ONIGIRAZU (SUSHI SANDWICH)

Onigirazu (also known as sushi sandwich) is a perfect meal or snack. It’s easy to make, and easy to take with you on-the-go. This recipe is vegan, naturally gluten-free, and made with tempeh (or tofu), spinach, pickled red cabbage, and carrots.

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If you are a fan of Japanese food, but find it intimidating to make sushi, this recipe is one to try. This onigirazu sushi sandwich recipe is much easier to make than any other sushi roll.

The fact that I love this recipe might be a biased opinion as I love sushi. In the past year, I have developed a love for anything Japanese. It started with Japanese books and then Japanese cookbooks. When a recipe is so easy to make and so delicious, it easily becomes a recipe I will return to over and over again.

WHAT IS ONIGIRAZU?

Onigirazu comes from the word onigiri (rice ball). Nigiru means to mold (rice) in one’s hands. It also comes from the word nigirazu, and razu means to not mold rice in the hand. Putting these words together onigirazu means a rice ball that does not need to be molded in one’s hands. 

Onigirazu is also known as a sushi sandwich. It has nothing to do with a typical (bread) sandwich. I think that if you don’t speak Japanese, it’s easier to call it sushi sandwich, instead of onigirazu.

Onigirazu is a sort of Japanese rice ball, which is better known as onigiri or musubi. Instead of the traditional onigiri ball or triangle, onigirazu is shaped into a flat rectangle, resembling a sandwich when cut in half. 

The outside of onigirazu is seaweed only, without rice. However, the filling is rice with other ingredients, such as (pickled) vegetables. 

Three Onigirazu Rice Sushi Sandwiches on a white surface in a blue bowl

WHEN DO YOU EAT ONIGIRAZU / SUSHI SANDWICH?

Onigirazu is mostly known as part of a bento meal. A bento (弁当, bentō) is a container (box) of Japanese origin. It contains a single-portion meal for take-out or an at-home prepared meal for on-the-go, or lunch at work.

While you can eat onigirazu any time of the day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack), it is most popular to be enjoyed for lunch (as part of a bento lunch).

As a complete newbie to vegan Japanese cooking, I find onigirazu the perfect lunch or snack. Especially on a hot summer day when it’s just too warm to cook, but I do feel like eating more than just a salad, this recipe is perfect.

There are similar Japanese bento recipes, such as onigiri. But I find onigirazu to be perfect in terms of size, flavor, and all the possible variations. An onigirazu sushi sandwich is satiating, but also light, nutritious, versatile, and delicious. 

Ingredients for Onigirazu Rice Sushi Sandwiches on a white surface in small bowls

HOW TO MAKE ONIGIRAZU / SUSHI SANDWICH

Although there are plenty of variations with this recipe, there are two basic ingredients you will need: sushi rice and nori sheets. Normally, I will go for any white rice, but short-grain rice (compared to long grain rice) contains, in general, more starch, and this will help create a firm consistency making it easier to form a sandwich.

The rice

After cooking the rice, you can season it. But since I will already be adding soy sauce, mayo, sriracha, and sesame seeds when making the onigirazu, I have not noticed a big difference when I season the rice with sugar and rice vinegar. 

You could mold the rice with a square or circle cup, this will make the forming of the rice easier. But feel free to use your hands.

Marinated tempeh in a white baking sheet on a grey surface
Marinated tempeh in a white baking sheet next to baked tempeh in a white baking sheet

Marinate the tofu or tempeh

I do recommend seasoning the tofu or tempeh since this will be a big part of your onigirazu. After slicing the tofu and tempeh in thin square slices, marinate the tofu or tempeh in tamari / soy sauce, sriracha, maple syrup, and rice vinegar. After that, you can bake it until brown and use it in the onigirazu.

Pick your fillings. This could be anything from the standard cucumber, carrots, and avocado to cabbage, herbs, and radishes. 

Whatever fillings you use, make sure to slice your vegetables as thinly as possible. It will be very hard to mold the onigirazu to a good compact sandwich when your veggies are too chunky. A julienne peeler or mandoline slicer will work well for this.

After that, all you have to do is fold the two tips of the nori together, then do the same with the other two opposite sides. Use a saran wrap to tightly wrap the onigirazu and gently press it into a square or circle. I find that it helps a lot to let the onigirazu rest for a few minutes so the nori can soften a bit, this makes it easier to stay firm and slice in half.

After making this recipe at least a dozen times, I finally can make onigirazu without any plastic. It may take a bit of practice, but it is possible.

Two nori sheet on a grey surface with rice and tempeh and pickled cabbage on it
Nori sheet with onigirazu ingredients on it
Four Onigirazu Rice Sushi Sandwiches on a white surface in a blue bowl with a bowl of rice in the background

VARIATIONS ON ONIGIRAZU / SUSHI SANDWICH

What makes this recipe so great is that it’s easy to modify to whatever you have on hand or prefer in terms of flavor and texture. For this recipe I’m using:

  • Avocado
  • Tempeh
  • Carrots
  • Pickled cabbage
  • Soy sauce
  • Sriracha
  • Vegan mayonnaise
  • Furikake or sesame seeds

But this recipe is also great with:

  • Cucumbers
  • Pickled ginger
  • Radish
  • Other greens or herbs, such as cilantro
  • Tofu

You could almost add anything to this recipe that you like in a regular (bread) sandwich. All you have to do is stack your ingredients between two layers of rice and wrap it in a nori sheet. Condiments like vegan mayo, soy sauce, and sriracha will make this sandwich come together in terms of flavor.

As a sushi fan I can also recommend this sushi recipe with sweet potato.

If you are going to make these delicious onigirazu sushi sandwiches, I would love to see your creations and possible variations on this recipe. Tag #thegreencreator @thegreencreator on Instagram so I can see your sandwiches in action. 

Three Onigirazu Rice Sushi Sandwiches on a white surface in a blue bowl
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Three Onigirazu Rice Sushi Sandwiches on a white surface in a blue bowl

Onigirazu (sushi sandwich)

  • Author: Bianca
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 5
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 2 1x
  • Category: lunch, snack
  • Method: oven and stove top or rice cooker
  • Cuisine: Japanese
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

Onigirazu (also known as sushi sandwich) is a perfect meal or snack. It’s easy to make, and easy to take with you on-the-go. This recipe is vegan, naturally gluten-free, and made with tempeh (or tofu), spinach, pickled red cabbage, and carrots.


Ingredients

Scale

ONIGIRAZU

  • 2 nori sheets
  • about 2 cups of cooked sushi rice*
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • a few baby spinach leaves
  • 4 tbsp red cabbage, thinly sliced and pickled (optional, see below)
  • 1 tsp vegan mayo
  • 1 tsp soy sauce

MARINATED TEMPEH OR TOFU

  • 200 gr tempeh or tofu (pressed)**
  • ¼ cup tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sriracha
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar

QUICK PICKLED RED CABBAGE 

  • 1/4 red cabbage, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sugar or maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

Optional for serving
Furikake or sesame seeds


Instructions

RICE

Rinse the rice under cold water. I normally do this about 4-5 times until the water runs clear. Cook the rice in a rice cooker or on the stove top. Depending on the rice you are using, this takes about 5-6 minutes. When the rice is done, spread it out on a plate so it can cool off. 

TEMPEH/TOFU

Combine the ingredients to marinate the tofu or tempeh. Press the tofu (see notes). Slice the tofu or tempeh in thin slices, about 1/2 centimeter (quarter inch).

In a small bowl combine the tamari or soy sauce, sriracha, maple syrup, and rice vinegar. 

Whisk to combine. Pour the mixture over the tofu or tempeh. Let marinate for 30 minutes and then bake for 10-15 minutes at 180°C /350 °F until golden brown.

PICKLED CABBAGE

With a julienne peeler or mandoline slicer, shred the cabbage. Place the shredded cabbage in a sterilized jar. To sterilize the jar, submerge the jar in boiling water for about 10 minutes.

Place the thinly sliced cabbage, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in the jar. 

Make sure that the cabbage is fully submerged in the pickling liquid. Set aside for 6-8 hours.

FORMING THE ONIGIRAZU

Place a sheet of saran wrap on a clean work surface. On top of the saran wrap place a nori sheet with the shiny side down.

You can keep a small bowl with water on the side, to dip your fingers in so the rice will not stick to your fingers and it can also help to seal the nori sheet when you wrap it. 

Place 1/2 tsp of vegan mayonnaise in the middle of the nori sheet. On top of that place a bit of rice. Form the rice by hand into a square or circle. And drizzle 1/2 tsp of soy sauce on top. Then add the other ingredients (spinach, carrots, tempeh or tofu, pickled cabbage, sriracha) and end with a layer of rice again.

See the photos and video above on how to place the rice and the nori sheet. 

Fold the nori sheet by starting with the right or left corner of the nori sheet and fold that side to the opposite side. Do the same with the other side. Then fold the top or bottom tip of the nori sheet in the opposite direction. You should have a small packet now. If the tips of the nori sheet don’t stay put, wet the tips of your fingers with a bit of water. 

While folding the nori sheet, use the saran wrap to tighten the onigirazu. Press down gently and set aside to rest for about 10 minutes to allow the nori sheet to soften.

Remove the saran wrap and with a sharp knife, cut the onigirazu in half.  Serve or keep in the fridge for later.

Depending on the rice you use and the condiments, in general onigirazu can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.


Notes

*I have successfully made onigirazu with both long-grain and short-grain sushi rice, but also with jasmine rice and basmati rice. If you don’t overcook the rice I think this recipe can also be a success with brown rice.

**A tofu press makes pressing tofu very easy. But you can also press tofu with kitchen towels and a few heavy objects, such as books. Cover the tofu wrapped in paper towels on a plate, with another plate on top, and place the heavy objects on the plate. Drain the excess water and perhaps replace the paper towels when they are soaked. After 1 or 2 times the tofu should be fairly dry. Tofu without the excess water (pressed tofu) allows to absorb flavors much better.

Keywords: sushi, onigirazu, sushi sandwich, lunch, dinner, breakfast, snack, vegan, plantbased, dairyfree, glutenfree

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