Sushi for Beginners

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Sushi is something that probably only a few years ago was difficult to find in a lot of places in the UK, but it is now one of the fastest growing cuisines and has created a huge cult of sushi addicts, myself included. There is something so satisfying about the simplicity of a dish based purely on rice and a few fillings, yet the endless combinations you can create means that it could never become mundane, and if you choose wisely then this light dish can be super healthy as well. 

What I love most about sushi is the social side of it: eating in a sushi restaurant where the dishes glide past you on a conveyor belt is really fun and different from most other dining styles, and making it at home with a group of friends or family is even better as you get to have a laugh rolling it too. 

I know it can sound daunting making your own for the first time, so I’ve shared my trusty recipe as well as some handy tips below. It really isn’t half as difficult as it looks! If there are any other questions you have or things that you think would be helpful to add then please drop me an email! For now, happy sushi-making!

Basic sushi recipe:

Serves 2-3 (makes around 26 rolls)

Preparation time: around 50 minutes

3 nori sheets

250g uncooked sushi rice

330ml water

Chosen fillings – I like classic ones such as avocado, cucumber and carrot, but a few others that I love include:

  • Mango
  • Beetroot and pear
  • Tamari-marinated stir-fried tofu and steamed spinach

For seasoned sushi rice you’ll also need:

3 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tbsp raw cane sugar/coconut sugar

1 tsp ground sea salt flakes

Cooking the rice:

  1. In a sieve, wash the sushi rice under a running tap of room temperature water. Get stuck in and use your hands to wash it really, really well – after about 3 minutes it should be done.
  1. Drain the rice and transfer it into a pan with the water. Bring it to the boil on the heat, then stir once to make sure none is stuck to the pan and place the lid on, turn the heat down and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Don’t lift the lid again!
  1. When the ten minutes is up, remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for 30 minutes. Don’t lift the lid, not even once!I know it’s super tempting but you really need to keep the moisture in so that your rice goes sticky enough to hold the sushi together.
  1. While the rice is cooling, you can prepare your chosen fillings and keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to roll.
  1. Once the rice has cooled, you can also add the seasoning ingredients to your sushi rice to get the traditional flavour provided by the rice vinegar – see the additional ingredients for seasoned rice above. All that’s needed is to mix these together in a small dish and then stir them into your rice.

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Rolling your sushi:

I know that rolling your own sushi can seem difficult if you’ve never tried it before, but believe me it is no where near as hard as all the hype might make it seem! After your first attempt you’ll feel far more confident and be churning out maki rolls like a pro. If you’re new to this I’ve noted down a few tips to try and make it that little bit simpler – I hope they help!

1. Wrap your bamboo rolling mat in clingfilm (or Saran wrap, glad wrap or plastic wrap if you’re from the States or Oz – I think I got those right?) before you start. This helps the nori to stick to the mat more firmly so that your roll won’t fall apart, and it also stops your mat from getting dirty so you have no need to clean it up later.

2. Keep a bowl of tepid water next to you while you work. I use my hands to scoop the rice straight out of the pan and flatten it evenly onto the nori, so it helps to have water ready to rinse your fingers once you’ve finished spreading the rice onto each sheet.

3. Place your nori sheet on the bamboo mat with the shiny side down so that you’re laying rice on the matte side, and if it has ridges on it then you can also orient it so that these run vertically – they act as cutting guides for later on. You’ll be laying your fillings on in a horizontal strip, positioned about 1.5 inches from the bottom edge of your rice-covered nori sheet.

4. Cover the nori with rice to the edges, but leave a gap of around 1 inch or more horizontally along the top edge. Just before you finish rolling, you can run a wet finger along this gap to help it stick fast, keeping your maki in tact.

5. As you roll, bring the bottom edge of your bamboo mat over to complete a full turn and just touch the rice, then squeeze the roll down and back towards you all along its length to keep it tight. Next, lift the top section of the mat from around the roll (but don’t move the mat from beneath the rest of the sheet waiting to be rolled), and keep this out of the sushi as you take the next section of the mat and bring this over until it meets the rice. Essentially, you are creating a continuous roll, like a swiss roll, but lifting the leading edge of the mat that you bring over with each turn so that it doesn’t get rolled up inside the sushi. Before you lift the mat to continue rolling each turn, remember to squeeze along the whole length of the roll downwards and backwards towards you to keep it tight and stop the maki falling apart.

Other ideas to try:

(Note – for all of the rice alternatives below, especially for the quinoa and cauliflower, it is important to use the rice vinegar as for the seasoned sushi rice above. This is because whilst the cooked sushi rice is naturally more sticky than the others below, these ones need sufficient rice vinegar in order to hold together when rolled. I always start by adding 3 tablespoons of vinegar and testing the consistency, then adding more if necessary.)

  • Brown rice
  • Black rice
  • Wild rice
  • Quinoa – cook 1 part dried quinoa to 2 parts water – I always cook 1 cup quinoa to make 3 rolls as above, as it makes slightly more than is needed so you can refrigerate the leftovers for a quick lunch another day.
  • Cauliflower ‘rice’ – simply blitz some raw cauliflower in a food processor on a low setting until it resembles cous cous and use in place of rice to get some extra veggies into your meal.

You could even colour your rice when it’s cooked by adding in a couple of tablespoons of pressed beetroot juice for some fun pink sushi – just add it little by little whilst stirring it through the cooked rice until it’s pink enough for your liking.

The most important thing when making sushi is to experiment – if you like an idea then try it, it might turn out brilliantly! And like all things, practice makes perfect, so keep on making it and your rolls will just get better and better. Plus, you’ll get to eat all of your ‘practice trials’ too! Have fun!

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