Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Vegan Sushi: A Recipe-less Recipe

I was a college freshman before I ever tried sushi. It was during a trip to the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe to listen to a slam poetry competition, which clearly required sustenance. (Or so I was told. I had never been to a slam poetry competition or eaten sushi. It was a big night for me.) The sushi place was located beneath a clothing store, and once we ducked inside I saw that the room was long and narrow with warm, red lighting. I had always assumed sushi was limited to raw fish and wondering what a vegetarian could possibly eat in such a place, and I was surprised and excited to see things like avocado rolls, miso soup and edamame on the menu. Oh, and sake. Lots and lots of sake!

Here in Nacogdoches, I'm lucky to have a decent sushi place at my disposal. It may be located in a strip mall instead of the Lower East Side, and there are no poet's cafes within a 200 mile radius, but that's okay. The avocado rolls, miso soup and edamame are just as delicious, whether they're eaten in New York City or Deep East Texas. They're also just as expensive. Which is why I started making my own sushi rolls at home.

As I mentioned in the title of this post, this a recipe-less recipe. What does that mean? Well, it means that I don't follow any directions, consult my massive shelf of cookbooks, or blog-stalk for detailed how-to's. I just kind of wing it. And while my rolls aren't as pretty as the ones at a restaurant, they're good enough to satisfy even the most intense sushi craving. If you've never made sushi at home before, do not be afraid! It's easier than it looks and definitely worth the effort. 

You will need: 
3 cups of rice, cooked and cooled.
2 cucumbers, peeled and cut into thin slices (matchstick style)
2 carrots, same as the cukes
2 avocados, same as the cukes and carrots
1 bunch asparagus, blanched
toasted sesame seeds
1-3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar, depending on your taste
A package of nori (seaweed paper for wrapping your rolls)

This is my system. I'm fairly certain it's not authentic or traditional, but it's fast, easy and yummy. Go with it!

Once the ingredients are assembled, mix the rice vinegar with the rice until incorporated. Lay out a sheet of nori on a cutting board. Spread rice on the nori - about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch high. Then, lay vegetables on the rice. I stack the veggies on one long end of the sheet - it makes it easier to roll. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and then roll the sushi!

Now, a lot of people use a fancy bamboo sushi roller, and that's great, but personally I do just fine without another kitchen gadget taking up precious real estate in my cupboards. I use my hands and tuck, roll, squeeze and seal my way to sushi heaven. (A neat trick is to put a little bit of water on the end of the nori paper - it helps it stick and seal the roll.) While my sushi rolls aren't as tight and perfect as others, they (hardly ever) fall apart and look pretty enough to put on a table at a party.

And that's the basic idea! You can play around with the fillings all you want - change up the veggies, the seasonings, even the grain - but the basic idea remains the same. Fill, roll, eat. Sushi heaven.

(I was about to make a joke about how my next project will be recreating the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe in Nacogdoches, when I realized I sort of already have with the Literary Reading Series. If you don't have it, make it!)