Making sushi is a lot easier that it seems. The real key to well-presented sushi is having good utensils, such as a sushi mat and a sharp knife. Each ingredient can be prepped in advance and assembled when you're ready to serve, and when you make it at home, it's a fraction of the cost!
Though there are many wonderful forms of traditional makizushi, or rolled sushi, feel free to experiment with the ingredients you have on hand. I got my inspiration for the sushi pictured above from ingredients native to California; I used Hass avocados, goat cheese and baby Persian cucumbers. I wrapped these ingredients in the traditional combination of nori sheets and Japanese rice.
In standard California roll fashion, the rice is on the outside of the nori. If you've ever wondered why this is the case, the story goes that Japanese immigrants who came to the US turned the sushi inside out to hide the nori from culinarily unadventurous Americans. I don't know if that's true, but it's the story a sushi chef told me once. It certainly is a great tale!
I served the sushi rolls with wasabi paste, homemade pickled ginger and soy sauce. It may seem daunting, but a sushi dinner is really as easy as 1-2-3.
Servings: 40 sushi rolls
2-2/3 cups Japanese short-grained sushi rice
2-3/4 cups water, cold
3-½ tablespoons rice vinegar (or any white vinegar)
1-½ teaspoons light sesame oil (optional)
2-½ tablespoons superfine sugar (or granulated sugar)
1-½ teaspoons salt
11 small toasted nori sheets, 1 for rice seasoning
2 Hass avocados
juice of a lemon
3 Persian cucumbers, seeded and cut into matchsticks
1 (3-ounce) package goat cheese, cold
1-½ teaspoons sesame seeds
3 tablespoons wasabi paste, ready-made
2 cups ponzu soy sauce
¼ cup pickled ginger
6 Romaine lettuce leaves, large center vein removed, for garnish
Making furikake rice seasoning:
In a wok, dry toast the sesame seeds for about 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Finely chop one small nori sheet.
In a bowl, combine the chopped nori, salt, sugar, and sesame seeds. Toss well.
Cooking sushi rice:
Wash and rinse the jasmine rice thoroughly in several water baths. Unlike basmati rice, no soaking time is needed. Drain as much water as possible.
I placed the rice in a rice cooker with water and waited for about 20 minutes. You could also cook the rice on the stove. Just follow the instructions on the package or use the same procedure as for cooking jasmine rice.
Once the rice is cooked, sprinkle with rice vinegar and light sesame oil (if used). Using chopsticks, gently stir the rice without breaking the grains of rice. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Prepping the sushi filling:
Cut the goat cheese into long strips.
Peel the avocados, pit them and cut into long strips. Drizzle them with lemon juice to avoid oxidation.
On a large platter, arrange the cucumbers, avocados, goat cheese and 5 handfuls of rice.
Line 2 sushi mats with plastic-wrap on both sides.
Place one small nori sheet on one mat. Sprinkle with furikake seasoning. Wet your hands with warm water and take one handful of rice. Divide it in half. Put one half in the nori sheet and spread it evenly., stopping ½-inch before the end of the rectangle. Cover with the other sushi mat. Gently press so the rice adheres to the nori sheet. Flip the whole thing over so the rice is facing down over the mat.
Remove the mat on top. Place long strips of avocado, the cucumber matchsticks and goat cheese in the center of the nori sheet. Using the sushi mat as a guide, tightly and slowly roll the sushi mat away from you until the rice meets the other end of the rice to seal the sushi. Press gently with both your hands for about 10 seconds. Remove the rolled sushi and transfer to a cutting board, seam side down. Dip a very sharp kitchen knife in hot water, wipe it clean. Cut the California roll in half, then cut each half in half one more time. You'll obtain 4 pieces. Repeat the same procedure with the 9 remaining nori sheets, wiping the knife clean after slicing each roll.
Line a large platter with the lettuce leaves. Place the sushi rolls on the lettuce. Garnish with rolled pickled ginger on one side of the platter and wasabi paste on the other side.
Serve immediately with ponzu soy sauce on the side.
Finish the meal with an avocado shake.
I added smoked salmon for the non-vegetarians in the house; it was absolutely delicious. You could also add strips of pan-fried of tofu if you like, but I thought the use of goat cheese was sufficient.
If the flavor or goat cheese is too strong for your taste, simply substitute cream cheese.
For flavor reasons, our family prefers the (seaweed) nori sheets sold in small packages. They're small nori sheets, sold in (6 x 0.17-ounce) packages. Look for the Wang brand. We always have toasted nori sheets in the pantry. It's a great source of protein and iron. The girls love munching on it as a snack.
I prefer using superfine sugar, also known as caster sugar. It is a fine-grained sugar and it dissolves more quickly than regular granulated sugar.
Making pickled ginger is very easy and inexpensive.
You can find all the ingredients listed above in Korean / Japanese markets.