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How to Make Vegetarian Sushi Rolls
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Mar 27, 2017
If you enjoy sushi/maki rolls but haven't ventured to make your own, I hope this pictorial encourages you to give it a try. It's a lot easier than you might imagine, and the cost is minimal compared to buying sushi at a store or restaurant.
Called kim bap in Korea, sushi/maki comes in countless varieties. Once you learn how to make a basic sushi roll, it's a snap to churn out all sorts to suit varying tastes and setttings.
To make your own sushi rolls, you'll need a sushi rolling mat. Here's the bamboo version that we use in our kitchen:
You can find this type of bamboo sushi rolling mat at most Asian foods stores, or at Amazon here:
You'll also need sheets of roasted seaweed, which are readily available at Korean and other Asian grocery stores.
You're looking for unsalted, roasted nori seaweed. If you go searching for this at your local Korean market, you can ask for "kim that's used to make kim bap." Kim means seaweed, and bap means rice. The "k" in kim sounds like "ghee."
To make a basic vegetable sushi roll, start by converting a couple of carrots into thin strips. We do this using an inexpensive mandoline, which we place over a basin and hold firmly against a solid surface to keep things stable as we julienne our carrots.
If you need a mandoline, you can pick one up at a Korean grocery store or through Amazon here:
Use a little extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt to saute your carrots, then set them aside until you're ready to start rolling your sushi.
Next, beat three or four eggs and saute on low to medium heat until you have a nicely fried egg that looks like this:
Use your best knife to slice your fried egg into long strips.
One ingredient that Koreans rarely leave out when making sushi is pickled radish. Old school Koreans called this "dak kwang," which I understand comes from the Japanese term for pickled radish. If you look for pickled radish at a Korean grocery store, you can ask for "dahn moo jee." These days, most packages of dahn moo jee are labeled in english as pickled radish, and you'll likely have a choice between white and yellow varieties, as well as different shapes. For convenience, you'll want to select one that comes in long strips, if possible. If long strips of pickled radish aren't available, you can get whatever is there and cut them yourself.
We typically use homemade pickled radish, courtesy of my mom.
It's always nice to have something green in your sushi rolls, for the vibrant color and also for the chlorophyll, calcium, and other nutrients found in dark green vegetables. Spinach is a common choice, and if you want to prepare it like most Koreans do, have a look at Margaret's pictorial on how to make bi bim bap.
The basic steps to prepare spinach for sushi rolls are:
Wash and steam spinach until it's cooked but still retains its dark green color.
Transfer cooked spinach to a basin of cold water (with a few ice cubes, if necessary) to ensure that cooking stops and spinach remains a rich, dark green color.
Use your hands to squeeze excess water out of the spinach. The drier you can get your spinach, the better.
Season with a touch of sesame oil and sea salt.
Once you have your vegetables ready, line them up so they're easy to pick up one after the other as you make your sushi rolls.
Please keep in mind that you can use any other ingredients that you desire. We often include avocados and asparagus, though we didn't have any around the day we made this batch of sushi. You can prepare asparagus the same way that you would prepare spinach. With avocados or anything else that doesn't come in long strips, simply slice them so they're about the same width as the rest of your sushi ingredients.
Time to prepare the rice. It's best to use sushi rice, which is typically called "calrose" rice. Put about three cups of cooked sushi rice in a large casserole dish or mixing bowl. Add a full tablespoon of sesame oil, a couple of pinches of sea salt, and mix well.
To minimize mess, we like to place our sushi rolling mat on a cutting board before we do any rolling.
Center a sheet of seaweed on your rolling mat.
By the way, if you don't have a rolling mat, you can always use a sheet of saran wrap instead, though a bamboo mat definitely makes for an easier job of sushi rolling.
Along with your seaweed sheet, rice, and vegetables, have ready a small bowl of water.
Dip clean fingertips into the bowl of water, then use your hands to spread a layer of rice on your sheet of seaweed - it should look something like this when you're done:
Please note that this is no easy task. The rice is naturally sticky, and though the water on your fingers will help you spread the rice out, go into this step knowing that even those who roll sushi for a living acknowledge that this can be a frustrating task.
For comfort, keep in mind that it doesn't really matter if things don't look great at this point, as once your sushi is rolled up and cut into bite-size rounds, it'll all look beautiful.
Now layer your vegetables on top of the rice.
Please note the amount of seaweed space that remains to the right and left of the rice and vegetables - this is necessary space for proper rolling, so be sure not to use more rice than what you see here.
Slowly and gently lift up the side of the bamboo mat that's closest to you, the side where the rice comes up close to the edge of the seaweed sheet.
And roll all the way over so that under the bamboo mat, there lies a fully draped roll of sushi - covered with one layer of seaweed, I mean.
Use your hands to firmly shape the sushi roll that's taking form within the bamboo mat - you want to somewhat knead/massage the bamboo roll to coax the seaweed, vegetables, and rice within to become the cyclindrical roll that it's meant to be.
Now use a fingertip to gently slide a line of water at the far end of your sheet of seaweed - this water will serve as the glue that will keep your sushi roll intact.
Now unroll the mat, use your hands to roll the partially finished sushi roll over until it's fully wrapped and sealed with the thin film of water, then roll one more time with your bamboo mat and gently knead again to encourage it to keep form.
As an aside, if you have little ones who you want to make smaller bite-size sushi pieces for, start with half a sheet of seaweed and use half of all of the ingredients that go inside. It's a bit harder to roll these miniature creations, but the little ones love them.
Keep in mind that you can use whatever you wish in place or along with the vegetables that are shown here.
Some folks like putting in a generous strip of kim chi. Others use tuna or salmon salad (tuna or salmon, celery bits, and mayonnaise) as the primary filling. Strips of marinated chicken, beef, fish - use anything you feel like.
It's generally best to make all of your rolls and have them sit as a little gathering of sushi rolls before you serve them up.
Before slicing into bite-size rounds, use the pads of your fingers to moisten both sides of your knife. This will help you make clean cuts, where the seaweed and rice don't get too messy and stick to your knife.
A closeup of my mom's vegetarian sushi:
It's always nice to serve sushi up with some fresh vegetables on the side. Use whatever you have on hand.
Keep in mind that you don't have to cut all of your sushi rolls into the same size rounds. You can leave some as miniature logs that can be eaten as wraps. If you're making sushi for a picnic lunch or just for when you're on the go, you can leave them as big rolls and eat them just as you would eat wraps or burritos - just store them in an air-tight container while traveling.
If you'd like a dipping sauce, combine soy sauce with just a few drops of sesame oil and vinegar - this is a super simple and mouthwatering sauce that we use for kim bap, dumplings, and Korean pancakes.
That brings our look at how to make sushi rolls to a close. If you give sushi-making a try and care to share your experience with others, please use the comments section below. Pictures are always welcome.
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