I can’t recall the first time Sushi decorated my dinner plate. What I do remember is that I was an adult. My mother made many delicious Asian-flavored meals from scratch when I was a child; Chinese stir fry and Asian chicken salad were favorites. Sushi wasn’t as popular or accessible in ‘those days,’ so it never graced our family dinner table.
But now, let’s be clear about something: I love Sushi. I love everything about it! Okay, maybe not the grilled eel or fried tofu options. But those aside, Sushi is one of my favorite meals because of its unique and stunning taste. My husband ‘seconds’ these statements, so early married life was filled with periodic Sushi indulgences.
And now, more than a decade later, our real food family (of seven) loves Sushi! For a whole food family, Sushi is appealing for several reasons:
- It is a practical way to utilize and enjoy the raw, fresh harvests of our own gardens.
- It is more affordable and more nutritious than that of most restaurants.
- Its ingredients can be flexible, depending on family preference and availability.
- It can be made free of allergenic foods, so as to include all family members.
- If properly planned, it can involve the whole family in meal preparation.
- It exposes our children (and ourselves!) to foods of another culture.
- Its myriad of flavors interact to impart a complex, wonderful taste.
- Its vivid, contrasting colors provide a beautifully decorative meal.
I hope I’ve convinced you to try making Sushi at home. The instructions and images below will be your guide, and you’ll discover the process and satisfying outcome of whole food Sushi-making. Add this experience to your real food lifestyle, and it may evolve into a favorite family meal and memory. Let’s get started!
- Sushi Mat and Paddle (click here for an example). You will need one set if you will have one adult (or older child) creating and rolling all Sushi rolls for each family member. Or, you may want a few sets. We use 2 to 3 sets when we are making Sushi for our family of seven.
- Chopsticks (optional)
- Several bowls to hold Sushi fillings and mix sauces
- Knives and cutting boards on which to cut vegetables and fish
- 3 cups dry short-grain brown rice (long-grain tends to be less sticky)
- 6 tablespoons whey, kefir, lemon (or other acid)
- 4 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Rapadura (or other unprocessed sugar)
- Fermented soy sauce or tamari
- “Regular” mild Sushi sauce: 2 tablespoons mayonnaise + 2 teaspoon lemon juice
- Spicy Sushi sauce: To the mild sauce, add 1 to 2 teaspoon Srichacha sauce
- Wasabi: We buy Eden wasabi powder from Vitacost.com and simply add hot water to turn it into paste
- Nori (seaweed) Sheets [click here for an example]
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup sesame seeds
- 1 to 2 cups of each, thinly sliced: carrots, avocado, scallions, cucumber, red bell peppers, or other vegetables your family enjoys or harvests at home
- 1/2 to 1 cup ginger carrots, fermented (as shown in Wardee’s lacto-fermentation class or in Sally Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions)
- 1 to 2 pounds sashimi-grade fresh tuna, wild salmon or other fish, sliced in about 1/2-inch wide strips (about 2 to 3 inches long). We usually get 1 pound of tuna and 1 pound of salmon to provide greater variety. You could also cook or eliminate the fish.
Yield: About 15 long Sushi rolls (which each slice up into 8-10 bite-sized rolls)
Preparing the Rice, Vegetables, Fish and Sauces
For ultimate digestion, soak your rice before cooking, according to Wardee’s Grain Cooking Chart. Preferably, soak your rice overnight and cook by mid-morning. When done, stir in the rice vinegar and sugar. When cooled, place in the refrigerator. We have found that in a family with several young children, adult midday slicing and chopping of vegetables and fish, and preparing sauces ahead, decreases the chance of children’s potential dinnertime crankiness and impatience! Depending on how much you include, this step can take a while. The little kids enjoy the Sushi rolling part of it and seeing all the ingredients out at dinnertime. If your children are older, perhaps all family members could be involved in the slicing and chopping, right before you create the rolls at dinner. You could combine these approaches if your children span a wide range of ages.
Making the Sushi Rolls
If you sliced and chopped ahead, pull the items out of the refrigerator about an hour before you hope to be eating. Unroll your Sushi mat and lay it flat. We lay ours atop a large cutting board, but they can be placed right onto the counter. Decide whether the outermost layer of your rolls will be Nori or rice. If Nori, lay it directly onto the Sushi mat and gently spread a thin layer of rice over the Nori. It will feel sticky, and even challenging at first, to spread the rice. But you’ll get used to the feeling, and the paddles that come in the Sushi mat and paddle kits really help. If you want rice on the outside, spread the rice directly onto the Sushi mat. When spread into a thin layer and flattened, lay the Nori directly on top. We have done it both ways and find the Sushi-rolling process to be easier when the Nori is the outermost layer. You may want to experiment with that.
Now comes the fun part: decide what you want in your roll and how much. The below picture shows a very eager, hungry Sushi-eater (okay, me), who wanted to sample all possible vegetables and fish, along with the spicy sauce, in her first roll. She simply didn’t want to miss out on anything! Anyway, lay your chosen items lengthwise across the width of the roll and spread your “regular” or spicy sauce along the inner side of your pile of fillings, as depicted below. Now you’re ready to roll (pun intended)! Lift up the fillings end of the roll over the top of the fillings themselves, using the mat as your guide and support. When this end touches down onto the rice, just past where your fillings had been laid, continue to roll.
Keep in mind: Your mat does not roll into your Sushi roll. It simply stays on the outside, constantly guiding your roll. When you get to the end, your mat should be laying over the Sushi roll. Hold both hands over the mat and gently squeeze the roll. This will carefully push the ingredients together into a nice, compact roll, which makes it easy to slice and eat.
This is what your roll will look like after rolling, but before slicing.
Slicing the Sushi Rolls
My husband was the first to try slicing the roll. His hint: be sure you have a nicely sharpened knife! It doesn’t work with a dull knife, unless you want wadded up, sort-of circular piles of Sushi ingredients as your final product. After you find that knife, slice the Sushi roll across the width into about 8 to 10 Sushi rolls. Slice slowly and gently. You can keep them in a ‘log’ as you continue to slice, or you can take each sliced piece and set it onto a serving platter or plate while you continue to cut the others.
Dressing and Eating the Sushi Rolls
Drizzle soy sauce or tamari atop your Sushi rolls just before eating. And for those who like a spicy life, spread a little wasabi over the top of each roll, or place a small pile of wasabi on your plate and dip each roll lightly into the wasabi before eating. Most people can, or try to, eat each Sushi roll piece in one bite; others bite into it on bite one, and finish it off with bite two. There are no hard and fast rules . . . that I’m aware of!
Serving the Sushi Rolls
You can make several rolls and fill up a platter to be served at the table for a whole group, or you can make each roll individually by request of specific ingredients from each family member. Either way, try to enjoy this process and the final taste of your labors. Sushi rolls as hearty as these are the main course, so thankfully you don’t have to worry about other dishes to serve alongside. If after everyone has eaten you still have quite a few fillings, some rice and Nori sheets, Sushi rolls make for a nice family lunch the next day as well (made fresh that next day, not prepared as rolls and refrigerated all night). We have made our dinner Sushi rolls on Saturday evening, and have had enough left to roll more Sushi for lunch right after church on Sunday.
Consider your environment as you engage in this rewarding meal preparation. It will be much more fun if you’re not rushed for time. And perhaps some Japanese background music? Let me encourage you: it may take a time of two of Sushi-making to really learn and appreciate the process. But once you’ve done it, you will become much more efficient, and you’ll likely want to do it again and again and again. I hope real food Sushi-making becomes part of your real food menu and lifestyle.