Sushi is the kind of recipe used to terrify new cooks with the complexities of cooking. Recipes call for strangely obscure ingredients and insist that one *cannot* properly make sushi without a specific type of bamboo cutting board for rolling it. Sushi is mysterious and vaguely associated with raw fish and food poisoning and something that one should not even dare attempt without proper training.
In reality, the sushi we’re familiar with is a variation on the japanese version of a sandwich. The simplest version is a rice ball formed around meat, vegetables, or random leftovers, and is the typical lunch of a Japanese blue collar worker. The nori rolled version is a bit fancier, but still not as terrifying as everyone makes it out to be.
You do need a few distinctive ingredients, but they needn’t all be obscure and terrifying. Let’s go over the basics:
Nori sheets: A nutrient dense seaweed used to hold the sushi together. Very good for you, and with a fairly mild flavor, it is very much worth keeping around for its health benefits. Raw nori is, of course, much touted for it’s extra health benefits, but does tend to be a bit chewier, so you may choose roasted nori sheets for better texture.
Rice: You can use white or brown rice, and it doesn’t have to be any special sushi variety, but it MUST be short grain to stick together properly. (I use brown rice, soaked overnight to improve the texture and flavor.) The rice is cooked with vinegar, salt and sweetener for proper sushi flavor.
Meat: I prefer to use canned crab meat as a traditional style meat. (Imitation crab is cheaper, but laden with chemicals, and fresher crab seems to me have a stranger flavor.) However, remembering that sushi is essentially a type of sandwich, you can feel free to use any type of meat you might use in a sandwich, such as chicken salad, ham or turkey (for an americanized sushi) or for a more traditional sushi, shrimp, smoked salmon or probably even a canned salmon or canned tuna.
Vegetables: I’m a bit hazy on which vegetables are appropriate for traditional japanese sushi, but some general possibilities are celery (matchsticks), carrots (shaved, or sliced thin), cucumber (matchsticks, or sliced very thin), sprouts, spinach (blanched, possibly dressed with vinegar or other seasoning), mushrooms (chopped or sliced thin), apples (matchsticks), bell peppers (sliced thin), bamboo shoots, avocado (sliced thin), and green onions (especially the tops).
Extras: Traditionally, one might include things like pickled ginger and wasabi in one’s sushi experience, though I’m a bit vague one whether they should be included in the sushi fillings or used as dipping sauce and topping. Americanized extras would include cream cheese, mozzerella or cheddar, peanut butter (I ran across this idea elsewhere, it fit’s with the idea that it’s just a sandwich, but I have to admit I’m a little weirded out by the idea of peanut butter in my sushi.) and possibly scrambled eggs
Sauces: Traditionally, wasabi and soy sauce (or this ‘soyless sauce‘) might be used as dipping sauces for the sushi. I made a highly americanized version of one spicy sushi sauce by mixing a bit of hot sauce into mayonnaise. Also pickled ginger (which I just recently realized wouldn’t be hard to make) is traditionally used as a sushi condiment.
Healthiness Rating: Healthy
Nori is exceptionally nutritious, and making your own sushi you can choose rice, sweetener and other ingredients as healthy as you like. The brown rice, seafood (or other healthy meat) and veggie sushi I make, dressed with apple cider vinegar and turbinado sugar is not only healthy, but nearing superfood status.
Yumminess Rating: Yummy
Any time my husband is raving about eating brown rice, vegetables and a super food such as nori, even with a bit of meat thrown in, I figure this is a meal that should be repeated as often as possible. Naturally, you can customize the fillings to your taste, but there’s something about the small slices of food rolled in flavorful sushi rice that makes them more palatable than you might expect. I normally don’t like cucumber or celery, but in sushi they just add a nice crunch. My husband isn’t a huge fan of avocado, but quite enjoys sushi made with it.
(makes about 12 pieces or one to two servings, depending on whether it’s served as an entree)
1 1/2 cups of dry brown rice (I recommend soaking it the night before)
3 TBSP apple cider vinegar (or rice vinegar for a more traditional flavor)
3 TBSP turbinado sugar
1 1/8 tsp sea salt
3 cups water
2 sheets of nori
3-4 kinds of veggies, cut in matchsticks or sliced very thin
meat, fish or crab (technically optional, but really, why make vegetarian sushi?)
1-2 extras (optional)
avocado slices, cucumber, crab, cream cheese
green apple, ham, mozzerella
carrot, green onion, salmon
Cook rice with water, sugar, salt and vinegar. Let cool to room temperature.
Set nori rough side up on a bamboo sushi board or countertop. Moisten hands, take a handful of rice and spread it thinly across the sheet of nori. Leave some space along the edges for ‘overflow’.
Add fillings along one edge, remembering not to be so extravagant with the fillings that they make your sushi too fat, or leak out the edge.
Dry hand carefully before touching the nori. Fold the edge of the nori slightly over the fillings, then carefully begin rolling the sushi into a tight roll. (See video for more details.)
Slice into pieces about an inch thick, or whatever thickness you like your sushi.
Serve with dipping sauces of choice.