Sushi making at work has never been easier.
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First things first: No, sushi does not have to mean "raw fish" and, yes, your kids (and you and your husband) will love it. Sushi actually means "sticky rice" and it has always fostered inventiveness. You can use chicken or beef, or even a plain, sliced omelet. The number of sushi fillings is virtually endless, making sushi a great activity for a whole party of budding sushi senseis, or masters.
Sushi scores very high on the "fun" scale, as making sushi rolls is practically like being ordered to play with your food. And then there's the dipping--eating sushi rolls with your hands is every bit as traditional and acceptable as using chopsticks, so kids will go to town grabbing and dipping the little bundles into soy sauce.
You can also make sweet Sushi like Nutella Maki or strawbery californioa roll...
You can involve your kids with the preparation in lots of ways--cooking the rice, slicing the vegetables, maybe helping to whip up a plain omelet--but assembling the rolls is the main event. Itadakimasu! (Bon Appetit!)
Sometimes called maki or nori rolls, these bite-size packets are easy to master and even use a little low technology--small bamboo mats called makisu--that kids will enjoy. The mats, like other necessary items here, can be found at any Asian market, or even a well-stocked supermarket that caters to a diverse clientele. Whole sushi kits can be purchased on the Web, but generally these kits do not include fillings such as fish or vegetables.
Older kids can help slice, if you are comfortable letting them handle sharp knives. For the sake of simplicity, this recipe only contains carrots and asparagus. But, realistically, you probably will want a greater variety of sliced vegetables on hand. To start, here's how to do carrots and asparagus: Carrots are tricky because they are so hard.
You might want to use mini-carrots, which are a little softer, or start with pre-cut carrot sticks and, depending on their thickness, slice them three or four more times, until they're almost thin enough to be translucent. They don't need to be long enough to run the full length of the roll.
Asparagus are good because they don't need any real slicing, just one cut to make sure they are the same length (not width, length!) as the nori sheet. Make sure you cut off the bottom, not the tip, as that is the prized home of all the asparagus' richest flavors. The one thing asparagus does need, however, is a brief steaming. You can do this in a steamer over the stove or in a covered dish with a little water in the microwave on high. In either case, it should take about 2 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus.
Getting the rice absolutely perfect will take a little practice, but getting it perfectly adequate is not difficult. The easiest way is to use a rice cooker, but for those of us without this handy device, here's what to do: Have your child take the drained rice and put it in a saucepan with two cups water.
Bring to a boil, and cover and lower the heat as low as possible to avoid burning. Simmer for 15 minutes without lifting the lid to check. Remove rice from heat and let stand for 15 minutes to steam. To avoid water collecting on the inside of the lid and dripping back into the rice, many people lay a dish towel between the lid and the pot to absorb the water while it steams.
Many Japanese have a special wooden tub, called a hangiri, just for the next process, but a wide-bottom bowl or pan, or a casserole dish can be used. With a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, transfer rice to your pan of choice and spread out to cool. Sprinkle with sushi vinegar and use spoon to gently fold the vinegar into the rice.
After mixing, fan the rice using a piece of cardboard or even a magazine--unless you happen to have an uchiwa, the silk fan that some Japanese use.
TIP: The rice should be shiny and sticky, and each grain should be distinct. Transfer it back to the pot or to another bowl and cover to keep it moist and lukewarm.
Arrange materials on and around a large cutting board, including water, wasabi, nori, vegetables and rice. Place a sheet of nori on the bamboo mat so that the length is parallel to the bamboo, wet your hands, and take about cup of rice (you will quickly see why it is called "sticky rice" and why you need to keep your hands wet). As you place the rice onto the nori sheet, fashion it into a long column that makes a long strip right across the middle of the sheet. Gently press it toward the edges, so the whole sheet is covered with a thin blanket of rice, maybe just a grain or two thick.
Keep your fingers wet if necessary, but try to use as little water as possible to avoid dampening the rice. TIP: Many people encase their bamboo mats in plastic wrap. This makes it both easier to work with and easier to clean.
If you're using wasabi, take a tiny dab of it on your finger and make an almost transparent green strip across the rice. Across the middle of the sheet, lay out the asparagus spear and enough carrot slivers to run the length of the roll. To roll, gently take edge of mat in both hands, leaving it on the board or counter surface. Roll mat and sheet together about one third of the way. Gently apply pressure, and try to keep the roll rounded rather than flat.
Unroll slightly and repeat twice more, also at one-third intervals. By the end, the mat should have a substantial lip overlaying the roll, and that lip can be tucked under the roll so that the almost-finished product is completely wrapped in bamboo. Now you can fine tune the roll with pressure to make sure it is perfectly rounded. Remove mat and use your sharpest knife to cut the rolls into six or eight pieces, depending on how thick you want them. (Probably NOT a step for the kids).
To make sure the pieces are all even, first cut roll in half, and then cut each half evenly into two or three more pieces.
Repeat with remaining sheets, rice and fillings until finished. Arrange on plate or platter, and serve with shallow bowls of light soy sauce. The rolls are traditionally served with gari, or pickled ginger (available in the same stores), which people eat in between bites to "cleanse" the palate, and with wasabi, which can be dabbed onto the rolls to add a little spice.
Using the basic roll instructions, substitute in any of the following. But be forewarned: the small sushi rolls work best with only two fillings, three if you include the scallions. Here are some suggestions:
If you're willing to let your kids handle these tasks, they can get to know a wide variety of produce and the special challenges and properties that each one presents.
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