11 March 2010

Vegetarian Sushi

Do you ever talk about doing something, but never end up actually doing it? Making my own sushi was one of those things – until last weekend. Once we had agreed on a day for our homemade sushi dinner, I planned for it obsessively. I dreamed up possible fillings, I perused cookbooks, and I watched more than a few instructional videos on Youtube. And now I bring what I learned to you!

Sushi takes a lot of preparation, but it is ultimately pretty simple to prepare. The rice is probably the trickiest thing to get right, but as long as you follow the directions you probably won't run into any problems. And all the chopping and prepping is worth it for a food that is beautiful, delicious, and impressive.

First, the rice:
Rice for sushi must be short-grain; I used short-grain brown rice. I've read that brown rice is more difficult to work with for sushi because it doesn't get as sticky, but I didn't have any trouble. Whatever kind you choose, cook it according to its instructions.

When the rice is done, carefully scoop it out into a shallow glass bowl or casserole dish (or an unfinished wooden sushi bowl, if you have one). Metal bowls will cool off the rice too quickly, so don't use one of those. Prepare a mixture of rice wine vinegar, sugar, and salt. The Sushi Lover's Cookbook recommends using 5 tablespoons of vinegar, 2 tbs of sugar and 1 ½ tbs of salt for 1 cup of uncooked rice. Sprinkle the vinegar mixture over the rice, then use a gentle folding motion to make sure all the rice is coated. Be careful not to mush the rice. If you want to be very proper, fan the rice with a plate or fan while stirring to help the rice cool off a little faster. Cover with a damp cloth and let it cool to room temperature. Sushi rice should not be refrigerated, as this will dry out the grains and keep it from sticking together.

Second, the fillings:
Most of the fillings for sushi can be prepared ahead of time. You can put anything you want in sushi! Here is what I used:

avocado, cut into slivers
sweet potato, cut into ½ inch sticks and steamed
asparagus, steamed
black trumpet mushrooms, sauteed in butter
tofu, dry-fried and marinated
cucumber, cut into ¼ inch sticks
pickled burdock

Third, assembly:
Organization is key here! Place a sushi mat on a clean board in front of you, smooth side up. Within easy reach you should have: your dish of prepared sushi rice, a tray with all your fillings laid out, a bowl of water with a little vinegar, your sharpest knife, a damp cloth, and sheets of nori.

Place one sheet of nori on the sushi mate, rough side up. Wet your hands and spread a handful of rice onto the nori in a thin layer. The rice should go right to the edges of the nori, but leave a small edge at the top – this will help the roll stick together. Choose a combination of fillings for your roll. Two or three ingredients is usually a good bet, but you can use whatever you want. Lay your fillings out in a horizontal row across the middle of the rice. Dab a little water on that empty edge of nori, then use the rolling mat to roll up the sushi. Be gentle but firm! Give the roll a little squeeze once it's rolled up, then remove the rolling mat. You should have a lovely sushi roll. Use your sharpest knife to slice it into eight pieces, using the damp cloth to wipe off the blade between cuts. Place your sushi on a dish and serve!

Last, serving the sushi:
We had a very casual approach to sushi – the serving dish was a small cutting board, and we all just ate off of that instead of getting a bunch of plates dirty. But nice presentation is one of the great things about sushi, so go all out with the platters and pretty arrangements if you are so inclined. Serve with soy sauce and wasabi, and ideally have a small dish for each person so everyone can have their own level of spiciness. Pickled ginger makes a nice palate cleanser. Eat with chopsticks or fingers. I don't have any pictures because I was too excited about eating the sushi! Om nom nom!

Making sushi was a smooth and easy process, because I became obsessed and did a lot of research. Heidi got The Sushi Lover's Cookbook by Yumi Umemura from the library, and I really liked its clear instructions and colorful photos. It also had recipes for many different kinds of sushi – the rolls most of us think of are only one of many varieties! I also learned a lot from watching lots of videos on Youtube – these were my favorites:

Food Safari
- A straightforward instructional from an Australian cooking show
Alton Brown on sushi, with all his usual nerdy food insights
Hippie Gourmet Makes Veggie Sushi – for some reason this was very amusing to me
Cooking with Dog - part of a series of Japanese cooking videos, very informative and hilarious


  1. metal bowls also react with the vinegar and can impart a rather metallic aftertaste to the rice. i found THAT out the hard way.

  2. I've never had sushi from brown rice... hmm, maybe next time.

    I admit, I would have been lost about making sushi if it weren't for Ludette's being there. And we, too, had a stack of plates to put them on, but everyone just grabbed them as we cut them. :)

    Good to have instructions for the rice for when I don't have a handy Ludette around to take over!