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Sushi for Kids


Simple Fish-Free Sushi for Kids

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.

SIMPLE SUSHI ROLLS

  • - 3 cups sushi rice (other short-grain rice is possible, but not preferable. Do not use converted or instant rice)
  • - 3 cups water
  • - 3 tbsp. sushi vinegar
  • - 1 pkg. cooked or roasted nori sheets (NOT raw)
  • - 1 bunch asparagus
  • - 1 bag carrot sticks or mini-carrots
  • - Wasabi paste (optional)

KIDS' COOKING SKILLS:

Use this recipe as an opportunity to teach children how to make rice and cut raw vegetables. Ask your kids to measure 2 cups of sushi rice into a large bowl. As in many Asian cuisines, the rice is rinsed first, by stirring it in cold water, carefully pouring off the cloudy, starch-filled water and repeating--about three times in all. Set in a colander to drain for about 30 minutes. While the rice is draining, and then later, while it is cooking, you can prepare little piles or stations for sushi assembly. Set out a bowl of water to keep hands moist while spreading rice. If using wasabi, put a few spoonfuls in a bowl for easy access, and cover (and warn kids how spicy it is!). Cut sheets of nori in half, storing in a large zipper bag to keep moist.

VEGETABLE SLIVERS

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.


Rice

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.

Now you're ready to go.

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.


IT'S FILLING TIME

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:


COOKING SKILLS:

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.


  • - Avocados: Carefully cut in half, going around pit. When separated, cut out pit, and then cut into fourths. By this point, you should be able to peel the avocado, but if the skin is tough, you might need to cut into eighths. Proceed to cut into narrow strips.
  • - Tomatoes: Medium ripe plum tomatoes work best. Cut off top, cut in half lengthwise, lay flat on board and cut into strips.
  • - Scallions: You can use just the green, white or both. Cut off bottom and any frayed tops and mince very fine.
  • - Cucumbers: Peel. Cut in half, and then in quarters. Cut out seeds. Cut each quarter into strips. If they are very wide and rectangular, you may want to make another lengthwise cut. Adjust length to fit size of rolls, if necessary.
  • - Red peppers: Cut out core and remove white veins. Cut into narrow strips--much narrower than you probably use in salads or other dishes.

  • OTHER FILLINGS

    - Plum Paste (umeboshi): Available in the same stores as the other sushi ingredients, often near the wasabi. For a sharp, sweet taste, use the same way as wasabi, putting a light smear across the rice before laying down the fillings.
  • - Cooked Fish: Salmon is a good bet, but whitefish and fresh tuna are also commonly used. You can cook plain or marinate for an hour or two in a zipper bag with teriyaki sauce. Broiling for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness is a good rule of thumb, flipping about half way through, but ovens vary widely. After cooking, peel off any skin. For flakier fishes like salmon, the easiest thing to do is gently mash into little pieces, which will lay out neatly in the rolls. Meatier fishes can be cut into thin slices.
  • - Smoked Salmon: Choose your favorite: Norwegian smoked, Scotch smoked, lox, etc., though you probably wouldn't want to stick the more expensive fish into sushi rolls. Cut into narrow strips.


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