Sushi From The Garden
Years ago, my friend Noyuri taught me how to make simple sushi. The process is engaging and the result is toothsome and beautiful, so garden based sushi has become part of my regular kitchen repertoire. Once I have a batch of sushi rice prepared, I can wander the garden, selecting some peppery mustard greens, a crisp cucumber, some baby carrots and tender young squash or a handful of snap peas. When I trade neighbors plants or produce for eggs, I make some egg pancakes to slice up and tuck in with the vegetables for a hearty breakfast sushi.
Leafy mustards are among the most versatile of winter greens, lovely to look at and spunky in flavor. Osaka Purple mustard looks hand crafted, crinkled and cupped and tinted in mysterious shades of burgundy and merlot. Red Kingdom produces smaller, tender leaves of deep velvet red with a vivid bite that adds snap to almost anything, from tuna or egg salads and cheese and bacon sandwiches to green salads. Shredded mustard greens make a wonderfully crunchy, spunky garnish for soups and stir fries and are lovely with grilled fish or vegetables like asparagus and young peas. I also grow a lot of arugula for much the same uses, including a new favorite called Arugula Wasabi, with toothed leaves and little white flowers. It makes a pretty garnish that packs a flavor wallop, the taste unfolding in the mouth from tart to fiery.
Here on Bainbridge island, we can buy traditional bamboo rolling mats at the grocery store. If you aren’t so lucky, be assured that you can roll your sushi perfectly well using a clean tea towel (see below for more specifics). We also have our choice of nori, or seaweed sheets, which come in several sizes (these are available online if not locally for you). Try a few kinds to discover your own preferences; the Chinese sheets tend to be thicker and on the chewy side, while Japanese brands are usually thin, crips, and melting in the mouth.
When you get down to production, it’s best to have all your ingredients prepped and ready to use. Because the temperature of your ingredients makes a big difference to the end product, have everything at room temperature, neither hot nor cold. I start by cooking and seasoning the sticky rice, then letting it cool, since using it hot can distort thin nori sheets, which buckle and shrink when you try to fill them. Next, I make the egg pancakes, which also need to cool. Then you can chop your fresh vegetables and shred your greens. If you like to add avocado, cut it last so it doesn’t discolor before you can use it.
You can find very complex sushi recipes, but I find myself to be more than satisfied with simple variations on some basic themes. Here are some great starter recipes to try:
Garden Sushi Rolls
1 English cucumber, sliced into long, thin pieces
10-12 snap peas, ends and strings removed
1 red or yellow sweet pepper, sliced lengthwise
1 cup thinly julienned carrots
6-8 green onions thinly sliced lengthwise
1 tablespoon ponzu or sweet rice vinegar
Nori wrappers (package of 10)
2 cups sushi rice (see below)
1 cup cold water
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
10-12 leaves mustard greens
1 egg pancake, sliced (see below)
Combine sliced vegetables and ponzu or vinegar, set aside. Toast the nori wrappers for a few seconds over a hot oven burner (electric or gas). Place one sideways on a tea towel or bamboo roller (the orientation is landscape rather than portrait). Dab four blobs of rice (about a tablespoon each) in the corners of the nori wrapper. Dipping your fingers in cold water (often), smush rice thinly over the whole sheet, leaving about 1/2 inch bare at the top. Sprinkle a band of sesame seeds about 2 inches from the bottom, then arrange slices of vegetables sideways across the sheet. Add mustard greens and egg pancake slices if desired, tuck in tightly and roll up, pressing gently to close roll. Slice completed rolls with a VERY sharp knife, starting with a center cut (slice, don’t saw) and rounding each piece as you go. Each roll makes either 6 or 8 pieces, depending on the size of your nori wrappers.
Variations On A Theme
Other good additions include sliced radishes and radish sprouts, sliced raw yacon or jicama, asparagus, green beans, sweet onion slices, very thin slices of sweet potato, almost any kind of pepper, pickled onions or peppers, and pickled ginger slices.
Traditional Egg Pancake
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Heat oil over medium high heat in a covered pan. Whisk eggs, sugar and salt and pour into heated pan, tilting to spread evenly. Cover and cook over medium heat until puffed. Cool and cut into 1-inch strips.
Sticky Sushi Rice
You can buy seasoning packets for sushi rice or use this traditional recipe and season to taste.
2 cups Niko Niko or Japanese sticky rice
12.5 ounces (360 ml) water
4.5 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
Rinse rice until water is clear, drain and put in rice cooker. If cooking in a pan, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Combine vinegar, sugar and salt. Put rice in a bowl and fold in vinegar mixture with a wooden paddle (don’t stir) and let cool.
Make Inari With Leftover Stuffing
Chop and mix all extra stuff with rice and tuck it into Inari wrappers (I like the refrigerated kind, especially the brand Hikari Inari). These are little pockets, like bite-sized tofu pita, that come soaked in soy sauce and mirin. They are irresistible!