Sesame Almond Brown Rice Balls Recipe

Perfectly portable sesame almond brown rice balls. I packed these for a road trip from SF to Portland last week. They're flecked with green onion, and you can tuck edible surprises (i.e. avocado) in the centers if you like.

Sesame Almond Brown Rice Balls

The last time I was stranded on the side of a road was in Sri Lanka. The sun was intent on breaking us, the location remote. I can tell you this, a shredded tire on the side of an Oregon highway, storm or no storm, is preferable than one outside a game park near Wellawaya. Remedying that situation involved hitching rides in unfamiliar minivans. Then a visit to a Sri Lankan safari don's living room where we commissioned a ride south (you can imagine who had the upper hand in that negotiation). This one? A phone call, a flat bed truck, and a short stint in the waiting room of the repair shop. I'm home now, and aside from a couple hurdles (wind, rain, snow, icy roads, flat tires) driving along the coast from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon is beautiful. Although...I might make it a summer trip the next time around.

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I'm realizing that a good number of the shots I took over the past week were from where I was sitting IN the car. The wind was blowing so hard at some points that it was hard to open the door.

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As far as provisions go...aside from the cake, I packed the car with all sorts of things to make into snacks (or meals) in a pinch. With a bit of soy sauce and some tofu we grilled on the balcony of the hotel, these brown rice balls worked out nicely as a quick dinner one night. I should clarify the hotel was more like a condo with a sizable balcony and I'm guessing not all properties allow this.You can tuck little cubes of avocado,or whatever else, into the centers to make them as substantial as you like.

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You can make the rice balls as large or small. I like them on the small side - more golf ball than baseball. As long as you use the right kind of rice, shaping them just takes a bit of patience and practice. I line a tiny, steep-sided bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap, fill the bowl, twist, shape, peel. The cup I use is about 1/2 cup capacity, and I fill it 2/3 full. You want to use short grain brown rice - I use short grain brown Japanese rice, sometimes labeled sushi rice. Long grain rice doesn't work as well. Arborio rice works well too, but I never see that sold as whole grain. Have a look at the photo (up above) so you can see the size of the rice grains in my hand.

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I seasoned this batch of rice balls with sesame seeds and green onions, studded them with chopped almond slices. As you can imagine, you can go in a million different directions here. They are super portable - picnic, cubicle, car, plane, school lunch - as long as you have a structured container, they should survive intact. I put mine in a parchment lined cake pan.

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Before I sign off I wanted to thank all of you who sent such nice notes about the James Beard nomination of Super Natural Every Day (here's a PDF of the nominees). They made my day. It's a fantastic feeling to be nominated, even better to know so many of you are excited as well. I keep saying it, the support and enthusiasm you've directed toward my book over the past year continues to blow me away. And it certainly keeps me thinking about how I can raise the bar the next time around. xoxo -h

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Sesame Almond Brown Rice Balls

Because brown rice has all the stuff that can go rancid still intact - bran/germ, if you can find organic rice labeled "new crop", go with that. And, in case you want to make a larger pot of rice, use ~1 1/2 cups / 360 ml water for each cup of rice - perhaps a splash more.

2 cups / 14 oz / 400 g brown sushi rice (stubby, short grains)
3 cups / 710 ml water
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1/4 cup / 1.5 oz / 45 g sesame seeds (white/black mix)
3 tablespoons toasted almond slices/slivers, chopped
1/4 cup / 4 tablespoons minced green onions

Optional: things to tuck in the middle: avocado cubes (toss in lemon juice first), tofu, etc.

In a colander or fine-mesh strainer, rinse the rice briefly and drain. If you have time to soak the rice for an hour or two, do it. If not, just proceed. Bring the rice to a boil over medium-high heat in your thickest-bottomed pot. Dial the heat back so the water is just simmering actively - low-med. Cover with tight fitting lid, and try not to peek too often.

Cook the rice until the water has been absorbed and the grains are cooked through, usually about an hour, less if you've soaked the rice.If the grains have cooked but there's still water to be absorbed, dial the heat up to medium-high until the pan dries out, being careful not to scorch the rice at the bottom. Remove the rice from heat and let rest, covered, for at least 15 minutes, preferably a bit longer. Fluff with a fork, then gradually add and incorporate the sesame seeds, almonds, and green onions. At this point, taste, and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt if needed. I let the rice cool quite a bit before shaping.

To form the rice balls, line a small cup with plastic wrap, sprinkle the plastic wrap with a dab of water, then fill the cup 2/3 full with rice mixture. No need to pack it down. You can tuck something in the center at this point if you like. Gather the plastic wrap like you would a ponytail, and twist at the base of the rice. Make sure there is no air trapped, and use your opposite palm to shape into a ball (see photo up above). Carefully remove plastic wrap and set the rice ball in a parchment lined container or on a plate. Repeat with the remaining rice.

A couple tips: If your fingers get sticky, dab with water. And if you run out of steam making rice balls, just cook up a couple eggs into a thin omelette, cut into shreds, and toss with the rice - makes for one of my favorite quick lunches.

Makes about 2 dozen small rice balls.

Prep time: 20 minutes - Cook time: 60 minutes

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Fabulous camera, wonderful pics, and awesome looking little balls. Can't wait to try them!

Averie @ Averie Cooks

I love the idea of adding chopped almonds to brown rice with a tofu center--healthy onigiri with a hit of protein that even my kids would eat. I appreciate how your recipes tend to make something traditional a little bit (or a lot) better!


WOW these look great.... What a healthy snack.... Perfect on the go snack... Beautiful pics...

Reem | Simply Reem

I will definitely try this recipe on an upcoming road trip! Looks like kid-friendly fare, too. I grew up in an Oregon coast town ... loved seeing these photos of your trip on HWY 101.


What a great snack for the road! I can't wait to try these. So sorry about your car troubles :/


I am completely in love with this recipe! So simple and full of flavor i love the idea of putting avocado in the center, will be making these very soon! thank you for sharing (:


looks yummy!! I want to try this


a) You rule. Always. b) This snack makes me so happy. c) I want to travel with you. d) But you might not want to travel with me because I sing and do impressions, like, way too much.

Bev Weidner

Heidi you are the QUEEN of snacks


Simple and beautiful, and looks perfect for a lunchbox. Congratulations on the nomination, too!

leaf (the indolent cook)

oh what a fun idea! this is so creative! can't wait to try these!

Simply Life

Dear Heidi, I have your book over my dinning table in apartment in Buenos Aires. I was able to order it in Amazon and have it delivered to my hotel in the US last week, where I travelled for work. The book is amazing! really worth it! I felt in love with the zucchini and ricotta bread, was expecting for it in the book, but although not present, I was in an awe with the amazing other recipes there. I will keep you posted as I prepare them! (If you have the time, I would like to know how can I replace "buttermilk" and "Maple syrup" in the recipes?) Thank you!!! Kindly, Cris

Cris M

What a wonderful road trip snack. You are so creative with your travel food.

Denise | Chez Danisse

I love it Heidi! Simple AND creative. You are brilliant! Such a great lunch idea. Great pics and congrats on the nomination!


I've been looking for some new things to pack for lunch now that I'm basically working full time again and these look like just the ticket. I can't wait to give them a try!


These Sesame Almond Brown Rice Balls sound fantastic. I was looking for a recipe that was quick, healthy, tasty, and traveled well (thinking of lunches and picnics). I found it:) Thanks for a great post.

Geraldine Saucier

Is that an Oregon road I see? I've made that drive so many times, but now it's just a memory. Thanks for reminding me of the beauty of an icy road in the NW - here in steamy Phnom Penh it seems so otherworldly.


These sound delicious. Congrats on the James Beard nomination, Heidi. Well deserved!


They look awesome and lunch-box worthy. Thanks for the great idea.


Wow, these look beautiful! What a nice whole-grain alternative to traditional onigiri.


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