Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chinese Mushroom Risotto Balls with Cucumber Relish

I’m a little in love with these balls. This is one of those dishes which makes you look down in satisfaction and think, ‘wow, I cooked that!’  It was designed to win over vegetarians and carnivores alike. The balls are hearty and tasty enough to stop meat eaters asking where the protein is, and delicate enough to show vegetarians that you’ve put time and love into their meal.

While many parts of India are a vegetarian’s paradise, South East Asian food can be tricky for veggies. I’ve noticed that certainly in Thailand people are staunch carnivores and even dishes which seem to be vegetarian can hide shrimp paste, fish sauce or even minced pork.  Making vegetarian food with love is important to me. Veggies often get a raw deal…which is doubly unfair given that many of them are foodies. As a former veggie, my plea is this. If you have vegetarian guests over for dinner, please take the trouble to make them feel as welcome and well-catered for as your meat-eating guests. And if you serve them this dish, I guarantee they will feel exactly that.

Risotto balls are obviously traditionally an Italian dish, usually filled with some sort of cheese and meat combination. But the leap to Asian flavours didn’t seem too great because the rice reminds me a little of the sticky rice you find in Thailand or Japanese sushi rice. The filing is a simplified version of Ken Hom’s spicy stir-fried mushroom recipe. The acidity of the cucumber relish contrasts with the heaviness of the rice. You can either serve this as a starter or as a main with a simple side salad.

Time: 1hr 20 mins (excluding chilling time)
Rating: A little effort. This is quite a delicate dish and requires a bit of concentration and effort to get the presentation right. You can save time by making the rice and filling in advance (even the night before).
Serves: 3-4 people as a starter or 2-3 people as a main


For the risotto balls:
500 ml vegetable stock
1 shallot
1 tbsp sesame oil
125g g risotto rice
2 eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g breadcrumbs
50g sesame seeds (optional – a nice touch but don’t worry if you can’t find them)
Vegetable oil for frying

For the filling:
150g mushrooms (mixed, preferably including shitake as these have a great flavour)
1 clove garlic
2cm knob of fresh ginger
2 spring onions
1 tbs vegetable oil
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp white vinegar (prefably rice vinegar)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp sesame oil

For the relish:
Half a cucumber
1 medium red chilli, halved, deseeded and finely chopped
1 shallot, very finely sliced
4 tbsp rice vinegar, or Mirin
3 tbsp water
3.5 tsp caster sugar
good pinch salt


1.      The first step is to make a basic risotto. You’re not going to put many ingredients or flavours into the risotto itself because that will come in the filling so this isn’t very complicated at all.  Bring the stock to the boil and set aside. It’s always nicer to use fresh stock but a stock cube will be fine otherwise. Next finely chop the shallot. Then heat the sesame oil in a medium-sized pan, add the rice and shallots  and cook gently for about 2 minutes until the rice begins to look translucent. Add a ladle or large spoonful of the stock to the rice and simmer over a medium heat, stirring constantly until all the stock is absorbed. Add another ladleful of stock and continue this process until the rice is tender and creamy but still a little al dente. This should take about 20-25 minutes. Take the pan off the heat.
2.      Next separate the egg. Keep the white to one side in the fridge (you’ll use it later) and stir the yolk into the risotto. Season with salt and pepper. Then transfer the risotto to a large plate or flat dish, making sure it is evenly spread out , but don’t press down too hard on the rice; you want it to keep its shape. Cover with foil or cling film and leave to cool for a couple of hours at room temperature, or chill in the fridge for 30mins if you’re pressed for time.
3.      While the rice is cooling, make the filling. Finely chop the garlic, ginger and spring onions and set aside. Next chop the mushrooms into chunks about 5mm in size. Then prepare the sauce. Put all the liquid ingredients except for the sesame oil in a cup and add the sugar. Put it to one side, you’ll need it in just a moment.  Heat the vegetable oil in a pan or wok until hot, then add the garlic, ginger, spring onions and chilli flakes. Cook for about 30 seconds and then add the mushrooms. Cook for another 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Then pour over the ingredients in the cup and continue to stir-fry for about 4 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft. Turn off the heat and add the sesame oil, stirring through. Put the mushroom mixture in a dish and leave to cool as well.
4.      While everything else is cooling, you can make the relish. It’s good to make this in advance because this will soften the cucumber and take some of the bite out of the chillies and shallots. Firstly put the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and gently heat until the sugar and salt has fully dissolved. Take off the heat and allow to cool. Meanwhile, peel the cucumber and cut in half and then quarters lengthways. Remove the seeds and chop into small pieces about 5mm wide and place in a bowl. Then finely chop the chilli and shallot and add to the cucumber. Pour over the cooled liquid and leave the relish to settle.
5.      Next get everything ready to assemble the balls. Start by making your breadcrumbs by whizzing up sliced bread (brown but not wholegrain) in a food processor or chopping very finely with a good knife. Place on a plate or in a large bowl Next crack another egg into the egg white from earlier and beat.  Lastly spread the sesame seeds (if using) out on a small plate.
6.      Now for the fun part – assembling the balls. With damp hands, take about 30 or 40g of the chilled rice into the palm of your hand and mould into a cup shape. Gently spoon 2 teaspoons of the mushroom mixture into the middle of the rice and close the rice around the filling, adding additional rice if necessary to cover any gaps. Gently roll the ball with your hands to neaten them. Place the ball on a plate or tray and repeat, using the remainder of the rice and filling. This should make 6-8 balls depending on how big you make them. If you want to be sure to have evenly sized balls, divide the rice up before you start making the balls. Make sure after each ball that you dampen your hand again as this will stop the rice from sticking to you and make for a neater ball.
7.      At this point, start heating the oil ready to shallow fry the balls. Pour vegetable oil into a medium-sized pan about 1cm deep and turn on the hob to a medium heat. While the oil is heating, finish off the balls. Dip a ball firstly in the egg, then gently roll in the breadcrumbs and then in the sesame seeds. Repeat for all the balls, making sure they are evenly covered.
8.      By this point the oil should be hot enough, but you can test it by dropping in a couple of breadcrumbs – they should sizzle if the oil is ready. Gently place the balls into the oil – it’s probably best to cook them in batches so you have plenty of room to turn then. After about a minute, turn the balls over to brown the other side. Repeat this a few times to make sure the balls are cooked evenly all over. They should take about 6-7 minutes. Once the balls are nicely browned all over remove from the pan and place on some kitchen roll to remove some of the excess oil.
9.      Serve immediately with the cucumber relish. As a starter 2 balls are ample. For a main course, serve 3 balls with a side salad.


  1. Being a total risotto-holic, I love this! Have always wanted to make risotto balls but have never tried but I think I should. I love the Asian accent here too! You're definitely right about the challenges of being a vegetarian in Thailand (I am discovering this having recently moved to Bangkok), though there are definitely tougher places in the world for us veggies. Anyway, thanks for the recipe and I look forward to following your blog!

  2. Thanks so much for the comment - and welcome to Bangkok! I'll let you know if I uncover any veggie delights in the city. One great spot for veggies (and also non-veggies) is Seven Spoons - they do the cocktails on my blog. Best veggie food I've eaten in Bangkok. Looking forward to sharing with you x