RECIPE: Two sushi appetizers you need in your life

Sushi doesn’t have to be intimidating. Try these two easy recipes for Inarizushi and Makizushi and wow guests at your next party.

Copycat recipes are a dime a dozen these days. Pinterest is full of creations promising to mimic your favourite restaurant dishes. Hands up if you’ve attempted the Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits or an East Side Mario’s Cheese Cappelletti!? 

But there’s one dish many of us shy away from preparing in our own kitchens: sushi. And for good reason. True Japanese sushi chefs (or Itamae, which translates to “in front of the board”) undergo years of apprenticeship, having to prove their dedication by washing dishes and mopping floors. Then if they’re lucky, the master will offer the chance to prepare sushi rice. If this goes well, the apprentice receives a promotion, to stand near the board and prep other ingredients. Sometimes they’re allowed to make items for take-out.

It’s a time-honoured tradition and a delicate art. 

Ten years ago when I was in my first year of university, I mentioned to a friend that I had never tried sushi. The pronouncement was met with a gasp of horror (of course), but growing up in a small town, the only international food available was the Chinese buffet.

He promptly scheduled a sushi date and treated me to a California Roll from the SushiGo in Ottawa’s Byward Market. I had never used chopsticks before and the roll looked enormous. (All joking aside). He explained you must put the entire piece in your mouth at once to get the full experience.

I immediately realized this was going to be an embarrassing ordeal.

Well, I nearly suffocated choking the whole thing down, but he wasn’t wrong: it was delicious. I’ve since grown to love sushi, as much as the average white girl anyway, and unabashedly eat my rolls in two-bites thank you very much. 

The California Roll and its other tempura-coated, mayo-infused counterparts, were actually designed for Western appetites. Developed in Los Angeles, during the 1960s, this “inside-out” sushi was meant to ease newcomers into the trend. To this day, it’s one of the first menu items people try.

Most people hear sushi and automatically think of seaweed and raw fish, but the term sushi literally means “sour rice” and encompasses any item made with the signature vinegar short-grain. 

It probably comes as no surprise, but Evan’s family loves sushi. There’s usually a platter at family get-togethers, birthdays are often celebrated at their favourite sushi restaurant, and if it’s a good fishing year, the best Rainbow Trout caught become Christmas sashimi.

On special occasions, it’s tradition to prepare Inarizushi and Makizushi. Although some of the ingredients need to be purchased at Asian or Japanese grocery stores, it’s worth the work if you have access. My dad, who considers Cheese Whiz a food group and claims to hate tofu, ate half the platter of Inarizushi at Cordelia’s baby shower, so it must be good.

But don’t take my word for it, try them yourself!


Inarizushi

WHAT IS IT?

A sweet and chewy tofu pocket, stuffed with sushi rice and vegetables. In Japan, a popular picnic food or quick lunchtime takeaway. Considered finger food.

To make Inarizushi, tofu skins called Aburaage are deep-fried, then simmered in a sweet soy sauce to create spongy pockets. These are stuffed with seasoned sushi rice and sometimes other vegetables such as carrots, nori pieces (seaweed), shitaake mushrooms, bamboo shoots; shrimp, eggs or pickled cherry blossoms. You can make them yourself or purchase pre-made versions at Asian markets fresh, frozen or canned.

Inarizushi has been a fixture in the Japanese food scene since the 18th century.

Named for the Shinto god Inari, patron saint of rice and agriculture, legend has it visitors to his shrines would bring fried tofu as a gift for his servants, the “Kitsune.” According to Shinto religion, these magical foxes had the ability to transform into humans to do the god’s bidding and they loved the taste of fried tofu. By bribing his messengers, you could gain Inari’s favour. Combining the tofu with rice created the ultimate gift and was said to please the god. To this day, the pockets still resemble the shape of fox ears. 

INGREDIENTS

30-40 pieces Aburaage (deep-fried tofu skin simmered in mirin, soy sauce and dashi)*
2 ⅛ c. (or 3 rice-cooker cups) white short grain rice
2 ⅓ c. water
1 medium carrot diced fine
¼ c. water
⅓ c. sugar
½ tsp. salt
¼ c. white vinegar
¼ c. rice vinegar
*can be purchased fresh, frozen or canned at some Asian markets and Japanese grocery stores

METHOD

Rinse rice in cold water, then run through a sieve or strainer to remove excess starch. Do this until water runs clear.

Add rice and 2 ⅓ c. water to a standard rice cooker.

While rice is cooking, dice carrot. Add to medium saucepan with ¼ c. water.

Bring to a boil and simmer until tender. 

Turn heat down to low. Add sugar and salt. Mix until dissolved.

Stir in vinegars. 

Moisten a large wood, plastic or ceramic bowl with a small amount of water.

Transfer cooked rice into the bowl.

Using a rice paddle, slice and fold rice to separate the grains. At the same time, using a sushi fan or piece of cardboard, fan the rice. This helps it cool faster while creating a glossy shine. Cover with a damp towel until ready to use.

Once cooled, add warm vinegar solution to the sushi rice. Continue to cut and fold until evenly incorporated. 

Spoon rice mixture into Aburaage. You can seal the pockets, but traditionally they are left open to display the filling.

Place rice side down.

Store in a covered container at room temperature.

Serve with pickled ginger.


Makizushi

WHAT IS IT?

Maki means “to roll.” Also called Norimaki (nori= seaweed) for the dried wrap. Large rolls are called Futomaki while small, one-ingredient rolls are called Hosomaki. Rolls consist of Nori, sushi rice and an odd number of fillings, usually a combination of fish and vegetables. The roll is then sliced into 6-8 pieces and served with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.

Rolls comprised of fresh and pickled vegetables are a popular choice for lunchtime Bento boxes in Japan. The rolls Tamiko makes most closely resemble this style.

INGREDIENTS

Sushi Rice (prepare as above, omit water and carrots)
3-10 sheets nori (dried seaweed)
Takuan (pickled daikon radish, can be purchased pre-sliced in strips or whole or make your own)
Kanpyo (strips of pickled Calabash gourd)* this is what gives the roll its distinct flavour. Make it yourself.

OTHER OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS:

Carrots, avocado, sea legs, cucumber etc.

METHOD:

Prepare sushi rice as above, omitting carrots, water.

Turn a stove burner on low and gently drag the nori sheets across a few times (this improves texture).

Lay nori on a bamboo mat and spread rice in a ⅓” layer, leaving approximately 2 inches at the opposite end.

Place fillings in the middle of the rice crosswise. Typically 3 or 5 items.

Roll firmly.

Wet the empty end of Nori with water to seal.

Place roll joint side down on a plate until ready to use.

Cut into ¾” slices. Approximately 6-8 per roll.


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