Friday, January 4, 2013

Sushi Party!

My room mates and I love to have sushi night once in a while, and it always turns into an occasion. It is such an involved, hands-on process that it is impossible not to be a fun and entertaining evening.

Any time we at a restaurant and have an opportunity to order sushi, we do, but it gets very expensive very quickly. Not to mention that it is quite hard to find sushi that is completely vegan! Even if it doesn't have fish, it usually has cream cheese or a mayo sauce or something like that. The best solution to these issues is to make it at home.

Sushi making is both an art and a science that I am still working on perfecting. I'll try my best to share what tips and tricks I've been able to figure out thus far. The website has helped me to come a long way.

You'll need to start with the rice, and this is the most important part. In the international section at the grocery store, you should be able to find sushi grade rice. Get either this or a medium to short grain white rice--don't be tempted to use the long grain that you've probably got on hand. Follow the cooking directions on the bag, and be careful not to let it brown on the bottom. In a pot on the stove, dissolve 1/2 rice wine vinegar, 1/2 white sugar, and 1/4 salt. Pour over hot, cooked rice and gently work with a plastic or wooden spatula to help it cool to room temperature.

Sticky, seasoned sushi rice.

Another important part is the sushi wrapper, a type of toasted seaweed called nori. I don't know much about brands, but get something that looked nice. I picked up terrible looking package (which I am pretty sure was about a decade old and it didn't have an expiration date for me to check) that was all in Japanese from a small Asian grocer, and it tasted terrible. I got a nice, new looking package with English instructions and bright colors and it tasted just fine. Trust your gut.

Finally, you'll need some fillings. I always have cucumber, green onion, and avocado. Make sure the avocado is fairly soft. I often also use carrot, bell peppers, lettuce, spinach, bean sprouts, and a Japanese radish called a daikon. I bet mushrooms and zucchini would also be great, and I've heard good things about plum sauce. This is the time to experiment and have fun. There is a sushi bar in Fredericksburg, VA that even serves up sushi with fruit filling. Go crazy! Also, this is a great opportunity to break out that dusty old mandolin with all those nifty attachments!

Vegan fillings!

Cucumber strips.
Fine slice attachment for the mandolin. I use the normal slice setting for cucumbers.

Julienned carrots.
A Japanese daikon radish. You can find it at Asian markets and large grocery stores.
I grated this one. They don't have a lot of flavor but they are good fillers.

Carla gnawed the rest of the avocado off of the pit.

Now that you've gotten everything prepped and ready, get out your sushi mat. It is essential to wrap it neatly in plastic wrap--I learned the hard way that there is no way to properly clean a dirty mat. Begin by laying a piece of nori on the bamboo mat, shiny side down, with the edge of the seaweed touching the edge of the mat closest to you.
I had a hard time rolling the first time because my seaweed wasn't scooted down to the edge of the mat closest to me. I also didn't wrap my mat in plastic and I should have turned the nori so that the lines matched up with the mat. Oopse!

Next, add the rice. You can use your fingers or a wooden/plastic spoon. Put a small heap of rice in the center of the nori and then begin spreading it outward. The layer should be very thin--you'll be sorry when it is time to roll if you are too liberal with the rice here. The layer should be thin enough the you can see the nori through the rice. Make sure it spreads all the way out to every edge except the one farthest from you--that edge should have about an inch left bare.

You can see that some of my rice got a little toasty at the bottom. Not good! Oh well--it still tasted alright and I learned for the next time to watch it closer. You can also see that my rice didn't go all the way out to the edges, which meant I had to discard the ends later.

Now it is time to fill it up! Start layering fillings on the edge closest to you. Don't go too wild here, or else you won't be able to roll it. Make sure these go all the way out to the ends too.

The is about the fullest the sushi should get. This turned into a big roll.

Here comes the hardest part: rolling the sushi. Slip your thumbs underneath the edge of the mat closest to you. Use your other fingers to tuck the vegetables in place while you roll the mat over top of the fillings. When the outside edge of the nori reaches the rice layer, slide the mat forward so it isn't trapped in the sushi and press firmly. Continue to roll forward until the entire sheet is rolled. Press the sushi log with your hands firmly to seal it and shape it. Unroll the mat and behold the beauty! This takes a few tries to get right, so don't be disappointed if it is a mess the first few times. Take a very sharp knife and slice it (half an inch to an inch thick, depending on how wide the roll is), wetting the blade with water between every cut.

Gorgeous! Makes me hungry just blogging about it...

My favorite part of sushi is the toppings. I usually do sesame seeds and sliced green onions, but I also enjoy spicy mayo. Just mix up vegan mayo, chili paste (like sriracha), chili powder, and/or roasted chili oil until it tastes right. You can also try ponzu sauce, teriyaki sauce, or make your own garlic-ginger-soy sauce. This is one area that I will definitely be playing with in the future.

I hope that this post has inspired you to get inventive and have fun creating delicious vegan sushi of your own. Let me know what you come up with!

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