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.

Brown Rice BallsBrown Rice BallsBrown Rice Balls

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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I love the recent travel friendly recipes! Thanks for the great ideas and commitment to eating well even on the move!


I liked the flavor but mine wouldn't hold shape. I've tried them twice but no luck. What went wrong? I'd love to take this as a snack for picnic if it held together.


Congratulations on the nomination! much deserved - maybe one day something I can hope to emulate! Love this recipe as I really like rice but get bored with it very quickly and it's always good to find new ways of using it. I can really see these rice balls working in so many ways - as a snack, really small ones as canapes or as a side on a main dish! It's good to know that they stay in one piece without having to deep fry them. Looking forward to your next recipe as always!

Adam Levy

This is great, really good for lunch box. It is so convenience to eat. I like the idea to add omelet shreds. :)

love cooking

I just made these to take for a picnic at the beach last night. They were really yummy although I made them too big and they fell apart before reaching my month. I was tempted to rescue them from the sand but decided against it. I have been following your website for a while and its my absolute favourite. My mom just bought me Super Natural Everyday and sent it to me here in Curacao. I have made almost half of the recipes already! So amazing. Even my husband loves it. (Meat and potatoes type) I am going to give both your books as a wedding present this September to a good friend. She is from Toronto and is getting married in Napa. Kind of fitting. How do you ever read all these comments? Thanks again.

HS: Thanks Hollie! I'd love to be snacking on rice balls in Curacao! It has been mostly rainy here the past week.


Looks good!!!!


Congratulations on your nomination. I love your cookbook! Love it love it love it. And I can't wait to try that chocolate bundt cake.


These were delicious, but I had a lot of difficulty getting the balls to stay together. I used the pressure cooker for the rice instead of cooking it on the stovetop. But the rice seemed plenty sticky. We ended up eating it as a rice bowl, topped with avocado and some spinach sauteed in chili sesame oil--which was delicious nonetheless! Any suggestions on getting it to stick together better? Thanks!


سايت خوبي داريد


Congrats on the nomination! Love this idea. Not much of a cook but love your blog and enjoy looking at your pictures.

Melissa've done it this time. I get the notion about once a year to Make arancini, baked, and I never get them to work quite right so the rice sticks around the cheese. I don't know why I never thought to use this same technique to make a nice tight rice shell. Brilliant. I like this sushi-esque twist, too, but this method will be at work in my kitchen with a heavy Italian accent. ;-)


These do look like yummy snacks - perfect for a picnic, lunchbox, or???? They remind me of Italian Arancini - but healthy.


It's a beautiful twist to Japanese classic comfort food! I can't go on a road trip without them: ) Your beautiful photographs always lift my soul. Thank you for all your hard work!


Heidi, congrats on the nomination! I just love your book (I asked my brother to buy it when he was in the States and I've been cooking lots of your recipes). About the brown rice ball, do you think it would be ok to change it for cooked millet (or even quinoa)? I can't find brown rice here in Buenos Aires. All the best!


I think you have a winner on the hands with the recipe book


I made these the day before serving them, put them into a closed-lid container and they dried out. :( How would you prevent them from drying out?

cucee sprouts

There's a large container of sesame seeds in my pantry which say, "use me" every time I open the door. I think somehow they've crawled into the computer to scream a little louder.

Mikaela Cowles

These look fantastic! Such a clever idea. I'm definitely going to keep this in mind for both travel and bringing to gatherings.


These are rally good. I made them, and they are delicious dipped in soy sauce. I followed the recipe exactly, and put tofu in the middle. Great recipe.


oh my!! I recently purchased sweet brown rice to recreate some of my childhood dishes my mom used to make. This looks PERFECT!!


I will be making these soon!

full-flavored Life

i have tried and failed at rice balls so many times, i've lost count. the cup trick, though, is new to me. thanks for the blow-by-blow. try, try again...


Even though that Sri Lankan adventure may have been unnerving, it makes for a good story. These rice balls are exactly the sort of thing I'd love to snack on in the afternoon.

Cookin' Canuck

Brilliant. Invariably every week I have leftover brown rice, home pickled carrots and cucumbers, and avocado at hand. I've been wondering what happened with the London trip. I've been wanting to read about our finds there. Do you plan to share?

HS: I do! I'm nearly done with my London map. Sorry it took so long.


I imagine eating these with chopsticks and dipping and wasabi and soy sauce! Thanks for the recipe!


What a perfect recipe as picnic season approaches. I love how versatile it is!

Abby @ Fig & Fork

What a perfect recipe as picnic season approaches. I love how versatile it is!

Abby @ Fig & Fork

Woo Hoo! These look like something I can do! I am a Peace Corps volunteer serving in a rural, Mayan village of Belize. While I most of the time can't control my diet because of the culture and what is available (I have been eating a lot of corns, beans, and unfortunately lard), I look forward to receiving the e-mails of your recipes in the hopes of a healthier lifestyle again. It just so happens that I can get some fresh brown rice in the rice mill the next village over, except that it is long grain. Any tips on how to get it as sticky as the sushi/short grain rice? Even though I was out-of-country, I sent your cookbooks to special ladies as presents. And for my birthday someone sent me a "digital cookbook" of all the PDF files of your online recipes so I could try my hand at them in my little thatch house. My villagers really like the shortbread (except I have to get creative or compromising with most of the ingredients). Anyway, thanks again.


I made these today. I put avocado in them and boy, oh boy, they are really good! I used pistachios instead of almonds. Thank you so much for this and all your other yummy recipes.


Well done on the nomination!! Loving the look of these rice balls!

Anna @ the shady pine

Hello Heidi, You are such an inspiration in my life, thankyou. Just returned from the market with ingredients in hand. Perfect to take to university for lunch tomorrow. Thanks for making food so enjoyable. Eli. Auckland, NZ.

Eli Christy-Munro

Could these be any simpler, more delicious looking, or fabulously healthy? Absolutely wonderful looking food :) Loving your blog as a new reader, btw - simply wonderful!


An even easier way to form the balls is to fill a little bowl with vinegar and water. Wet your hands with this before forming each ball in the palm of your hand. This is the way a Japanese cook taught me.


these look so refreshing and inviting - I will try with a squeeze of lemon juice over them, many thanks for the idea!

Ozlem's Turkish Table

So yummy and healthy of course! loved it!


Heidi, I just wanted to say congratulations on the Beard nom. I look forward to that list every year, and was so excited for you when I saw your name up there! It's well deserved. Thanks again for all that share with us! Your book and your site are both near and dear to my heart.

Linda NYC

As usual your photographs transport to another place. Thanks for sharing these bits of beauty. Might you also be willing to share the source of your cake pan in the picture? The size looks just right for all kinds of things in the kitchen. Looking forward to making the rice ball recipe. Best wishes!


Heidi, I figured this could be your preview of your mention in NY Magazine, since I couldn't figure out how to get you photos so go to my Flickr page. I mean you were called "blogger nonpareil" and I just grinned and grinned when I saw that. I would send you an issue just enlarge this. For those who don't know, it means Heidi has no equal! We knew that!!!

HS: Thanks so much Susann!


I love reading about your adventures. I am looking forward to linking some of your recipes with the vegetables that I will be selling at the farmer's market this summer and also writing about on our farm blog. Thanks for using a variety of vegetables in your recipes.


Heidi: I discovered you online, and have been fixing some of your recipes here and there, but this week got your cookbook. OMG! I read it through in an evening, sticking post-it's on things I wanted to try RIGHT AWAY. So, in our house, it's been a Heidi week! I made the rice casserole, cauliflower and tempeh, the oatcakes and tonight was the biscuits with yogurt. (YUM) So far, we've loved it all! Tomorrow is the eggplant with miso. I just can't stop, you cook like me - and I feel completely empowered to shift things around a tich. So thanks. For great photos, great food, great ideas! You really have inspired me. Namaste', Annah


Hi Heidi! I'm a big fan. You make good-for-you food look and taste so GOOD! I thought you'd want to know, round rice balls are usually served after funerals in Japanese-Hawaiian culture (not sure if this is so in Japan, where serving someone a rounded scoop of rice is seen as an insult for the same reason--this is an offering for the dead). You might want to do the regular triangular onigiri. Maybe you'll have better car luck with pointy rice balls? Just a thought. Thank you for all of your food inspiration! Aloha, Lori


I love reading about your adventures. I am looking forward to linking some of your recipes with the vegetables that I will be selling at the farmer's market this summer and also writing about on our farm blog. Thanks for using a variety of vegetables in your recipes.


Just made a version of these using your recipe and adding a splash of rice vinegar and a few drops of toasted sesame oil (this made shaping & unwrapping very easy). I put a piece of avocado or a dollop of umeboshi paste in the middle (or both). Sprinkled some gomasio & black sesame seeds on top after unwrapping. Tasty and so pretty! Are you ever coming to Santa Barbara, Heidi? Thanks always for your wonderful posts, photos, and the care with which you present your recipes.


I have to tell you, I would freak the *bleep* out if I was stranded on the side of the road in Sri Lanka. Like loooose my mind. Glad you guys got back okay. Great shots. Cool recipe too. I love the avocado inside. Do you think you could deep fry something like this?

Oana from dishchronicles

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