I first tasted these rice balls when my friend Jana brought a big batch over for my family, right after my son was born. With them, she brought a brand new jar of chutney. When I returned the unused portion, she could not believe how much was left-she said she and her sons go through a whole jar with the rice balls!
They were delicious. When I asked her about the provenance of the recipe, she said she was recreating them from a local restaurant, Brumby’s. I never had them at Brumby’s, so I’ve no idea if the chutney was part of the experience there, or if it was Jana’s brilliant innovation.
In searching around for a similar recipe, I could find nothing that really nails it, just approximations. There are some recipes for “Cheesy Rice Balls,” and “Italian Rice Balls,” but none I found have all the elements of Jana’s rice balls. Actually, the rice balls I make now, and the recipe here isn’t really even hers, I never asked her for the recipe; I just recreated hers, the way she recreated Brumby’s.
It’s pretty unorthodox, and seems to be a fusion of a few ethnic notions. The sticky rice seems Asian, the cheese and breadcrumbs immigrant Italian, and of course, the chutney, Indian. Altogether, it just works, and is a great, vegetarian main course, that can easily be amended for vegans, by substituting vegan cheese , or even cooked, seasoned chunks of tofu, broccoli, or anything else.
I know, you’re thinking, “cheese and chutney?” Trust me. Below are the ingredients, directions, and notes for making Ethnic Fusion Rice Balls.
2 ½ cups uncooked ‘sticky’ rice
Bread crumbs, very finely ground, and generously seasoned
Cheese cubes, cut into ½-1 inch cubes
Olive oil, several tablespoons
Seasonings for rice
Mango chutney, for serving.
Cook the rice in a rice cooker or other method, and let stand, uncovered, until cool enough to handle, but still warm. While the rice is cooking, cut the cheese into cubes, ½ in., to 1 inch, depending on how large, and/or how cheesy you’d like the rice balls.
Season 1 cup of breadcrumbs, and place in a wide, shallow bowl. In a large, deep, flat-bottomed (not a wok, for example) sauté pan, pour a couple tablespoons of olive oil, coating the bottom evenly.
When the rice has cooled properly, salt and season to taste. Take about ¾ cup (or, a handful) and place in your palm. Put a cheese cube into the center, and place another ¾ cup of rice over it. Form the rice into a compact, sturdy ball, pressing tightly.
Place the rice ball into the bowl of breadcrumbs, rolling it, and sprinkling it with the crumbs, so the entire ball is evenly and well coated. Place the coated rice ball into the sauté pan. Continue until all the rice is used. You should have 6-8 large, orange/grapefruit sized rice balls.
Turn on medium heat, and sauté the rice balls until browned, turning them gently with a spatula, and adding more oil as necessary.
Serve with generous portions of chutney as a condiment.
I’ve found that milder, common cheeses work best. Cheeses like muenster, Swiss, mild cheddar, mozzarella and Colby don’t clash with the pungent chuntney like stronger cheeses such as Roquefort or sharp cheddar would.
Also, it’s important to pick a fairly firm cheese, so it doesn’t melt too much or quickly in the sauté process. A soft cheese like brie or even a medium soft one like Fontina, would probably become too liquidized too quickly, and end up leaking through the rice.
Some of the recipes for rice balls I found online call for a coating of egg or egg whites before rolling in the breadcrumbs. Although there’s no reason you couldn’t do this, there is no need-the rice is sticky enough to hold the breadcrumbs without help. Most asian rices will work as sticky rice–they just need to be rather glutinous, and unrinsed after cooking. Jasmine, basmati, even sushi rice will work.
A note, about the sautéing: resist browning until crisp; the moisture of the rice makes this difficult anyway, and the rice balls begin to collapse and fall apart if cooked too long. The main point of the sautéing is to very lightly brown the breadcrumbs, and induce enough heat throughout the ball so that the cheese melts.
A final note about chutney: if you are unfamiliar with chutney, it can be found in the Asian or natural foods section of mainstream grocery stores. Good brands are Stonewall Kitchen, and my favorite-Patak’s Hot Mango Chutney.