Monday, March 31, 2008

Vegetarian Sushi Basics

Vegetarian sushi? Many people are perplexed by this idea. After all, most Westerners think that sushi means "raw fish" (confusing it with sashimi), so it's little surprise that vegetarian sushi seems like an anomaly.

But vegetarian sushi is not only possible, it's downright delicious! With a little creativity (and a little help from The Veggie Guy), you can create all sorts of variations of vegetarian sushi that will satisfy your palette and impress your friends.

In this post, though, we'll start with the basics. The idea of rolling your own sushi might seem daunting (ok, downright terrifying), but with the right tools, a little patience, and a generous supply of sake, it's really not that difficult.

This post will cover nori rolled sushi, which most Westerners are familiar with. Down the road, I'll get into some of the other types of sushis. When I think you're ready, that is.

(Okay, when I can do it myself without creating a huge mess. How's that for transparency?)

Now, fair warning: Although making sushi is not terribly labor intensive, it takes a long time. There's a lot of "do this, then set it aside for an hour and go take a jog" steps. So it damned sure doesn't make the coveted "under 30 minutes" category. No way.

But it's worth it.

So lets start with the supplies you'll need, and how to make a basic sushi roll.

What you'll need:

  • A bamboo rolling mat, or makisu
  • A bowl of water with a bit of rice vinegar
  • Roasted nori seaweed (comes in square or rectangular sheets)
  • 2 cups sushi rice or other short grain white rice
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Preparing the sushi rice:

Rinse the rice in a medium bowl. Drain and set aside for 1 hour. This is very important, because the rice will be downright unruly later if you omit this step. (I'm serious. I tried to skip this step once and ended up inventing a few new expletives before all was said and done. Just don't do it.)

Cook rice in a rice cooker according to package directions. I pour 2 1/2 cups of water into the rice bowl, and 2 cups of water into the steamer.

Stir vinegar, salt, and sugar together in a microwave safe bowl. Heat in microwave until the mixture begins to boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

When rice have finished cooking, let sit for 5 minutes. Transfer to a large glass or wooden bowl. Mix gently with a wooden spoon to separate the grains.

Pour vinegar mixture over the rice and stir until all grains are coated. Use a newspaper or fan to cool the rice as you mix it. Let set for at least 1 hour at room temperature (don't refrigerate. Your rice will harden and your sushi will suck.)

What to do:

  • Lay the makisu flat on the counter.
  • Place a nori sheet shiny side down on the makisu.
  • Wet hands in water/vinegar. Spread a thin, even layer of rice over the nori sheet, leaving 1/4 inch along the edges uncovered.
  • Arrange vegetables we'll talk about this later) in the center of the rice layer.
  • Use the mat as a guide to roll the nori, rice, and vegetables into a tight roll. (Tip from the Idiot Veggie Guy - make sure the edge of the mat doesn't get rolled up in the sushi roll. It doesn't work out so well.)
  • I wet the nori on the far side of the roll so it will stick. Other people think this is weird. But it keeps my sushi from falling apart. That's just how I roll. (Get it? Roll... sushi... bwaha..ha ha.. *sigh* Eh.)
  • Press lightly onthe roll to compress the ingredients. Remove roll from bamboo mat.
  • Cut crosswise into 8 pieces.

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