Is this a dream or is it real? | Carmelita's pizza | listed again
Posted Apr 18 2010 9:50am
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 norithan 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.
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.