Today I woke up and I wanted sushi.
Correction. Last night I really wanted sushi and yearned for it all through the evening and into the wee hours. I even dreamed of sushi (in an amateur Jiro sort of way). So today first on the docket was making a big batch of awesome vegetarian sushi and then stuffing my face.
For some vegetarian sushi may be something of an oxymoron. Many people think sushi and they think ruby-hued tuna or just-barely cooked prawns sitting elegantly on a compressed palm-sized bed of rice. For those of us who eshew the seafood set, we got other things to work with. We at VFL were really excited to hear about the whole rage of Tomato Sushi (or more like tomato-impersonating-tuna) but despite our best efforts to come by this product or reinvent it ourselves, we fell flat. No matter. As long as there’s avocado and crispy sweet potato, we’ll be just fine.
I am by no means a sushi expert or connoisseur for that matter. But I have made a lot of homemade sushi for me and my peeps, and along the way I’ve learned a few things that might help an amateur sushi home cook out.
Sushi’s great for planners. You like organization and planning ahead? You’re gonna love making sushi. You like spending a few hours fun slicing, rolling, and dipping? Sushi’s for you. You like microwave nachos? To the left, to the left.
Our non-traditional vegetarian sushi’s really simple, in essence. You have cooked, seasoned rice, nori (or seaweed sheets), vegetables for your filling (cooked our otherwise), and of course your condiments: soy sauce, wasabi paste, and pickled ginger. But it requires some extra work and forethought.
Even if you’re not using seafood, ingredient quality matters. That squishy air-filled avocado and Uncle Ben’s won’t do the trick. Invest in a bag of really good sushi rice (I really like Kokuho Rose), fresh produce, and really good soy sauce.
Good vegetarian sushi needs really well-prepared rice. One of my good friends in high school first showed me how he made sushi at home and before cooking the rice he threw it in a mesh colander and rinsed it. I mean really rinsed it. I remember standing at the sink checking my watch being like, yo me want sushi already. I even remember grabbing the bag of rice and being all, “Hey it says we don’t have to rinse it. Let’s move this along!” But he was adamant. Sushi rice has a lot of starch hanging onto it and it can need upwards of 5-10 minutes of rinsing with cold water before the water runs clear. The idea here is the extra starch creates gluiness around your cooked rice which we really don’t want. After rinsing, measure your water accurately and follow the directions. No checking up on your rice while it’s simmering. No stirring. Just let it do its thing. And be sure to cook your rice well before you plan on eating (an hour or two beforehand works best). It will need a decent amount of time to chill before rolling.
If it’s your first time making sushi, I recommend starting with a roll with the nori on the outside (your basic thin roll or Hosomaki). Inside-out rolls are impressive but they can be really frustrating and fall apart on ya without warning so until that rice starts behaving itself, stick with the simple stuff. I include a recipe for both types here if you’re feeling adventurous.
Now for cutting and rolling. This is the hard part because right around the time I get the sushi rolls finished up is when the serious hypoglycemia hits and I start rushing ahead. However, you’ve come this far. When you’re finally about to slice up your lovelies, try not to cut corners. I use clear plastic wrap to roll my sushi and then allow the rolls to firm up a bit in the freezer for 5-10 minutes (makes cutting a lot less nightmarish). When it comes to slicing, your knife matters. If you’re a big sushi buff, getting a quality sushi knife isn’t a bad idea, but in a pinch a really sharp serrated knife does the trick. And in between cuts, if you really want an easy time without a ton of broken rolls and hysteria, completely wash your knife in the sink. Sounds like a pain but it makes a huge difference!
Another tip I have is not to get too hung up on perfection. My rolls aren’t sushi-chef quality as you can see in the pictures, but they still taste awesome. When you’re first trying homemade sushi, keep in mind that sushi’s one of those things that tastes fantastic even if it’s not geometrically perfect. Your sushi’s a ball of mess? Who cares! Doesn’t mean you can’t have a rocking vegetarian sushi party. Now get rolling!
- 1 large sweet potato, peeled and thinly julienned
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 tbs. cornstarch
- ½ tsp salt
- 3 cups canola oil
- 1 recipe sushi rice (recipe below)
- 1½ nori sheets
- 3 tbs sesame seeds
- Soy sauce, wasabi paste, and pickled ginger, for serving
- Lightly rinse the julienned sweet potato then toss with flour, cornstarch, and salt.
- Heat canola oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it reaches 350ºF. Fry the sweet potato in batches 5-7 minutes, flipping halfway through until golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels.
- To assemble rolls, cut the full nori sheet in half long ways so you have a total of three matching rectangles of nori. Spread ⅓ of sushi rice on clear plastic wrap using wet fingers. Form into a thin triangle roughly two times the the width of the nori sheet. Place one of the nori sheet halves rough side down on the rice directly in the center and place ⅓ of the fried sweet potato in the center of the nori to form an even log.
- Take the plastic wrap and start rolling, tucking the nori and sweet potato in as you go. Fold roll completely over and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
- Freeze for 5-10 minutes and then unroll and sprinkle with 1 tbs sesame seeds. Cut into 8 even pieces using a sharp knife. Repeat process with remaining rice, sweet potato, and 2 halved nori sheets.
- Serve immediately with soy sauce, wasbi paste, and pickled ginger. Will make about 24 sushi pieces.
- 1 ripe firm avocado
- 1 recipe sushi rice
- 4 nori sheets
- Soy sauce, wasabi paste, and pickled ginger, for serving
- Slice avocado into thick matchstick pieces. It doesn't have to be perfect, just make sure the pieces are relatively the same size.
- Place nori sheet on a piece of plastic wrap, horizontally. Spread ⅓ of sushi rice over the nori into a rectangle, leaving about ½ inch on both long ends of the nori. Place ⅓ of your avocado in the center of the rice forming a log that spans from end to end.
- Start rolling by lifting the plastic wrap and tucking the nori in with the rice and avocado as you go. As you reach the remaining ½ inch of nori, dampen the free end of nori with water and tuck it in to the roll. Press to make the nori stick.
- Freeze for 5-10 minutes then slice with a sharp knife into 8 even pieces. Repeat with remaining nori, avocado, and sushi rice.
- Serve with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. Enjoy right away!
- Makes 32 pieces.
- 1 cup uncooked sushi rice
- 1½ cups water
- ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
- 1-2 tbs white sugar (depending on your own preference)
- ½ tsp salt
- Rinse sushi rice in a mesh colander with cold water 5-10 minutes until the water runs clear.
- Combine sushi rice and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce temperature to low and cover. Cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes.
- Combine the remaining ingredients and whisk together until sugar and salt are dissolved.
- Place warm rice in a wooden or plastic bowl and sprinkle ⅓ of vinegar mixture over rice.
- Using a wooden spoon or paddle, gently fold the rice to allow wet mixture to be absorbed. Repeat 2 more times using remaining vinegar mixture.
- Cool rice in the fridge at least 1 hour until cold to the touch.
- Make 2-2½ cups, about enough for 5 thin rolls or 3 inside-out rolls.