Vegetarian Sushi Made Easy
We’ve had some amazing sushi in our travels. Always vegetarian of course. Probably the best we ever ate was in Lima, Peru at a high-end restaurant called Maido. (It was also one of the most expensive meals we ever had... but it was so worth it!)
We enjoyed really beautiful veggie sushi, with incredible fresh juices, overlooking the ocean at Kai Sushi & Bar in Iquique, Chile.
Recently, on our visit to Colorado, we ate at a wonderful vegetarian sushi restaurant in Durango called Sushitarian.
I'm also reminded of a restaurant called Hakone at the Maui Prince in Wailea, which made amazing, super-creative vegetarian caterpillar rolls. Sadly, it seems to have closed in the 10+ years since we lived in Hawaii.
And, although it wasn’t sushi, we had the BEST authentic (also vegan and gluten-free) Japanese meal when we visited Easter Island (the tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean). Everything about the restaurant, called Kotaro, was an experience— from the building, to the owner/chef, to the incredible food.
As much as we love going out to eat good sushi, it’s really not worth the cost if it’s mediocre. So far we have only had mediocre (or lousy) sushi in Argentina.
We can, however, easily get all of the ingredients for MAKING sushi. I’m not sure why that is, when so many other imported items are unavailable here, but you won’t hear me complaining: Making homemade vegetarian sushi is very simple, and with a little practice it can taste as authentic and delicious as any restaurant. (And it costs considerably less.) These days I can go from a cold-start to ready-to-eat in an hour. Which means sushi can be a regular treat, and not just for special occasions.
The most important thing is to get the right ingredients. Specialty items include rice vinegar, nori sheets, japonica short-grain rice (such as Sasanishiki, Koshihikari or Akita Komachi), and soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari). To get the authentic flavor you’ll also want some pickled ginger slices (preferably without MSG), and wasabi paste (or the wasabi powder to make your own). A sharp knife also comes in handy.
Other than that, I use a standard pot and stainless steel kitchen spoon, and I don’t even have a sushi rolling mat. I just use my hands to make the rolls. We do have some cheap wooden chopsticks that make eating sushi more fun; but those are optional, of course. You could even eat the sushi rolls like hand-held burritos, which I usually do with any leftover rolls the next day.
The trick to making great sushi is all in the rice. Once you learn the steps, you too will be impressed with the quality of sushi you can make at home.
By the way, I really like this site for information about making sushi rice. It’s a bit long-winded, but packed with helpful details. (I have condensed many of the same steps into an easy-to-follow format that includes my vegetarian and vegan sushi adaptations below.)
My favorite homemade sushi roll is probably egg and avocado (with the egg prepared the ‘Japanese' way, see below), though I certainly enjoy a variety of other fillings. My husband loves it when I make sushi with cream cheese, avocado, spring onion, and sesame seeds. Of course, you vegans will want to skip the eggs and cheese and stick to the veggies.
Keep in mind that the amount of each vegetable needed to fill the rolls is very little. In the 6 rolls I recently made, I used half a carrot, about a third of a large cucumber, one egg, one spring onion, one small avocado, and maybe a tablespoon of sesame seeds. Yet somehow sushi is always very satisfying. (Though never heavy.)
Sushi definitely goes in the gluten-free and clean-eating food categories. Plus, seaweeds and algae are superfoods that we could probably all use a bit more of in our diets.
I find two rolls is normally plenty to satisfy me. My husband usually eats 3 or 4. I like mine dipped in soy sauce that has a touch of wasabi mixed in. My husband makes his soy sauce nearly into a wasabi paste. (If you aren’t familiar with wasabi, it’s related to horseradish. You feel the heat intensely in your sinuses. So, start with a little and go from there.) We both like a lot of pickled ginger on the side.
If you have leftovers, you can wrap the rolls in saran wrap (individually) to store in the fridge. Bring them back to room temperature before eating. Sushi rice does not refrigerate well and the rolls won’t be quite as good as fresh, though I still happily eat them for lunch the next day.
If you’ve got sake (rice wine), now is the time to break it out. Much easier than preparing hot sake (which I love in a good Japanese restaurant) is to buy a good bottle of sake that is meant to be served cold. There are some lovely rice wines that you can drink as you would any other white. Alternatively, white wine that is on the sweet side of dry goes well with Asian food in general (such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer).
See below for my step-by-step guide to making vegetarian sushi at home.
Recipe for Vegetarian or Vegan Sushi Rolls
Makes 6-8 rolls, depending on how much rice you put in each roll. I usually get six because we prefer more substantial rolls.
2 cups short grain Japanese sushi rice
2 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon salt
6-8 nori sheets
Fillings (your choice):
Julienned carrot, cucumber, red & yellow bell pepper, steamed asparagus, etc.
Minced spring onion
Egg strips (see below)
Pickled ginger slices
Wasabi paste (see below)
Soy sauce (or wheat-free tamari)
Allow about 45 minutes to prepare the sushi rice. (This is from start to ready to make the rolls.) You can cook the rice ahead of time, but do not refrigerate it. Keep it covered and warm on the counter. The coolest it should get is room temperature. When I prepare sushi for a party, I make the rolls a couple of hours ahead of time and keep them on a platter sealed in saran wrap. I don’t cut them into pieces until we are ready to serve.
While you go through the steps to make the rice, you can prepare the sushi vinegar, cook the egg (optional), and prepare the other ingredients for filling the rolls.
Make the sushi vinegar with enough time for it to cool before using. You don’t want it to be hot when you add it to the rice. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small pan and heat just until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside until ready to use.
Begin by rinsing the rice very well. For photos see this site.
I fill the pot with water at least 5 times, agitating the rice well each time until the water gets cloudy, then pouring off the water and repeating. (I place a fine mesh strainer in the sink to catch any grains.)
At this point, you can let the rice rest for as long as you need until you are ready to cook it. But once it starts boiling, you need to pay attention...
Combine the well-washed rice with the 2 1/4 cups water in a large pot on the stove. (The pot needs to be big enough to later incorporate the sushi vinegar, so don’t use a small saucepan here.)
Bring to a boil over high heat. This should only take a few minutes.
As soon as it starts to boil (small bubbles in the center, or at the edge), turn the heat down to medium-low and cook covered for 5 minutes.
Look inside and check that the water level is below the top of the rice. Turn the heat to the lowest setting and cook covered another 8-10 minutes.
At the end, check that all of the water is absorbed. If it isn’t for some reason, remove the lid and turn up the heat to high for a minute or two to cook off the excess moisture.
Remove from heat, take off the lid, and cover with a dishcloth for 10 minutes.
Then it’s time to add the sushi vinegar. Drizzle it over the rice. Use a cut-and-fold motion with a broad metal spoon (the kind you cook with) to incorporate the vinegar with the rice. Make sure to blend thoroughly and coat every grain of rice with the vinegar, while taking care not to mash the rice.
Let the sushi rice rest, uncovered, another 10-15 minutes or so until you can easily handle it. It should be warm, or room temperature, but not at all hot when you make your rolls (otherwise the nori wraps will start to dissolve).
If you haven’t already, get your filling ingredients ready. Thinly slice the vegetables, halve and slice the avocado. If you want to use the egg, it only takes about 2 minutes to cook...
Japanese Egg Strips-
Heat a sauté pan over medium until hot.
Meanwhile, whisk together one egg with a dash of soy sauce and a pinch of sugar.
When the pan is hot (water beads on the surface when flicked in), add 1/4 teaspoon of coconut oil or butter.
Pour the egg mixture into the hot greased pan.
Let cook about 30 seconds, until completely bubbling and you can see the bottom layer is cooked.
Flip one side onto the other, to make a half-moon omelet shape.
Let cook a few seconds, then flip and let cook a few seconds on the other side.
Turn off the heat and set aside.
When it’s cool enough, cut into strips.
Making the Rolls-
The final step is to assemble the rolls. Place a nori sheet on a clean counter or large cutting board. I find it best to work near the sink. You’ll need a bit of water as you go. (If you have a sushi mat, you would place the nori on the mat for rolling.)
Many nori sheets have little perforated lines in them. These are supposed to be guides for cutting the sushi into pieces. Align the sheet so you are looking at vertical stripes (up and down).
Place a heaping kitchen utensil spoonful or handful of the rice on the nori and spread it over about 2/3 of the sheet using your hands. Spread it evenly all the way to the edges, or else the end pieces won’t be full when you cut them.
It’s called sticky rice for a reason. Go ahead and rinse your hands after this step each time.
Now, in the middle of the rice, make a line of filling ingredients.
Rinse your hands again, or wipe clean with a damp dishtowel.
Roll the sushi evenly towards the flap end. Spread a little water on the edge of the nori sheet with your fingers and set the roll aside, damp edge down to make a seal.
Wipe down your work area to remove any sticky rice grains and repeat the steps until all of the rice has been used.
Just before you are ready to eat, cut the rolls into pieces. Use a sharp knife, wiping it down after every 3 or 4 cuts. You will get 8 pieces per roll.
Serve with pickled ginger, soy sauce, and wasabi.
I buy a wasabi powder, which stores well in the pantry.
Mix a tablespoon or so of the powder with a tiny bit of water until it turns into a paste.
Make more or less, as desired.
And that’s it! As I mentioned before, once you get the hang of making the sushi rice, there’s not much to making sushi at home. Just rice and fillings, rolled up in nori, and served with sides of your choice. Kind of like Japanese burritos. ;-)
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