This is one of those fusion dishes where I combine elements from two Asian cultures. For these rice balls, I'm marrying Japanese and Vietnamese for a savory rice dish that is suitable for vegetarians as well as non. Plus, this dish is an exceptionally fun one to make with kids. I first got to know these rice balls from my Japanese roommate from college, as we would often have these pot luck dinners with international friends and each of us would try to make something tasty but easy to whip up. I'm putting a little Vietnamese spin with the inclusion of the sauteed scallion topping, as well as the Chinese sweet sausage and using the long grain sweet rice, called "Gao Nep". Do use a rice cooker if you can to cook the sweet rice, as it will come out perfectly moist. Have fun making them into a nice, round ball! ... Oh, have clean hands, of course, but not too dry, or else you'll be in a very sticky situation!
RECIPE for 8 servings.
General ingredients, with Vegetarian ingredients in the below -
3 cups sweet rice short grain
3 cups long grain (Thai sweet rice)
4 links of Chinese sweet sausage, diced small
2 eggs, scrambled, fried, sliced into small 2-inch thin strips
1 bunch green onion, diced, 2 portions
2 tablespoon shallot, chopped finely
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced, 2 portions
5 tablespoon soy sauce
Sugar and Salt to taste
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon of roasted sesame and seaweed mix (Furikake), available at your local Japanese market
1 tablespoon of roasted black sesame seeds (Furikake)
Ingredients for the Vegetarian Rice Balls
4 pieces of 2x2 fried tofu, dice into small cubes, sold already fried, available at your local Asian market
1 tablespoon of roasted black sesame seeds (vegetarian), sold in little jar at your local Asian market
12 sheets of roasted nori (seaweed) sheets, small 2x3 rectangles, sold at your Asian market
Prepping for fillings and toppings:
Fried tofu filling (Vegetarian) - Add a little oil to a nonstick frying pan. Add onion and garlic (first 1/2 batch) to fry until slightly cooked down, about 1-2 mins. Add tofu and stir for a few seconds. Add in 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Stir for few seconds. Remove from pan and set aside to cool in a bowl.
Fried egg filling (Vegetarian, depends on your practice ) - Add a little oil to a nonstick frying pan. Scramble the eggs in a small mixing bowl. Add a dash of salt and sugar. Drop egg in pan and fry in a thin layer. Flip egg over to fry the other side. Remove to cutting board and let it cool down a few minutes before slicing thin. Set aside to cool completely in a bowl.
Fried green scallion topping (Vegetarian) - Add a little oil to a nonstick frying pan. Add in green scallions and fry for a minute or until cooked but still bright green in color. Add a pinch of salt and sugar. Remove from pan and set aside to cool in a bowl.
Garlic, shallot and sweet sausage filling - (Make this last if using the same frying pan; to prevent cross-contamination with vegetarian and non-vegetarian items). Add a little oil to frying pan. Add in shallot and garlic (the last batch) and fry until slightly golden. Add in sausage. Add in 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Cook for few seconds. Remove from pan and set aside to cool in a bowl.
Have a spoon in each of the toppings to easily scoop each into the rice ball, and not cross-contaminate the vegetarian versus non-vegetarian ones.
Furikake seasoning toppings
Place each type of sesame toppings onto separate plates.
Cooking the rice:
Short grain sweet rice - Use a rice cooker. Rinse sweet rice with cold water 3 times. Reserve 1/8 inch of water in rice cooker, then add 1 cup of coconut milk. Use chopstick to stir the coconut milk with the rest of the pot of rice grain. Add in a pinch of salt. Turn on the cooker. Approximately at 10-12 mins, the chime will go off. Open the cooker and fluff rice with chopsticks. Close the lid and cook for another 5 minutes and remove rice to cool on large plate.
Long grain sweet rice - Use a rice cooker. Rinse sweet rice with cold water 3 times. Reserve 3/4 inch of water in rice cooker. Add in a pinch of salt. Turn on the cooker. Approximately at 8-10 mins, the chime will go off. Open the cooker and fluff rice with chopsticks. Close lid and cook for another 5 minutes and remove rice to cool on large plate.
Place nori sheets onto large plate. These nori sheets will act as a plate for each rice ball. Overlap 2 sheets to make a 3”x3” sheet.
Prepare a bowl of 1 cup of water to wet hands to prevent rice from sticking to hands while forming the rice ball.
Wet hands first then take about ½ cup of rice and flatten it in your palm. Spoon a tablespoon of filling to the middle of the rice. Then grab a small amount of sticky rice to add on top of the filling. Cup your hands together and form a ball. Remember to squeeze the rice ball so it’s compact and tight to contain the filling inside. When it’s round and tight, dunk each of the balls in various sesame toppings. Keep track of which one is vegetarian and the regular type. If you are not strict on the vegetarian guidelines, then mix it all up for fun. Place the rice ball in the center of the nori sheet.
You can mix the fillings together. For example, make a rice ball with the half egg, half sausage filling for your meat eaters. You can combine the tofu filling with the sausage too, just make sure you don't feed the vegetarians the sausage filling.
Top off with fried green scallions and/or shredded pieces of nori to add color. To know which is vegetarian, I have the nori sheet on the bottom of the vegetarian rice balls only, but it could be done for both.