Vinegared rice is the heart of all sushi. Despite what Americans think, sushi does not mean “fish” in Japanese but rather signifies any vinegared rice dish. Rice is often the central ingredient in Japanese cuisine. In fact, the word for “cooked rice” (gohan) also translates as “meal.” As a result, vegetarian sushi is very low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates.

For sushi, the rice must be properly cooked and then seasoned with lightly sweetened rice vinegar Although the Japanese rely on short-grain white rice, it is also possible to use the more nutritious short-grain brown rice, which gives sushi a slightly nutty flavor. The trick is to cool the rice quickly so that steam does not condense on the grains and make them gummy. When fanned, the rice becomes shiny and just a little sticky – perfect for sushi making.

Fish is often die next element you expect, but the Japanese enjoy an appealing assortment of vegetarian sushi, made in a number of forms. And vegetable fillings make more sense for the home cook who does not have access to top-notch fish. In addition, unlike raw fish, the vegetable, filings do not pose, any potential health risks.

Most types of sushi start with nori, thin sheets of dried laver, a kind of sea vegetable high in minerals, including calcium, potassium, iron, iodine, and magnesium. Nori also contains vitamin C, fiber, and beta-carotene.

A bit of manual dexterity for, pressing the rice evenly over a sheet of nori and packing everything tightly and uniformly as you roll it is also helpful and comes quickly with a bit of practice. (Unsuccessful tries still taste delicious.) Once rolled, the nori wrapping around sushi softens quickly, becoming chewy, which some people prefer. Vegetable sushi keeps for several hours because the vinegar in the rice acts as a natural preservative. Cover the rolled sushi with plastic wrap, but do not refrigerate it, since chilling hardens the rice and makes it dry.

Ingredients and Equipment

For sushi, you need the following ingredients, some for making the sushi itself, and others to be eaten with it. A couple of pieces of equipment will also come in handy, although you probably have something else in the kitchen that will do just fine. Ingredients and equipment can be found at Japanese and Asian foods stores as well as at most natural foods stores.

Sushi or short-grain rice: This special white rice is often imported from Japan. Although it is possible to substitute short-grain brown rice, sushi made with, white rice looks nicer and tastes better, at least in my opinion. The chewiness of brown rice seems a bit out of place in sushi, and brown rice will not become shiny like pearly white sushi rice. However, either white or brown rice works well, if properly prepared. Natural foods stores sell an organically grown white sushi rice from California that is especially good for making sushi.

Rice vinegar: This low-acid vinegar is used to make sushi su, the slightly sweetened vinegar mixture traditionally used to season the rice.

Sushi nori: These mild-tasting, thin, black-green sheets of laver, a kind of sea vegetable, have been toasted especially for sushi making. Sushi nori comes in many grades, with packages of ten sheets costing $2 and up in Asian foods stores and around $5 in natural foods stores.

Wasabi: This pale green, fiery condiment gives sushi its wonderful kick. It is made from a kind of wild Japanese horseradish and comes in small cans of fine, yellowish powder, or in a tube. Mix two tablespoons of die powder with about one tablespoon of water to make a thick paste. Let this paste stand for about ten minutes to mellow, but don’t make Wasabi paste more than half an hour before using, as it loses strength quickly. Wasabi that comes in a tube contains corn oil, salt, sucrose, and artificial coloring. I find it has a bitter aftertaste not found in most powdered wasabi.

Pickled ginger: Called sushoga in Japanese, this condiment, which is served with most sushi, is usually made from tender young or spring ginger, made which the tough fibers have not yet formed. Natural foods stores and Asian markets sell prepared pickled ginger in jars or plastic pouches. it should be pale, creamy beige, or pale pink, though brands sold in natural foods stores may be redder if they are made using umeboshi vinegar rather than the traditional rice vinegar. This pricey condiment is, however, easy to make yourself, and in doing so, you can save money and be certain no artificial coloring has been used.

Soy sauce: Dip rolled sushi in soy sauce just before popping it into your mouth. Read the label to be sure you are getting a naturally brewed product. Tamari has too strong a taste to serve with sushi.

Sudare: This flexible, slatted bamboo mat is used for making all rolled sushi. It looks like a small place mat. In a pinch, a thin, pliable plastic place mat can be used. However, a sudare costs only a few dollars and is available at any Asian grocery.

Shamoji: This wooden or plastic paddle is especially suited for tossing cooked sushi rice while it cools and for blending in the sushi su. The plastic ones cost a couple of dollars. A wide-bladed, wooden cooking spatula is a good alternative.

KAPPA MAKI

Makes 6 rolls, about 6 servings

This simple sushi is nothing more than long strips of seedless cucumber wrapped in sushi rice that has been dabbed with wasabi paste. One roll will yield six or seven one-inch pieces of sushi, enough for a light meal or appetizer for one person. If desired, this recipe can be cut in half or in thirds to yield smaller amounts. Slices of ripe avocado can be used in place of or together with the cucumber.

  • 3 sheets sushi nori
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 3 1/2-4 cups White or Brown Sushi Rice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons wasabi paste, plus more for serving
  • 6 tablespoons drained Pickled Ginger Soy sauce
  1. Starting on a long side, use scissors to cut nori sheets in half. Half sheets should measure about 4 inches by 7 inches. Set aside.
  2. Cut a length of cucumber to match long side of nori sheets, about 7 inches. Peel and halve cucumber lengthwise. Use small spoon to scoop out seeds and soft center. Cut seeded cucumber lengthwise into thin strips about 1/2, inch thick. Set aside.
  3. Place a half sheet of nori on sudare mat, shiny side down, with a long side closest to you. Nori should be about 1 inch in from bottom edge of mat.
  4. Arrange generous 1/2 cup rice in center of nori. Wet your fingers with seasoned vinegar or cold water and use flat pads of your fingers to spread and press rice onto nori, making an even layer about 3/8 inch thick that covers nori sheet from side to side. Push rice down to bottom edge of non but across top leave 1/2 inch strip of nori exposed. Work quickly, using a firm, patting motion, and wet your fingers as needed to keep rice from sticking to them. If necessary, add more rice where there is not enough room to cover non entirely
  5. With your index finger, dab a little wasabi paste along length of rice, about 1/2 inch above bottom edge of nori. Don’t use more than 1/4 teaspoon; it’s better to have a few gaps than to use too much.
  6. Place one strip of cucumber on rice, lining it up with wasabi. Lift up bottom of mat, rolling rice over cucumber. You may need to use a finger or two to keep cucumber in place. Keep rolling away from you while also pressing down gently and stroking hands along length of mat with even pressure. You want bottom edge of nori to meet top side of nori just where rice ends. Unroll mat and push roll forward slightly so seam faces mat. Lift mat over roll and move hands back and forth along length of mat, pressing rolled sushi and compacting it as evenly as possible. Unroll mat. (If not serving immediately, set sushi on plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Sushi can be held for several hours.) Repeat process with remaining ingredients to make five more rolls.
  7. Just before serving, dip sharp knife in cold water and cut each roll into 1-inch lengths. Arrange on individual plates. Mound 1 tablespoon pickled ginger and 1/2-inch ball of wasabi paste onto each plate. Serve immediately, accompanied by small dishes containing soy sauce for dipping. If desired, dissolve wasabi in sauce before dipping sushi.

FUTO MAKI SALAD ROLL

Makes 5 rolls, 5 to 6 servings

The bright colors and crisp textures of what’s usually tossed into a salad bowl make a light, surprising sushi roll. Although there is no wasabi inside this roll, serve it with plenty of this condiment.

  • 5 sheets sushi nori
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 medium ripe tomato, cored, halved, and squeezed gently to remove seeds
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 medium ripe Hass avocado, halved and pitted
  • 3 large leaves green leaf lettuce, washed and dried thoroughly
  • 5 cups White or Brown Sushi Rice
  • 5-6 tablespoons drained Pickled Ginger Wasabi paste Soy sauce
  1. Starting on a long side, use scissors to cut off top quarter of each nori sheet. Sheets should measure about 6 inches by 7 inches. Set aside.
  2. Cut a length of cucumber to match long side of nori sheets, about 7 inches. Peel and halve cucumber lengthwise. Use small spoon to scoop out seeds and soft center Cut seeded cucumber lengthwise. into strips about 1/2 inch thick. Set aside.
  3. Cut 1/2-inch-thick wedges from tomato halves and set aside. Cut paper-thin strips from onion halves and set aside. Cut avocado halves into 1/2-inch-thick strips. Peel strips and set aside. Tear lettuce leaves in half, removing hard center spike from each leaf. Set aside.
  4. Place a trimmed sheet of non on mat, shiny side down, with a long side closest to you. Nori should be about 1 inch in from bottom edge of mat.
  5. Arrange about 1 cup lice over nori. Wet your fingers with seasoned vinegar or cold water and use flat pads of your fingers to spread and press rice onto nori, making an even layer about 3/8 inch thick that covers nori sheet from side to side. Push rice down to bottom edge of nori but across top leave 1/2 inch snip of nori exposed.
  6. Place two cucumber strips across rice, about 1 inch above bottom edge. Lay strips of tomato, onion, and avocado just above cucumber. Fold a lettuce leaf half lengthwise and pile on top of other vegetables. Lift up bottom of mat, rolling rice over filling. Use fingers to keep filling in place. Keep rolling, while shoving filling inside and pressing down to make roll as compact as possible while also moving your hands over mat and pulling towards you as you compress roll. You want bottom edge of nori to meet top side of nori just where rice ends (illustration 3). Unroll mat and push roll forward slightly so seam faces mat. Lift mat over roll and move your hands back and forth along length of mat, pressing rolled sushi and compacting it as evenly as possible. Unroll mat. (If not serving immediately, set rolled sushi on plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Sushi can be held for several hours.) Repeat process with remaining ingredients to make four more rolls.
  7. Just before serving, dip sharp knife in cold water and cut each roll into 1-inch lengths. Arrange sushi pieces on individual plates. mound about 1 tablespoon pickled ginger and 1/2-inch ball of wasabi paste onto each plate. Serve immediately, accompanied by small dishes containing soy sauce for dipping. If desired, dissolve wasabi in sauce before dipping sushi.

Note: Other fillings may be used in this chubby roll. Try dried shiitake mushrooms that have been soaked in hot water until soft, then drained and cut into thin strips; pressed, seasoned bean curd; scallions; steamed asparagus; steamed spinach; pickled daikon; aromatic shiso leaf, and umeboshi plum paste. Some of these ingredients work in combination with each other, so feel free to mix and match.

WHITE SUSHI RICE

Makes 5 cups

Korean grocers as well as Japanese stores carry plump, short-grain sushi rice, which is different from glutinous or sweet rice and more starchy than plain short-grain rice. The Japanese rice must be washed well to remove a talc coating on the grains. It is important not to open the cover at any time during the cooking process or while the rice is standing.

  • 1 2/3 cups short-grain sushi rice
  • 3 tablespoons Seasoned Vinegar, plus more for adjustment during mixing
  1. Wash rice thoroughly in large bowl until water gets just slightly cloudy, three or four changes of water. Drain well.
  2. Place rice in heavy-bottomed, medium pot with tight-fitting lid. Add 2 cups cold water Cover and bring to boil. Boil vigorously 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue cooling another 8 minutes. Remove covered pot from heat and let stand at least 10 minutes but not more than 30 minutes.
  3. Turn rice into large, wide glass, ceramic, or wooden bowl. Immediately fan rice with piece of cardboard while tossing it with paddle to cool it quickly and disperse steam so that it does not condense on rice. (For this step, a second person would be helpful.) Fan until there is no more steam visible, about 2 minutes.
  4. Use a cutting and folding motion as with cake batter while adding vinegar, a tablespoon at a time, or to taste, mixing well after each addition. When rice, tastes right, add 1 teaspoon more; this compensates for what the rice absorbs as it continues to cool. The rice will turn shiny and sticky as you stir.
  5. Cover rice with damp cloth and set aside until ready to use. (Rice can be made up to 4 hours before. Do not refrigerate.)

BROWN SUSHI RICE

Makes 4 1/2 cups

A good rinsing to remove dust is enough for this rice; unlike white sushi rice, it has no special coating and does not require repeated washing. The rest of the process is the same as that for preparing white sushi rice although the timing changes and the brown rice does not get shiny as it cools. Brown rice sushi is best with stronger-flavored fillings like oshinko, pickled vegetables, boiled spinach, sesame seeds, and kabocha squash cooked in sweetened sake with a dash of cayenne pepper.

  • 1 2/3 cups short-grain brown rice, rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons Seasoned Vinegar, plus more for adjustment during mixing

Follow White Sushi Rice recipe, omitting step 1 and using these cooking times in Step 2: Boil vigorously 3 minutes; cook over medium heat 5 minutes; and cook over low heat 18 minutes. Let stand at least 10 minutes but not more than 3o minutes.

SEASONED VINEGAR

(SUSHI SU)

Makes about 1/4 cup

This highly sweetened mixture is what gives sushi its characteristic flavor. For me, Elizabeth Andoh’s recipe in An American Taste of Japan has just the right proportions. If you are willing to use refined sugar, its taste is less noticeable than the unrefined sweetener.

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon pale dried sugarcane juice or sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine vinegar, sweetener, and salt in small saucepan. Heat, stirring occasionally, just until sweetener and salt dissolve. Cool to room temperature. (Vinegar can be refrigerated overnight.)

PICKLED GINGER

Makes 2 cups

If possible, buy tender, pale ginger that is creamy yellow with rose pink shoots at the tip of each branch. Its skin is so thin that peeling is not necessary. If young ginger, which is usually found in Asian markets, especially Southeast Asian ones, is not available, pick hands of regular ginger that are as thin and unfibrous as possible, with taut, shiny skin. Cut the ginger as paper-thin as you can. Although the ginger can be used after just a day of pickling, the flavor improves after several days.

  • 1/2 pound fresh gingerroot, preferably young or spring variety
  • 2/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup pale dried sugarcane juice or sugar
  1. If not using young ginger, peel brown skin. Slice ginger as thin as possible, preferably at an angle, making long slices. Put sliced ginger in medium bowl.
  2. Pour boiling water Over ginger to cover and let stand 2 minutes. Drain well. Transfer wilted ginger to immaculately clean 1-pint glass jar with tight-fitting lid.
  3. Meanwhile, combine vinegar, 1/2 cup water, and sweetener in small saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve sweetener. Immediately pour hot liquid into jar, filling it to just above level of ginger. Cover jar tightly and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate at least 24 hours before using. (Pickled ginger can be refrigerated for several months.)

Step-by-step: Rolling Sushi

  1. Wet your fingers with seasoned vinegar or cold water and press the rice onto the nori, making a 3/8-inch-thick layer that covers the sheet from side to side. Across the top, leave a 1/2-inch strip of nori exposed.
  2. If using wasabi, dab a little of the paste along the length of the rice, about 1/2 inch above the bottom edge of the nori. Place the filling on the rice. Lift up the bottom of the mat, rolling the rice over the filling. Use your fingers to keep the filling in place.
  3. Keep rolling away from you until the bottom edge of the nori meets the top side of the nori just where the rice ends.
  4. Unroll the mat and push the roll forward slightly so that the seam faces the mat. Lift the mat over the roll and move your hands along the length of the mat, pressing the roll and compacting it as evenly as possible.
  5. Just before serving, dip a sharp knife in cold water and cut each roll into 1-inch lengths.

BEFORE YOU ROLL

These steps need to be completed before you can actually start rolling up the sushi:

  1. Make the pickled ginger at least one day in advance. (Pickled ginger will last indefinitely in the refrigerator.)

2.Make the seasoned vinegar (sushi su) and rice. This can be done up to four hours before.

  1. No more than thirty minutes before assembling the sushi, make the wasabi paste (if using powder) and set it aside.
  2. Cut each sheet of nori as directed in a specific recipe. Cut the filling ingredients to the correct size.
  3. Lay a kitchen towel on a work surface. Place the sudare mat on top of the towel. Set a small bowl containing either seasoned vinegar or cold water conveniently within reach.