Friday, July 2, 2010

Sassy Sushi Rice & Lazy Sushi Salad

Just because I don’t eat fish, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the fresh taste of a well wrapped roll chalked full of crisp vegetables and dunked into a muddy swamp of wasabi and soy sauce. What is sushi without the raw fish you might think? Well few of you may know that sushi actually refers to the rice, not the fish – it literally means “seasoned rice.” So there. Seasoned rice is vegan rice and just as important to perfect as any other tuna topped tidbit. With a good batch of rice, you can have just as much fun on sushi night without the guilt of supporting overfishing and/or unsustainable fish farm operations… Sorry had to put in some kind of plug to remind myself of why avoid it.

I came across a great idea for sushi in Vegan Lunch Box, an excellent cookbook containing fun vegan recipes that are mostly kid and picky-eater approved while also maintaining a pretty impressive nutritional profile. Though I love a good sushi happy hour, I have to admit to feeling a little iffy about eating so much nutritionally void white rice. Quality sourdough bread or prefect baked baguettes invoke the same sentiment – so delicious, but not much going on apart from the addictive properties of processed foods. So I set out to make a healthier rice to roll around some seaweed, but doesn’t that almost seem to betray sushi tradition? Absolutely. Real sushi chefs would shake their heads and spit on my alternative. Whatever - they butcher fish, I butcher recipes.

This rice was so good I forgot it was healthy. I like chewier rice, but the texture didn’t even remind me that this was a nutritionally superior version. The trick to any rice intended to be used for sushi is twofold: 1) use the right rice; 2) get the seasoning right. Black, brown or white, the rice you use must be short grain or sticky rice. None of this medium or long grain business – save those for your curries. The seasoning is simple, but you can’t over or under do it. “Seasoning” makes it sound more complicated than it is. The seasoning is simple sugar dissolved in rice vinegar with a tiny pinch of salt poured over warm rice. Using too much will give you gloppy rice, but using too little will give you tasteless rice. So you just have to keep tasting while you make it!

 The wonderful thing about all of these ingredients is the freedom you have to make your own concoctions. Make a maki, make a hand roll, or be lazy and just throw them in a bowl to make a salad like I did for lunch with the leftovers. Use whatever you have on hand or try a fun new ingredient you’ve never tasted before. This is open to any and all preferences to whoever decides to step up to the countertop. Make a night out of it – have some people over and let everyone bring something and choose their own edible destiny for the evening. Just provide some good sake.

A few tips: when you prepare the rice, make sure the vinegar mix is at room temperature before you mix it into the rice, and make sure the rice is still warm. However, the rice must be COOL before actually uniting it with nori. Lightly steam or blanch any vegetable that is super hard in its raw form. And no matter what – no matter how poorly you roll or how sloppy you cut your veggies – always eat it! Never throw away good sushi. That’s the rule.

Sassy Sushi Rice & Lazy Sushi Salad
Makes about 2 cups
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Prep: about 2 hours (with cooling time)


For the Rice
½ c. Brown rice, short grain or sticky variety
2 T. Amaranth
2 T. Red quinoa
2 T. Rice vinegar
¾ tsp. Sugar
½ tsp. Salt

For the Accompaniments
* All of these are optional – be creative.
Pickled radish
Radish sprouts
Summer squash, green or yellow
Sweet potato
* These are a must.
Nori sheets
Seaweed flakes or seasoning (dulse, kelp, bonito, etc…)


For the rice: Bring the rice, amaranth and quinoa to a boil in 1 ½ cups of water. Lower the heat and simmer until rice is tender, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a stainless steel or type of large mixing bowl. While the rice is cooking, mix the vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Heat mixture in microwave in 10 second spurts, stirring in between heat waves until the sugar has dissolved. Let cool to room temperature before mixing into rice. When the vinegar has cooled, stir into rice and mix well. Set rice aside to cool (but do not put in refrigerator.

For vegetables of choice: Cut avocado, carrot, cucumber, radish, squash and sweet potato into 5-6” matchstick pieces. Blanche asparagus, carrots, or sweet potato and plunge in ice water to stop cooking.

To prepare a sushi roll: Lay a sheet of nori, shiny side down, on a bamboo sushi mat. Makes sure to keep your hands moist or wet while handling the rice, as it gets very sticky – keep a small bowl of water in easy reach. Place about ¾ cup sushi rice (more or less to preference) in palm and form into a loose ball. Press the ball all over nori, spreading the rice into one thin layer. At this point, you can either flip the sheet over for an inside out roll or lay your veggies on the rice for a regular roll. Place 3-4 pieces of each desired veggie and a few sprouts on top of rice or nori. Pick up nearest side of the sushi mat and fold nori over the vegetables. Be sure to press the mat both evenly and very tightly as you roll forward, sliding the mat inch by inch as the nori rolls underneath until you’ve reached the end. If you are making an inside out roll, sprinkle the seaweed seasoning on the outside over the rice. If you are making a regular roll, cut the roll into 6-8 pieces and lightly sprinkle seaweed seasoning on top of each piece.

To prepare a lazy sushi salad: place a ½ cup of sushi rice into a serving bowl. Top with desired vegetables as prepared above. Sprinkle with seaweed seasoning, drizzle a little soy sauce on top and finish it off with a generous pinch of sprouts. A dollop of wasabi can be applied as desired.

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