I have some strange eating preferences.
When I was younger, I hated avocados. Absolutely loathed them. I hated the texture and thought they were bland, slimy, mushy green things. But I loved guacamole. I figured someone hated the avocado as much as me and had figured how to make the darn things edible. Go figure.
I think I was in my late teens when I realized that avocados were actually pretty good, and it came with a new culinary revelation: sushi.
I never ate sushi until college. I’d been too freaked out by the raw fish label. But I was persuaded to try it. First the basic California roll.
“I don’t know…”
“Well you like crab meat, right?”
Encouraged by my appreciation of the California roll, my friend managed to convince me to try a piece from a Yellowtail and scallion roll.
I remember sitting in the tiny restaurant on Grace Street in Richmond, tasting the fish in the rice and the seaweed wrapped around it. The tiny flecks of salt on the seaweed paper, and the crunch of the scallions.
I tried eel roll, wrapped in seaweed with a chunk of avocado and for the first time, realized that my prejudice against the fruit was unwarranted. Or I’d outgrown my distaste.
It was amazing. I’d discovered a new flavor combination. I felt like an explorer, challenging my palate. Why not? After all, I’d traveled to Vietnam during high school and had eaten the food there eagerly, loving the new tastes and textures.
My bizarre eating prejudices came back into play when he offered me a piece of salmon sashimi. The salmon lay across the bed of rice, rich melon-orange with white streaks. I was hesitant. I really didn’t like salmon. I’d never (and still haven’t) tasted a piece of cooked salmon that I liked. Salmon has always tasted too fishy to me, and I’ve never enjoyed the texture.
Until I took a bite of the sashimi. It practically melted in my mouth. It was exquisite. Soft and perfect.
I remember thinking it was strange. I hated the fish when it had been cooked, but raw? I really preferred the salmon raw? Add that to the list of weird food preferences.
But I was hooked. Sushi raced to the top of my favorite foods and has never left.
Flash forward a few years, when I’m sitting in a Moldovan restaurant, craving sushi. Really, really craving some sushi. I ate some on my trip back for my sister’s wedding and found a restaurant in Odessa while on vacation that served it. Towards the end of my time abroad, a restaurant opened that served sushi and I ate it. (Not bad.) But I missed the regular variety from a more equipped place.
Enter Zio. A fellow Peace Corps volunteer who shared my love for both sushi and cooking. She makes the best Mexican food I’ve ever tasted, and actually made salsa with cilantro that I liked. (Bizarre prejudice number 4. I hate cilantro in large quantities.) She’d made sushi before in Moldova, but I’d always missed out on it. But the night before my 25th birthday, we made some.
Note: Neither Zio or I are professional sushi chefs. She’s just really good at cooking and I’m good at picking up things. I do not advise using raw fish unless you know exactly what you’re doing. But there are many awesome alternatives.
The Zio Sushi Tutorial
¼ cup Rice Wine Vinegar
½ tsp Salt
2 tsp Sugar
Seaweed paper (available in many grocery stores in the International Foods Section)
Short-grain rice. (Sushi rice can also be found in grocery stores, but any kind of short-grain will do)
Sushi Rolling Mat (This, we did not have, so we made do with our hands, and did a pretty good job, but either way, it can’t hurt.)
The Fun Stuff
This is when you need to use creativity. What do you want to put in the sushi? Check out what’s available and start experimenting. We were working with the basics, but we also tried new things, like the carrots.
Prepare the rice. Mix rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt. This mixture should be done to taste. Zio likes the rice with a little extra vinegar. Heat the mixture in a pan until the sugar has dissolved. Place the cooked rice in a long dish and sprinkle the vinegar mixture over the rice. Mix well. Let it cool.
Roll It Up
Put the sushi paper shiny side down. Moisten it with just a little water. Place the cooled rice on the paper, spreading it out to even thickness across the seaweed paper. Press gently, so as not to stretch or tear the paper. Leave about ¼ inch of paper at the top without rice on it so you can close your sushi.
Next, place the filling on top of the rice on the edge closest to you, lining the fillings up evenly as well. Roll the sushi tightly away from you. When it’s rolled closed, moisten the far edge with some water on your finger, and then seal it shut.
Carefully cut the roll with a sharp knife and arrange it on a plate.
Zio recommends mixing Siracha hot sauce and mayonnaise for making a special sauce to roll in the sushi or to place on top. Her proportions: about a tablespoon of mayonnaise to a teaspoon of the Siracha, but it should be to your preferences.
And don’t forget the soy sauce.
As I was writing this article, I realized about halfway through that my timing was fateful. I’m writing about making versions of Japanese food while a disaster of unimaginable proportions is occurring in Japan. So here’s a suggestion:
Make the sushi at home. Host a “Japan Benefit Party.” Invite people over to eat sushi and try and raise awareness about the disaster in Japan. Collect donations for the Japanese Red Cross or other reputable charities that are working in the area to help the relief efforts. The culture, cuisine and history of Japan are without compare. The workers in the stricken nuclear plants are literally giving their lives to protect others. Making sushi might not be the best way of honoring that sacrifice, but encouraging others to learn about the extraordinary culture on the other side of the world is a good place to start.
–Alex Klein, Transition Voice
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