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With its different colors and textures, sushi is edible art.
I can’t remember when I first tried this exotic, aesthetically pleasing Japanese delight. I don’t do the eel, salmon or raw fish varieties. I’m happy with some crab, spicy shrimp or vegetarian sushi.
On a recent Saturday night, I had the joy of eating dinner with Donna and Cecil Weaver of Lancaster. Donna, whose heritage includes Japanese, is from Hawaii, which has its own unique twist on sushi.
In Donna Weaver’s opinion: “Japanese sushi doesn’t have any flavor to it. My mother won’t eat it and she’s Japanese.”
One of the secrets, she said, is flavoring the sushi rice. Available at local grocery stores, sushi rice is flavored with a mixture of Japanese rice vinegar or mirren, sugar and salt. Weaver cooks the rice in her rice cooker, then cools it and lays it out on a wooden tray, then adds some of the vinegar mixture.
On a sushi mat, which is available at Asian or culinary stores, Weaver lays out a sheet of yaki nori, which is toasted seaweed.
Yaki nori is available at the Harris Teeter at Sun City Carolina Lakes, in the Oriental foods section.
She spreads rice to about three-fourths of the way to the top, leaving room so that the finished sushi roll may be sealed with more of the vinegar mixture.
This is where the artistic license comes in.
Sushi may be made with crab or imitation crab; canned tuna spiced up with soy sauce, sugar, salt and pepper; seasoned tofu; fried egg cut into strips for easy rolling; or carrots, asparagus, spinach and cucumber.
Weaver prepares the carrots and asparagus by blanching them, making sure she doesn’t overcook them so they retain their crispness.
The carrots and hot house or English cucumbers should be cut into 4-inch strips, according to “Hawaii Style Sushi and Other Local Favorites.”
For something a little more exotic, Weaver bought canned gourd strips with shiitake mushrooms, pickled turnips and fish roe from an Asian store in Charlotte. I liked the turnips, which added a nice crunch, a bright yellow color and a tangy zing to the sushi. I love roe, too, which is a beautiful orange and literally pops in your mouth when you bite into it.
“It’s up to your imagination,” she said. “The stuff you eat at Nakato’s (a popular Charlotte Japanese restaurant) isn’t going to have all this stuff in it.”
Once the fillings she puts on top of the rice, she begins rolling the sushi mat from the end closest to her. Rolling the mat once, she tucks the fillings inside, then rolls the mat again, until the sushi roll is complete. The nori is then sealed with just a touch of the vinegar mixture.
Sushi is delicious when dipped in a mixture of soy sauce and wasabi, a super hot, green condiment best eaten in small quantities.
The night Weaver gave me sushi lessons, she also served shrimp cocktails, and her husband, Cecil, grilled up chicken skewers, served with a peanut sauce, and teriyaki beef. The dinner, both tasty and pretty to look at, was made complete with a simple salad topped with sesame ginger dressing.
Weaver also had pickled ginger on hand, typically served on the side when sushi is eaten.
As a person samples different kinds of sushi, he or she may eat the pickled ginger in between to clear the palette.
At first glance, sushi may seem like an overly exotic meal, and you can make it that way. But most of the basic ingredients are available at stores right here in Lancaster County to make authentic, Hawaiian style sushi.
Just don’t forget the chopsticks.
Sushi Rice Seasoning
1 cup Japanese rice vinegar
1 cup white sugar
2 heaping teaspoons salt
A squeeze of lemon or lime juice
– Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves.
– Prepare sushi rice according to directions on package. Spoon seasoning over ingredients on a sushi mat before rolling.
– Recipe from “Hawaii Style Sushi and Other Local Favorites”