Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Vegetarian Sushi Secrets

I can't even tell you how many times I've told someone I was going out for sushi only to have them reply, "Sushi isn't vegan." I'm always amazed at how many people don't realize vegetable sushi is a thing. In fact, contrary to popular belief, "sushi" does not mean "raw fish." The word actually refers to vinegarized rice combined with other ingredients (which can mean anything from fish to veggies to fruits or whatever).

Most sushi places, however, only offer a slim selection of veggie sushi — the standard cucumber roll, avocado roll, or mixed vegetable roll. If I'm lucky, I'll find a place with tofu inari or natto roll. I do make sushi at home occasionally, but even then, I get stuck in the same boring ruts the restaurants do. But not anymore! Fellow Memphian/sushi pro Marisa Baggett has just released her latest sushi book, Vegetarian Sushi Secrets, and it's filled with creative recipes for authentic veg-friendly sushi.

This is Marisa's second sushi cookbook. Her first was called Sushi Secrets, and it was filled with more traditional fish-based sushi recipes. But Marisa, a trained sushi chef, said she wanted her follow-up book to be all about "debunking that all-too-familiar myth that sushi must contain raw fish." And debunk she did! This book is loaded with inspired recipes for thin sushi rolls, thick sushi rolls, inside-out rolls, hand rolls, soups and appetizers, and even desserts! But the very best part is the entire chapter dedicated to my favorite sushi — inari (those deep-fried tofu pockets filled with vinegar rice and other toppings).

This book isn't for the throw-it-in-the-microwave convenience cook. Most all of the recipes call for homemade sauces or condiments that must be made from scratch first. I selected a few recipes for a sushi night at home, and I got a head start the day before by making all of my sauces ahead of time.

I picked one traditional nori-wrapped roll — the Summer Corn and Pickled Okra Rolls. This was just before the summer ended, and corn was still sweet and juicy. I used homemade pickled okra that my granny canned a couple summers ago. These also contained toasted sesame seeds, carrot, and bell pepper. And unlike many recipes in this book, there were no special sauces required. Just homemade sushi rice and veggies! The pickled okra added just the right twang, and I was able to skip my usual pickled ginger.

From the inari chapter, I went with the Spicy Carrot and Tomato Inari Sushi. This was my favorite thing from the book! The tofu pockets are stuffed with a sesame-flavored sushi rice with chopped carrots and homemade chia seed togarashi (a mix of chia, sesame, and hemp seeds with spices). Then it's topped with fresh tomato. Perfection!

For my appetizer, I picked the Cold Tofu Trio. It's three recipes in one — each for different toppings for silken tofu. This recipe was complex because it required making several homemade sauces — amazu sauce, vegetarian eel sauce, vegetarian dashi, and ponzu sauce. And I'm sure you could skip a couple of sauces to save time (or purchase pre-made sauces), but the homemade versions really lend so much flavor. 

The first tofu dish in the trio was topped with fresh grated ginger, daikon, carrot, and amazu sauce (rice vinegar, vegetarian dashi, and sugar). I loved the amazu sauce on my tofu, but I wasn't crazy about the fresh ginger. Next time, I'll use pickled. The fresh was too potent for me.

The second tofu dish was topped with ponzu sauce, tomatoes, and green onion. I really loved the citrusy soy sauce with the bland, cold tofu and veggies. Probably my favorite of the bunch. By the way, I used homemade silken tofu for these dishes (not in the book but from a make-your-own tofu kit that had been lurking in my pantry for months).

Finally, there was a tofu dish topped with vegetarian eel sauce and fried onions. The "eel" sauce was sweet and savory with a hint of booziness (thanks to rice wine, which I subbed for the sake in the recipe -- mostly because I didn't want to buy a whole bottle of sake for a few tablespoons when I already had rice wine in the pantry).

This is an awesome book, and I feel like it has potential to truly step up my sushi game. Even though making all the homemade sauces takes more time, they really do lend the dishes an authentic flavor that you don't get from nori alone. I've never had non-vegan sushi because I wasn't exposed to sushi at all until I was an adult. People just didn't eat stuff like this in small-town Arkansas in the 1980s and 90s. But I'd imagine this stuff is closer in flavor to non-vegan sushi than most veggie sushi.


Susan said...

Oh wow, this sounds amazing! I love inventive sushi.

Hillary said...

I totally agree with you about making sushi at home. I always make carrot, avocado and cucumber rolls which are delicious, but a little boring. This book looks great. And homemade silken tofu? I'm super impressed!

Tea and Sympatico said...

I've not made sushi for ages and I always play it safe and just make different types of nori rolls. I love the look and sound of the inari pouches. Can you buy the pouches ready to stuff? The kit to make silken tofu sounds interesting too, I didn't know such things existed!

Jennifer said...

I use to love eel sushi- but I think i just loved the sauce! I would love to get my hands on this cookbook. I am a big sushi fan, and my old Japanese cookbooks are gathering dust on the bookshelf (they use too many small animal products here and there)