From San Diego to Iowa
Are you intimidated by the thought of making your own sushi? I sure was! And to think, this whole time I could be enjoying it on a weekly or even twice-weekly basis, but I was held back by fear.
I’ve lived all over the United States before landing here in the middle of Iowa. For the majority of my life I lived in San Diego, and sushi was a staple of my weekly diet. My friends and I used to love meeting up for sushi and sake at one of the many fantastic fresh sushi restaurants all over town.
But even moving to the Midwest, I was still able to enjoy some fantastic sushi. Fresh fish was flown in on a daily basis to Omaha, NE, where we lived before coming to Iowa.However, life got more expensive with the addition of kids, and sushi seemed less and less like a reasonable dinner solution except for anniversary dinners or birthday.
Finally, I went plant-based, and have dedicated myself to living a more sustainable and frugal life. Sadly, sushi has finally been cut out altogether.
But I love it so much! And since I’m on a quest to learn how to make my favorite foods at home and vegan/oil free, I decided to take the plunge and try sushi.
Readers, it is so easy. And so delicious!
Raw Fish Sushi: Sustainable or Not?
Being plant-based now, and trying to live a frugal, sustainable life, I’ve had to rethink everything that I used to consume without so much as a second thought. And sushi is definitely one of those things. From the cost aspect of dining out to the impact of overfishing on the environment, it was definitely something I had to cut out of my life.
So why did it take me so long to try making vegan sushi myself? I think a part of me was intimidated by the process, and I was worried it would never live up to the experience of eating it professionally made. I have definitely held myself back in the past simply from fear of the unknown, and fear of failure. But if the past few years of growth and adventure have taught me anything, it’s that I am capable of doing anything I set my mind to if I let go of that fear and embrace the adventure.
Easy on the Budget
Now, I’ve had some really great sushi in my life. And nothing will replace the experience and flavor of eating sushi made by a true master sushi chef. But these days I can’t afford to go out to eat more than once or twice a year, and besides, it’s WAY cheaper to cook at home from scratch. So I decided to give it a try.
And readers. Oh my gosh.
The Basic Set-Up
Ever since, I have basically been eating sushi like I used to eat sandwiches. It is that easy to pull together. And it can be as complex or as simple as you want. Below is a picture of all the basic things you need in order to make a simple roll.
- Sushi Rice
- Sushi Mat
- Small Bowl of Water
- Ingredients (such as veggies and a healthy fat like avocado)
- Sharp Knife
That’s really all you need! Below I’ll discuss each ingredient more in depth, and provide links to the products I enjoy the most, whenever appropriate. Then I will go over the basic steps to completing a roll, and finally I’ll discuss some variations you can explore once you’ve mastered this basic roll. Finally, a printable recipe will be at the bottom of this post.
The Basic Ingredients
These are very thin sheets of toasted seaweed and usually come in a pack of 10. Prices can vary quite a bit, so pick whichever fits your budget best. However, if you can find and afford hand harvested seaweed you will be helping sustain the ecosystem that seaweed supports. Nori sheets can be found in the Asian section of most standard grocery stores, but if you have the time I urge you to use this as an opportunity to explore your local Asian market and support small business owners.
When making sushi, be sure to lay the smooth side away from the rice. In the case of this roll, the smooth side is down and the textured side is up. We will apply the rice to the textured side.
The word “sushi” actually means “sour rice” in Japanese, and refers to the way the rice is made with vinegar. There are other words for the kinds of rolls you might see at a sushi restaurant, such as nigiri for the piece of raw fish without rice, or maki (makizushi) for the fish and rice roll contained inside a sheet of dried seaweed. We will be making the maki style roll with this recipe. For the rice, you can choose white or brown, and add some rice vinegar to create the sticky, sour taste and texture that signifies sushi. I prefer brown rice myself. I like the nutty flavor it gives the sushi. I have seen other recipes that use different kinds of rice-like grain. You should definitely experiment to find what you like best. Just either take the cooked cold grain and heat it in the microwave until soft and warm with the sushi vinegar, or add the vinegar to cooked fresh warm rice. If you do heat it in the microwave, be sure to let it cool down some before applying to your sheet of nori, it will make the nori curl and possibly tear.
I have been using the Marukan brand of seasoned rice vinegar and I like it a lot. It can seem overpowering when you first smell it or put it on your rice, but it really isn’t that intense once you complete your roll.
This is another area of the process where you can experiment as much as your budget and your access to grocery variety allows. We have a few health food stores in town but not many, and not always with the kinds of options larger cities might have.
Gently spread your rice as thinly as possible on the textured side of your nori. If you lay it on too thickly, the rice flavor will dilute the flavor of your other ingredients. I find that brown rice tends to be denser and fluffier than white rice, and I have spread it even more thinly and carefully than white rice. Always leave a strip of bare nori at the bottom. That is the flap you will use to seal your roll closed.
This is the sheet of bamboo sticks and cotton twine that you lay under your roll as you prepare it. Then you use the mat to roll everything up neat and tight. It’s not strictly required, but most mats cost $2 or $5 at any grocery store, and it really does make the whole process nice and smooth and even. Many sites will suggest you put your mat inside a plastic baggie so it’s easier to clean. Honestly, that seems very wasteful to me. And the last thing I want is more waste just for the sake of convenience! If food gets stuck between the slats I just gently pull them apart and use a bristle brush with soap and warm water. It comes clean just as nicely as a wooden spoon would. I also find that it works better without the plastic bag.
Small Bowl of Water
You will use this to wet your fingertips after your roll is nearly complete. You then slide your wet fingertips along the bare strip of nori you left at the end closest to you. You finish rolling and leave the roll aside to rest a short time so everything seals up nicely.
This is mostly up to you! I have found the simplest ingredients I can add that are still enjoyable are avocado and cucumber. But you could even do a simple cucumber roll without the avocado. You can also add as many ingredients as you want. I’ve added carrot peel, cilantro, red bell, and peeled sweet potato fries. Basically whatever I had lying around. It was all delicious. As long as you use long, thin strips, it will work. Once you’ve mastered the basics, there are really hundreds of ways you can experiment with this.
I do tend to purchase large cucumbers for this project, and am left with a lot of cucumber if I’m only making two rolls for my lunch. I have a long snapware container I can keep the remainder in, but I like to use it up within the next day, or two at the most. I love to chop up the rest of the cucumber and enjoy with my Vegan Cashew Ranch Dressing, made as a dip with carrots and celery too. It’s an easy way to use up some of those fresh ingredients you have lying around your refrigerator.
Finally, be sure to use a sharp knife or you will have trouble cutting your sushi. Getting a basic knife sharpener is definitely on my list of best kitchen tools. With as many veggies as I chop these days, I have to sharpen my knives once a week or it’s like trying to cut a carrot with a spoon handle. Even if, like me, you aren’t able to invest in a really nice set of knives, you can keep them working hard for you by making sure you sharpen them.
With my knife, I find small back and forth sawing motions work best. After cutting, I usually move the two end pieces first and then the entire rest of the roll together.
Other Tools and Ingredients
- A rice paddle. I absolutely love mine, and I use it all the time. I have a scoop and paddle set and I can’t even remember where I got it. I think it may have come with a wok I bought a decade ago. The paddle is great for making your sushi nice and smooth.
- A sushi plate and soy sauce bowl. I got my set at Cost Plus World Market. It was very inexpensive and very colorful. There are thousands of options for these, but of course you don’t need a special plate or bowl. You can easily use what you already have. I have found that the soy sauce bowl size and shape is excellent for getting a nice even dip without having the squeeze the piece, which causes rice loss. And it is always just the right amount of sauce for two rolls.
- Soy sauce. I prefer low sodium Tamari, but you can use whatever you prefer. I’ve read that Bragg’s liquid aminos would also work but I haven’t tried it yet.
- Wasabi. I was surprised to learn that you buy wasabi as a powder and then mix it fresh as you go. I think I was epxecting something in the refrigerator section the first time I tried to buy it. Watch out for ingredients. There are many wasabi powders that include high fructose corn syrup (why?! WHY?!) and other completely unnecessary ingredients. After trying a few brands, I’ve settled on Beaver Extra Hot Wasabi Powder. It gives me the best restaurant-style experience and only contains a few simple, natural ingredients. The link to the right is priced for a case. I couldn’t find it sold individually on Amazon. I don’t expect anyone to buy a case, but I included the link so you could see what the package looks like.
- Pickled Ginger. I purchased some pickled ginger when I first started but I haven’t even opened it yet. I do eat it when I dine at a sushi restaurant, but it just hasn’t seemed necessary to me so far.
- Chopsticks! I had purchased a set of stainless steel travel silverware that came with a set of chopsticks, so I was good there. However, I have since bought some additional stainless steel chopsticks that are my permanent home set, so I don’t have to remember to get my chopsticks back into my purse set. Most disposable chopsticks are made of paper and wood, but if you can I suggest getting a permanent set. Trees died in the process of making them, and it’s just not necessary with a little forethought. That’s why I made sure the travel set I purchased included chopsticks. I bought my home set from Cost Plus World Market when I purchase the plate and soy sauce bowl, and they were extremely affordable and very durable.
Step by Step (in pictures)
Place a single sheet of nori, smooth side down, on your workspace. Gently spread out a thin layer of rice across most of the textured side of the sheet, leaving a bare strip at the edge closest to you.
Place your ingredients in a thin layer across the width of your nori and rice. Pieced items like avocado should be kept towards the middle. When you roll it they push out to the ends.
Roll one end of the nori forward towards you so that it covers your ingredients. I sometimes have to push some of the ingredients back in. Especially the avocado. It’s usually the troublemaker of the roll. Push down gently where the edge of the nori first meets the rice, to ensure good contact. Then roll the whole thing forward once until it’s nearly at the bare strip.
Dip your fingers into the small bowl of water and then run your fingertips across the bare strip, making sure it gets thoroughtly dampened.
Roll everything forward toward you until the dampened edge is now at the bottom of your roll.
Move the roll to a place, keeping the seal at the bottom, and let it sit a short while. Imake another roll at this point, and ultimately make three rolls total even though I usually only eat two rolls at most at one time. Then I have the third later for just a little more sushi. However, don’t refrigerate your extra roll or your rice will dry out and it won’t be very pleasant at all.
At this point, I make some wasabi using wasabi powder and water, and I pour out my tamari sauce into my soy sauce bowl. I then cut one or two of the rolls and arrange them onto my place. I have two chopsticks pictures but I honestly only use one to apply the wasabi, and then my fingers to dip the piece into tamari and eat it. Whatever floats your sushi boat.
And That’s All!
It really comes together in about the same time as a sandwich, once you get used to cutting and rolling everything.
I would LOVE to hear how your experiments go with this recipe!
Basic Vegan Maki Sushi Roll
- Sushi Rolling Mat
- Rice Paddle
- 2 c rice white or brown rice
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 sheet nori
- 1 long cucumber cut into long, thin strips
- 1 medium avocado seeded and sliced into strips
- 2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce tamari, soy, or Bragg's aminos are all options
- 1 tsp wasabi powder
- 1 tsp water to mix with the wasabi powder
- Mix two cups of warm rice with 1 tbsp of rice vinegar. You can either use freshly cooked warm rice, or heat cold rice in the microwave with the vinegar until it's soft and damp. If using cold rice, be sure to let it cool a bit after heating or it will shrivel and tear your nor sheet.
- Lay one sheet of nori smooth side down on your rolling mat so that the textured side is facing you. Gently spread a thin layer of rice over the textured side of your nori, leaving a bare empty strip along the bottom width of the sheet.
- Add your cucumber and avocado, or any other ingredients you decide to use, in a thin strip along the width of the sheet.
- Roll the top edge of your nori sheet down over your ingredients, tucking any of it in that might try to escape. Press gently down along the length of the roll to tighten the ingredients together, then roll the nori down again until almost over the bare strip.
- Wet your fingertips, and then run them along the bare strip of nori until it is thoroughly damp.
- Roll your sushi roll down all the way so that the bulk of the roll is over the dampened strip of bare nori. Move it to a place where it can rest and the bare strip and can seal the roll together.
- When ready, carefully slice the roll into approximately 1/2" wide pieces.
- Mix the tsp of water with the wasabi powder as per container instructions to create your wasabi paste, if desired.
- Serve sushi with wasabi paste and preferred soy sauce.