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Wasabi-Sesame Rice Cakes with Mascarpone Dip

This recipe from Grains, Rice and Beans by Kevin Graham (Artisan 1995) was inspired by Japanese rice balls or onigiri. Graham uses short-grain Japanese rice (sushi rice) that has a gummier, stickier texture compared with long-grain rice, which is why it is sometimes called sticky rice. I use Japanese partially milled haigamai available at many Asian markets. Or substitute white Japanese short-grain rice.

Wasabi-Sesame Rice Cakes with Mascarpone Dip
Pat Tanumihardja for NPR /

Makes 6 appetizer servings

1 1/2 cups haigamai

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

1 (1.7-ounce) bottle nori furikake (Japanese seaweed and sesame seed rice seasoning, available at Asian markets)

Sesame oil

Mascarpone Dip (recipe below)

Cook rice according to package directions.

In a small pan, heat the vinegar, sugar and salt over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves.

Place the cooked rice into a large mixing bowl and spoon in the seasoned vinegar, mixing well with a flat wooden spoon or spatula until the vinegar is evenly distributed and the rice takes on a sheen. Set aside until the rice is cool enough to handle with your hands.

With wet hands, divide the rice mixture into 12 equal portions. Form each portion into a ball, then press tightly between your hands to form a disc 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter. Set the discs aside on a clean dish. Wet hands often to prevent the rice from sticking to your fingers.

Pour the nori furikake onto a flat plate. Press each rice disk lightly into the mixture, coating each side evenly. Refill the plate as necessary.

Coat the bottom of a nonstick skillet thinly with sesame oil and heat over medium-low heat. Pan-fry the cakes in batches until golden brown on both sides, turning very carefully with a spatula, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. If a cake breaks, carefully shape it back into a disc. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all the cakes are done.

Serve immediately with mascarpone dip.

Mascarpone Dip

1 cup mascarpone cheese

1 tablespoon wasabi paste (or to taste)

2 teaspoons honey

Whirl all the ingredients in a blender until mixed thoroughly, about 1 minute. Serve at room temperature with the wasabi-sesame rice cakes.

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