April 18, 2010

Making sushi | Carmelita's pizza | listed again

The sushi rolls I made in class.
I recently dreamed I went out for ice cream with my youngest son to a place I heard had vegan options. At first we couldn't figure out where to get in line to place our order, but once we did, I saw there were four vegan flavor choices. The only one that sounded good was peach. I ordered it, and it was a grey-brown color, and came between two slices of dark brown bread — an ice cream sandwich of the weirdest kind. I ate the ice cream off one slice and immediately felt sick. Luckily I woke up before I could eat any more.

My very first inside-out rolls.

That dream sucked, but how about this one? I'm in a pleasant room with my husband and a number of other people, and a former zen monk hands me a bowl of perfectly cooked and seasoned rice and a plate of exquisitely cut veggies with which to make sushi. This is a much better dream, isn't it? Only this isn't a dream; this is a real cooking class at our local food co-op. It feels like a dream, though. How many times have you wished for a sous chef to perfectly prepare ingredients for your masterpieces? The teacher demonstrated cutting techniques, and talked a little (maybe too little) about cooking rice, but he did all the prep work, which is both good and bad. We didn't get to practice cutting or learn how to make perfect rice, though we did get to make both regular rolls and inside-out rolls. I've made lots of sushi rolls before but learned how to make them better. And this was my first go at inside-out rolls. You can see the results above.

The next day at home, I set about making sushi without the teacher's help, and realized nearly all my rice-cooking experience was with brown rice, and I'd chosen to use white rice for my sushi experiments. The teacher used a rice cooker but I used my pressure cooker. I remembered back to the Shojin Japanese cooking class we'd taken previously, where we learned to wash the rice with several changes of cold water until the water ran clear, and I did that. Then I cooked it and left the rice in the pot with the lid on for 30 minutes after turning off the heat like the sushi teacher recommended. Once the rice is cooked and rested it goes into a wide, shallow bowl (a wooden bowl is best because it absorbs excess moisture), and the side of a rice paddle or spoon is used to gingerly mix the rice with seasoned rice vinegar. (Seasoned rice vinegar contains salt and sugar and I don't use it. Instead, I cooked the rice with a pinch of salt, and used brown rice syrup along with unseasoned rice vinegar to season the rice.) It's the vinegar that is supposed to make the rice sticky, not the mixing, so care should be taken not to damage the rice kernels and release starch. You want to mix and fan the rice to bring it to room temperature.

Following the teacher's cutting techniques as best I could, I prepared vegetables for the sushi. I used cucumber with the core removed, avocado, carrots, baked tofu and green onions. In our class we also had asparagus but we planned to have wok-grilled asparagus for dinner so I didn't include any in the rolls. On the plate there is also wasabi and umeboshi paste. (Just thought I'd mention I cut my carrots with the new Borner V slicer I found at Goodwill for $2.99. I don't know if I should stay away from that store or go more often.)

To assemble the sushi, lay a sheet of nori on a covered bamboo mat with the shiny side of the nori down, and the lines on the nori going in the same direction as the bamboo slats. The major thing I learned in class that changed my sushi-making was to place much less rice on the nori than I used to. The layer of rice should be very thin, with bits of nori showing through. The sushi tastes much better when the fillings don't compete with a thick layer of rice. Above you can see the rice spread to the sides of the nori sheet with a 1/2" edge of nori left at the top and bottom. I still put a little too much rice on this sheet because I can't seem to help myself from overdoing the rice, but really, it tastes better with less rice. There is also a stripe of umeboshi and a stripe of wasabi. The fillings should be confined to about 1/4 of the sheet. (If you compare my class sushi with the home version, you can see how the amount of rice used affects the ratio of rice to filling.) Keep a small bowl of water handy to dampen your fingers so the rice won't stick to you, but be careful not to use too much water or to wet the nori sheet.

To keep the bamboo rolling mat clean you can encase it in a plastic bag or cover it with wax paper, if desired. I used the covered mat and my fingers to help encase the fillings in the first rollover, and to press it firmly in place. If the rice comes out the ends of the nori, you've pressed too hard! I've moved the bamboo mat away so you can see the first roll. Use the mat to roll another section, being careful not to catch the paper into the roll. Roll and firm until the nori is completely rolled up. Use a very small amount of water on the open edge of the nori to seal the roll.

There should be chop sticks instead of a fork.

When the sushi is completely rolled up, support both sides of the roll with one hand and slice it into halves with a sharp, damp knife, using a sawing motion. In class we used a Japanese chef knife but I think a serrated knife works well, too. Cut each half in half, and repeat until you have eight pieces. Our zen teacher told us if we mess up any of the sushi, we should eat it and keep going, saving the best ones for serving. As you can see there are only seven pieces of sushi in the photo above because I took his advice!


Out to dinner at Carmelita - not your ordinary pizza

We had a gift certificate to Carmelita that needed to be used, and since no one felt like cooking Friday night, we went out. I've had really good as well as not so great meals at this restaurant so I wasn't sure what to expect, but the meal was pretty terrific, and I was sorry not to have my camera with me. I won't go into the details of my asparagus appetizer or my husband's nettle soup and sweet potato gnocchi; I just want to talk about my pizza. It was topped with a puree of roasted sunchokes and truffles, with hen of the woods mushrooms, toasted pecans, roasted garlic, watercress salad and sunchoke chips. (The photo is of the half I brought home because I was stuffed.) The crust was almost like a crispy cracker and so delicious, and the toppings were amazing. I can't even begin to describe the gorgeous flavors, but on the downside it was way too oily, and my stomach was not as happy as my greedy taste buds. The next day I consumed two of the leftover pieces and felt like I'd eaten six. So yes, it was delicious, but will I order it again? Probably not.


Another list?
It seems my humble blog made it onto another "best" list. Yikes. Here's an excerpt from an email I received:
I just published an article on my site, 50 Best Vegan Lifestyle Blogs. I am happy to let you know that your site has been included in the article.
Best, Theresa Jackson
Theresa has assembled an interesting and useful list covering categories from becoming vegan, vegan cooking and international vegan cooking to gardening and vegan podcasts. Check out her list for blogs you may not be familiar with. New and aspiring vegans may find it especially helpful. I'm going to add some of the blogs to my reading list.


  1. Your sushi looks perfect!

    I've also had mixed experiences at Carmelita...sometimes good, sometimes not so good...I think it might be due to churn in the kitchen...but who knows. When it's good, it's good though...that pizza sounds fantastic.

    Congrats on the best blog list!

  2. I have to say, I'm not a sushi person as I've never been into fish of any kind. However presented beautifully like this, with vegetables and tofu, I would 100% give it a try. Looks wonderful!

  3. GORGEOUS sushi, Andrea! You are amazing.. and that ice cream sandwich on brown bread cracks me up- glad you woke up before you got too sick.

    Please, take me to that pizzeria sometime :) I think that is the most amazing pizza I have ever seen.

  4. Whenever I put rice on the nori, I think of an old screen saver where homer simpson is eating rice krispy squares.

    I'm waiting for full on asparagus season to brave Carmelita again.


  5. Beautiful sushi...and now I want one of those carrot cutter things!

    Nightmares with a vegan theme, I guess it's a new trope for us. My vegan nightmares all involve being tempted by a whole table groaning under a variety of delicious food that is almost, but not quite, vegan (it's always vegetarian though, even my subconscious filters out meat)...and being all alone...and very hungry...

  6. Rose,
    I really wish Carmelita could be more consistent, considering the relatively high cost of eating there. It can be wonderful or awful.

    I love sushi but since I'm vegan, it can never contain fish! You should give it a try. I love it with avocado or asparagus.

    Thank you! The restaurant isn't really a pizzeria — more a gourmet vegetarian restaurant with two kinds of pizza on the menu. I think you'd like it.

    Interesting association with Homer.

    We got Washington state asparagus at PCC. Does that count as local? (Not full-on local, though.)

    The V slicer is very cool ... and very sharp. I'll say no more.

    My food nightmares all seem to involve eating something that makes me feel sick. I don't remember having happy food dreams. Hmmm.

  7. Wow! Congrats again! That sushi looks great. I really need to practice my sushi making because it's not the best presentation.

  8. Monique,
    Thanks again! Sometimes my sushi looks good and sometimes not so great. I like the teacher's suggestion to just eat the bad ones and serve the nice ones.

  9. Nice looking sushi rolls you got there! Very helpful tips from the class, I'll have remember for the next time I attempt to make sushi. Thanks! and congrats on making the blog list! :-)

  10. WOW! Your sushi is gorgeous, seriously so crisp and clean and delicious. I adore vegan sushi, the more avocado in there the better. Just a touch of wasabi and a splash of soy sauce, I'm in heaven.

    But that pizza! Seriously ridiculously good. I can almost taste it through the screen!

  11. Chow,
    Why thank you. I'm glad you didn't see the sushi I flung together last night. It was just for me and I was in a hurry. It wasn't the best looking sushi but it tasted good.

    Avocado is my favorite kind of sushi, too, though I just tried some with arugula and it was great!

  12. Andrea, your sushi making skills are amazing! I love the idea of adding baked or maybe even smoked tofu.

  13. That pizza looks delicious to me! I like alternatives to tomato sauce. I'll bet I could have polished it off :) I have a huge appetite for pizza.

  14. Your inside-out-rolls look beautiful! Very impressive :-) And man, your Goodwill puts the ones around here to shame...I have never found anything there! I always think of you when I go to look, but I have yet to buy anything there. I continue to donate, though :-)


  15. Congratulations on making that list Andrea. You do deserve the honour and I do love that pizza :)

  16. That sushi looks PERFECT. I also must be putting too much "rice" (in my case, pate) on the nori sheets--who knew? And I really wish our Goodwill had items as great as the ones you seem to find there all the time--I never see anything that good!

    Congrats on the best lifestyle blog list--well deserved! :)

  17. Mihl,
    I think smoked tofu would be really good. I've also used wok-seared tofu.

    I don't know, Mary. The pizza was a lot bigger than I expected. I'll bet it would be perfect with a gluten-free crust!

    I've always wanted to make inside-out rolls but I think I like the regular ones better.

    You know, I don't always find cool stuff. You have to be there at just the right moment. (I actually saw someone walk off with a Thule car top carrier, and a very satisfied look on his face. Now that's a find!) But I have to say, this is the best Goodwill store I've ever been to.

    Thank you. I feel a little embarrassed about the list when there are so many really great blogs out there.

    I'm not sure it was "perfect" but it was perfectly delicious! If it makes you feel any better, I don't mention the times I go to Goodwill and find nothing — like last weekend.

  18. The sushi looks wonderfully made. Thanks for the ideas and great vegan advice.

  19. we love to make sushi. if you look closely at the labels, sometimes you can find funky sesame seed mixes at the asian grocery, as well as five spice tofu, and numerous and sundry pickled things to add some variety. also, inari. the kids eat the stuff like it's going out of style.

  20. Thanks for the comment and the suggestions. Next time I'm at our favorite Asian grocery, I'll pay more attention to the items that might be interesting to put in sushi.


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