Ingredients for Inari and Onigiri with Fresh Shiso Leaf
Shiso, Perilla or Beefsteak Leaf
I grew shiso this year, in part because of a cocktail. I was in a fabulous restaurant that serves Korean Fusion food, and my friend ordered a berry-based cocktail and it arrived garnished with a shiso leaf. I used to grow shiso to use in sushi, and somewhere along the line, it was crowded out by more Italian basil plants. Just seeing that beautiful leaf reminded me how elegantly a few leaves of shiso can turn a simple bowl of rice into a meal.
Shiso, also called Perilla or Beefsteak leaf, comes in verying shades of green and red. It’s a member of the mint family, and has a citrusy flavor, with notes of spices like clove and cumin.
The fully green variety is milder and less astringent, and the one you find most often served with sushi. Red shiso is often used to color food, and in natural pickled ginger there is usually a hunk of red shiso that tints it pink, instead of the red food color used in most pickled ginger.
I bought my Shiso plant from a Hmong Farmer, and don’t know the variety. It looks like Britton Shiso, so I’m going with that. It’s kind of in between, part red, part green, and very aromatic. You can buy seeds online, or at many Asian Markets.
Haiga or Sushi Rice
You know I love whole grains. But when it comes to sushi, sometimes I like to let the subtle flavors shine with a more neutral grain. I buy Haiga rice at my local Asian Superstore, but you can also order it here. It’s a form of rice that’s been milled to remove the bran, but somehow, leave behind the germ. Removing the bran allows the starches to make the rice a bit sticky, like sushi rice. Leaving the germ leaves the nutrients intact, notably b-vitamins absent from white rice.
Haiga is sticky enough to make Inari and Onigiri, or other sushi, like these Handrolls.
You can make your own tofu pouches, but I didn’t. You can order them here, or find them at your local Asian grocery. I like to keep a can or two in the pantry, to make this dish, or use the tofu in soups, salads, noodle dishes, or anywhere a savory-sweet slice of tofu sounds appropriate. Once you try stuffing them with rice, you might want to fill them with shredded vegetables or tofu egg salad, for fun finger food.
Inari and Onigiri, Fresh and Simple
So, pick up some rice, Inari Tofu, Pickled Ginger, Wasabi, and Shiso, and you’ve got the makings of this fun finger food. I like to make this for a quick lunch, or an appetizer or side course. A bowl of miso soup would make a lovely meal.
Onigiri and Inari with Fresh Shiso Leaf
- 1 cup Haiga or sushi rice
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 small cucumber diced
- 1/4 cup pickled ginger
- wasabi to taste
- 1 can inari age (tofu pockets)
- 1 bunch shiso leaves
- black sesame seeds
- soy sauce for dipping
- In a small pot, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil, then add the rice. Return to a boil, cover, and turn the heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. Take off the heat and let stand until cooled.In a cup, stir the vinegar and sugar until dissolved. Fold into the rice. Fold in the cucumber.
Inari and Onigiri
- Have your serving plate ready. Use wet hands to scoop small portions of the rice mixture, then smear a dab of wasabi on a shiso leaf and place the rice on the leaf, or open a sheet of inari age, stuff in pickled ginger and a shiso leaf, then the rice. Place each on the plate and serve with wasabi and tamari.