Senbei are Japanese crackers made from glutinous rice flour, also known as sweet rice flour. They are different from Western crackers in that they pack an extra punch of crispiness and taste.
They also come in many flavors (soy sauce, wasabi, dried shrimp, etc), thicknesses and levels of crunchiness. Many of these are savory, but some are sweet. You’ll also see them partially wrapped in nori (seaweed) for an even more *umami flavor.
Senbei are certainly a big part of Japanese food culture. They’re often packaged individually in a bigger container and are fairly inexpensive there. That is not the case in the US. That’s why I learned how to make them here, so I could get that distinct crunchiness here at a fraction of the cost of those at the Asian grocery store.
What you’ll need (for plain senbei—embellish at will):
- About ½ cup cooked white rice
- 1 cup of sweet (glutinous) rice flour (very different from rice flour—don’t use plain rice flour)
- Salt—to taste
- 2.5T vegetable oil
- 5.25T water
Some optional flavors:
- Soy sauce—to be brushed on nearly done senbei
- Little dried shrimp—to be added to the dough (available at your Asian supermarket)
- Sesame seeds—to be sprinkled on top of brushed-on soy sauce
- Wasabi—to be mixed in to the batter
- Furikake—a dry seasoning made primarily for sprinkling on rice. The senbei I made have a lot of furikake in it. Available at Asian stores.
What to do:
- Combine sweet (glutinous) rice flour with the white rice and oil.
- Combine in a food processor until ground up and mixed.
- Slowly add water when the mixer is running.
- When done, turn in to a bowl and knead to ensure that everything’s combined.
- Roll large-marble-size balls.
- Here’s the fun part: between two sheets of plastic, individually smoosh each ball with some kind of flat-bottomed container to the desired thickness.**
- Put the smooshed dough-balls on a metal baking pan. No oil is needed in the pan because it’s already in the senbei.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes, depending on the senbei thickness.
- Flip over and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until done. They will get even more crunchy as they cool.
- If you wish, brush a little soy sauce on each senbei and let them dry in your turned-off oven for 3 minutes.
- Take them out to cool.
Cooked senbei can be stored at room temperature in a sealable container or plastic bag.
* Umami is one of the 5 basic tastes, including sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Umami could best be described as a savory taste, and is key to the good flavor of ripe tomatoes, shellfish, shiitake mushrooms and soy sauce, among others.
** The thicker the senbei, the more tough, crunchy and more difficult to eat. Thinner ones are more like a traditional cracker, while the thick ones can be challenging to bite into and eat.