Thursday, April 22, 2010

Veggie Sushi

Recently, I took a sushi class with my friend Viv at Ta Lin Market (they have a whole series of great classes!) then we got together last weekend to experiment further. So I'll report on the results. In order to keep this post from being incredibly huge, I'll point you to some good resources on the web instead of describing everything myself.  And I'll throw in my favorite spicy tuna recipe in case you also like raw fish.

The best thing is, once you start making sushi yourself, you can try so many different ingredients beyond the standard combinations you find at restaurants. And while I love raw fish, the veggie sushi options at most restaurants are less than thrilling. When you make veggie sushi at home, you can create big, satisfying flavors. And it's so much cheaper than going out!

Here are a few special ingredients I love:

Daikon radish, in two forms: fresh, and pickled (takuan).  Takuan is usually dyed yellow, and it sometimes comes shredded, like this, or sometimes as a whole root! This one also has bonito (dried tuna) flakes added, but you should be able to find it without.  Daikon sprouts (sorry I don't have a picture) are also wonderful, with a fresh, spicy flavor - you often see them in sushi restaurants, and they can be found in Asian markets or sometimes natural foods stores.

Shiso leaf tastes kind of like mint or basil, which is wonderful with cucumber or daikon in rolls. Burdock root (gobo) has a satisfying nutty, earthy flavor. It is quite tough, though, so you have to shred it very finely and cook it fairly well, then it has a pleasant crunchy texture. Here is a recipe for Kinpira Gobo, a wonderful salad which can also be used as a filling for sushi rolls. I would not use the sugar, and be sure to taste the gobo to see if it is tender enough - it probably needs to cook for about 20 minutes.

Enoki mushrooms are another of my favorite Japanese ingredients. Just cut off the very bottom, dirty-looking root portion, then saute them with sesame oil and a tiny dash of soy sauce, or simmer with a little bit of mirin (rice wine), soy sauce and water.

Other wonderful ingredients might include asparagus, sweet potatoes (cut into matchsticks and steamed), shiitake or maitake mushrooms, green onions sliced lengthwise, avocados, carrots and cucumbers cut into thin matchsticks, and beefsteak plant (which can be found pickled and shredded at Asian markets).

Next, of course, you need rice. Sushi rice can be made from any short or medium-grain rice. It should be very sticky, so it helps to wash the rice before cooking it. To make more sushi than four people can eat, we cooked 2 cups of rice with 2 cups of water. While it's cooking, you can make the seasoning - 1/3 cup rice vinegar, 1T sugar, 1t salt. The recipe actually varies across Japan, so start with something like this, and then see if you like it a bit more sweet, salty, or sour. You can also try cooking some kombu (kelp, available in natural foods stores) in with the rice for a nice extra seaweed flavor. When the rice is cooked but still hot, spread it out in a large wood or plastic bowl or tray (NOT metal), drizzle with the seasoned vinegar, then stir and fold the rice with a wooden spoon, fanning it to dry and cool it.  For a lovely illustration of the traditional technique, see http://shizuokagourmet.wordpress.com/sushi-rice-the-recipe/.

Nori, the roasted seaweed you use to wrap the rolls, comes in many brands of widely varying prices. Don't get the cheapest ones, because they tend to fall apart. Stick with something that costs at least $2.20 for 10 sheets. You can often get nori at natural foods co-ops, but they'll usually only have one brand.

When you're ready to roll, you'll want to keep a bowl of water nearby, so you can wet your hands before handling the rice. Otherwise, you can't get it off your fingers! Lay out the nori sheet with the long side toward you. Use a good size handful of rice per roll, and be sure to spread it to about 1/4" from the edges of the nori, very gently so that you don't squish the grains of rice. It's easiest to roll away from yourself, something I tend to forget. Here is a great illustration of the rolling technique: http://sushinow.com/rolling.htm. It's easiest to cut the rolls with a serrated knife, sawing gently back and forth.

And here is the final result:

On the right is the Kinpira Gobo. At the top are pickled daikon and seaweed salad. On the plate, the roll in the front has enoki mushrooms with green onion and red pickled ginger. Just behind that are rolls with pickled daikon, shiso leaves, and fresh daikon cut into thin matchsticks. To the left of those is the spicy tuna roll (inside-out!) with daikon sprouts. On the far left is another inside-out roll with ahi and cucumber inside, tobiko (flying fish roe) and avocado on the outside.

Oh, and for the finishing touches - pickled ginger and wasabi are available at Asian markets and natural foods stores. Powdered wasabi that you mix with water at home is better than the pre-made paste.

Here are some sites with excellent ideas for veggie sushi:
http://www.marisabaggett.com/vegan-sushi/
http://shizuokasushi.wordpress.com/vegetarian-sushi-1/
http://shizuokasushi.wordpress.com/vegan-sushi-recipe-suggestions-1/

And if you're ever looking for amazing veggie sushi in San Francisco/ Berkeley, Cha-Ya has a huge, completely vegan menu!

The Best Spicy Tuna Recipe
1/2 pound sashimi-grade tuna (ask at the fish counter to make sure it's ok for sushi - Ta Lin has it fresh or frozen), cubed
2 Tbs sesame oil
1 Tbs sesame seeds
1-2 Tbs mayonnaise
2-3 chopped green onions
Sriracha sauce or red chile powder to taste
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