Pickled Radish Onigiri from Rice Craft

The focus is on onigiri, bite-size balls of fun, in Rice Craft, a new cookbook by grain activist Sonoko Sakai.
Pickled radish onigiri is a fun one-bite appetizer or snack from the new book Rice Craft by grain activist Sonoko Sakai. Get the recipe here!

Rice Craft is so much more than a fun new cookbook. Written by Sonoko Sakai, a Los Angeles-based cooking teacher and co-founder of Common Grains and the Southern California Heritage Grain Project, Rice Craft focuses on onigiri, bite-size balls of fun. Sakai creates delicious and creative bite size snacks from an array of nutritious ingredients and, did I mention, it’s all fun to make because onigiri are easily shaped and decorated to make animals, flowers and more.

Related: Brown Rice vs. Barley: The Ultimate Smackdown!

Rice Craft also includes onigiri fundamentals and master recipes for cooking brown, multi-grain and white rice (see below), plus shaping and wrapping instructions and extras to round out the meal such as a hearty miso soup to float the onigiri in and pickled ginger to serve on the side. More than 20 color photographs inspire new creations and teach kids and adults alike to make creative treats.

The focus is on onigiri, bite-size balls of fun, in Rice Craft, a new cookbook by grain activist Sonoko Sakai.

And if that weren’t enough, you can feel good about Rice Craft. Sakai left the glamorous film industry to dedicate herself to grain activism and the promotion of locally sourced grains. She has been profiled all over the place (SAVEURLos Angeles Magazine, The Los Angeles Times) and for good reason. Rice Craft is a trifecta of fun, healthy recipes and goodness for the planet.

Pickled Radish Onigiri

Ume plum vinegar is available at gourmet supermarkets, health food stores, and online. If you cannot find ume plum vinegar, use rice vinegar. The pickled radishes taste great by themselves and would make a nice side dish, or use the slices to garnish your onigiri, as I’ve done here. I use beet to dye the radish pink. You can omit that step.

Yield: Makes 12 log onigiri.


  • 8 red or white radishes, cut crosswise into 1/16-in [2-mm] slices
  • 1/2 cup [120 ml] sushi vinegar
  • 1 beet, cut crosswise into 1/16-in [2-mm] slices (optional)
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 recipe White Rice or Haiga Rice, Brown Rice, or Multigrain Rice (recipe below)
  • 3 Tbsp Sesame Furikake


  1. In a bowl, combine the radishes with the sushi vinegar and beet (if using) and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours.
  2. Remove the pickled radishes from the vinegar and drain well. Set aside twelve slices to decorate the top of your onigiri, if you like. Cut the slices into 1/16-in [2-mm] dice. Blot dry with paper towels. Eat the beet slices as a snack.
  3. Have ready a large plate or cutting board to hold the finished onigiri. Prepare a small bowl of water for wetting your hands and a small bowl containing the salt. Arrange near the plate.
  4. Fold the diced radish, parsley, and lemon zest into the rice, combining gently, without mashing the grains.
  5. Divide the rice into twelve equal portions. Scoop one portion into a small teacup or bowl.
  6. Moisten your hands with the water to keep the rice from sticking to them. Lightly dip the tips of the index, middle, and ring fingers of one hand into the bowl of water, then into the bowl of salt. Rub the salt onto your palms. You should have a light coating on your palms.
  7. Gently tap the teacup or bowl to loosen the rice into your palm. Press gently into your palm, then use the index finger, middle finger, and thumb of your other hand to gently press the two ends of the ball to form a log, about 11/2 in [4 cm] wide and 21/2 in [6 cm] long. Now use your index finger, middle finger, and thumb to complete the log shape. Don’t press too hard; the onigiri should be firm on the outside but soft and airy in the inside. Place the finished onigiri on the prepared plate. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
  8. Cut a slit halfway through a slice of radish, without cutting it in half. Twist the slice to make a butterfly shape. Repeat with remaining slices. Sprinkle the onigiri with the furikake and top each with a radish twist. Eat immediately.

White Rice or Haiga Rice

To cook basic white rice and haiga rice, I measure enough water to equal 110 to 120 percent of the volume of uncooked rice. It’s important that you read the instructions on the rice package to see what water-to-rice ratio the producer recommends. The amount of water depends on the altitude, the variety and freshness of the rice, and how firm or soft you want the cooked rice to be. The fresher the rice, the less water you need. For new crop white rice, use equal amounts of water and uncooked rice. Combine the rice and water and let soak for about 30 minutes in the summertime and 1 hour during the wintertime. If using an electric rice cooker, pressure cooker, or follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Yield: Makes about 5 cups [600 g] (enough for 6 onigiri)


  • 1 1/2 cups [300 g] medium- or short-grain white rice or haiga rice
  • 1 3/4 cups [420 ml] filtered water
  • sea salt (optional)


  1. Place the rice in a medium bowl and rinse under cool running water, using your hands to gently swish the grains for about 10 seconds. Drain completely.
  2. Pour the filtered water into a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add the rice and salt (if using) and let soak for 30 minutes, or overnight.
  3. Place the pot, uncovered, over medium heat and bring to a boil. The water should bubble around the rim evenly and strongly. Cover the pot, turn the heat to very low, and cook, without peeking, for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and, without opening the lid, let stand for 15 minutes.
  4. Uncover the pot and gently fluff the rice with a rice paddle or wooden spoon. Re-cover and let stand for 5 minutes more. When cool enough to handle, the rice is ready to make onigiri; use immediately.

Pickled radish onigiri is a fun one-bite appetizer or snack from the new book Rice Craft by grain activist Sonoko Sakai.

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