Air Fryer “Grilled” Onigiri

A few years ago, we received an air fryer as a gift. My favorite use for this gadget by far is “grilled” onigiri. Onigiri are Japanese stuffed sticky rice balls often made in triangle shapes and are usually eaten at room temperature. Onigiri make an easy lunch on the go in Japan and are often sold in convenience stores. Grilled onigiri are a classic variation, brushed with soy sauce and grilled until crispy on the edges. Air Fryer “Grilled” Onigiri are a revelation. They’re crispy on all sides, easy, savory, and fun to make.

You can form the onigiri by hand, but consider picking up some cheap onigiri molds, which make the process much simpler. To use the molds, simply fill them halfway with seasoned sushi rice, add a teaspoon of filling in the center, then cover with more rice and press down with the lid. Once you have the basic technique, you can experiment with the fillings and how you season the rice. When there are several of us cooking, we all make our own onigiri with different flavors. It’s always fun.

My favorite way to season the rice for grilled onigiri is to add a little soy sauce, plus a few drops of sesame oil and sesame seeds. The soy and sesame combo is umami, which works well with the crispy texture. Alternatively, you can also add a little vinegar and sugar to season it like sushi rice. It’s also common to stir in a dusting of seaweed or umebosi plum powder into the rice. If you can’t find sushi rice, you can use very short grain rice, but the texture will be different.

Now let’s talk fillings. Onigiri can be filled with many different things including umeboshi pickled plums, little bits of pickled veg, a few edamame, a piece of tempura, or even olives or cheese. In Japanese homes, onigiri are filled with all sorts of little bits of leftovers, making them a great economical food for using up little bits of delicious things in the fridge. Be creative. We often use small amounts of leftover curries or stir-fries to fill our onigiri. Some favorites fillings are leftover mapo tofu or Macanese curry. Today we used leftover vegan Macanese minchi which was made with Beyond Meat, some edamame tossed with vegan mayo and sesame seeds, grilled green olives from the Persian market combined with a dab of feta, and some leftover baked tofu which was minced and stir-fried with garlic and Chinese fermented black beans. It was all delicious.

Fillings today: clockwise from top left: leftover vegan Macanese minchi, umeboshi plums, feta, grilled green olives, minced baked tofu sauteed with garlic and fermented black beans, and in the center edamame tossed with vegan mayo and sesame seeds.

Air Fryer “Grilled” Onigiri

3 cups uncooked sushi rice

soy sauce

sesame oil

sesame seeds

Various fillings: for example leftover curries or stirfries, edamame tossed with vegan mayo and sesame seeds, or feta with green olives


Rinse the sushi rice in several changes of water, then soak in water for 30-60 minutes. Drain off that water, then measure enough clean water to cover one joint of your finger above the top of the rice. Cook rice in the rice cooker. After rice cooks, let it cool partway until it’s just warm. If you start working with the rice when it’s still hot, the rice grains will get mashed. On the other hand, if you let it cool completely the rice grains will be tough and won’t stick together properly.

When the rice is just warm, place part of the rice in a small mixing bowl. Drizzle on soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Using a rice paddle at a diagonal angle, slice through the rice to gently mix it. Don’t use the rice paddle pressing straight down to push on the rice or it will mash. Taste the rice and adjust the soy sauce and sesame oil to your preference.

Prepare your fillings.

Using an onigiri mold, fill the mold halfway with the seasoned sushi rice. Add about 1 teaspoon of filling in the middle. If you add too much filling the onigiri may fall apart later. After adding the filling, add more rice to fill the mold. Using the lid of the mold, press down firmly to compress the onigiri. The bottom of the mold has a sort of tab to press to release the rice. Repeat to make several onigiri.

Spray the air fryer with a little oil.

Add about 5-6 onigiri to the air fryer, as many as will fit easily in a single layer without touching. Cook at 400F for 5 minutes. Then flip the onigiri over and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and enjoy.

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