It wasn’t Christmas when I first had this sushi. But it felt like Christmas. My friend Clark had invited me over for dinner. We live in one of the oldest neighborhoods in town; my house was built in the summer of 1897, and he lives a half block from my house in the oldest apartment building in Moscow. It’s affectionately called “the doll house.” Even though the splendor of the dollhouse is now somewhat tattered, it’s still splendid. Built in 1884 in the middle of a wheat field, it was once the mansion of Almon Asbury Lieuallen, one of the town’s founding fathers. Its third story was originally a single undivided room with a hardwood floor, left open so the Llewellyn children and their friends could roller skate during the Winter. Even though Clark’s apartment is on the second floor, it still gives a great high up view of the neighborhood and the moon rising in the eastern sky. The roof of the first story porch is now a wide veranda that’s great for growing his heirloom tomatoes in the summer.
Since eating plant based mostly involves cooking all my own food, when someone offers to make me a meal I can eat without worry, it really is like Christmas morning. What a pleasure to look out at the town lights while someone else was happy and willing to chop veggies, cook on the stove, and whip up an amazing sauce to dribble over the sushi. Tamarind paste, lime juice, and Bragg’s. It was the first time I’d ever tasted tamarind paste, and I fell in love with it.
I wish I had taken a picture of that first sushi plate. The little white whorls, set on a large ceramic black plate, were filled with blanched Japanese sweet potato, mushroom, spinach and carrots. A universe of goodness. It was gorgeous, just like everything else Clark has made for me, like my star garden and a patio in the shape of a galaxy. Talk about a lucky woman.
But I got even luckier. The next week, Clark suggested we plan another sushi night, and this time he would teach me how to do it. I have always gobbled up any nori rolls anyone was willing to make for me, but I have never been able to compute how it’s actually done. I guess all I needed was a kind and patient teacher. I passed the rolling requirement with flying colors. This time we put orange sweet potato, avocado, mango, raw zucchini, mushroom, carrot spirals and arugula. And of course the tamarind sauce. This time we were at my house, and we ate them in front of the fire. (By the way, Romeo loves this sushi, so we have to share with him, too. Luckily, there’s always plenty to go around.)
There are lots of tutorials on the internet about how to do this. Both Straight Up Food and Kid Tested have nice low fat vegan ones, for instance. So I won’t pretend to be definitive. I’ll just tell you what we did and didn’t do. We didn’t use a special mat. Just a smooth, clean cutting board. This one:
The first time, instead of rice, Clark used rice noodles, an innovation he had seen someone else try that intrigued him. They rolled up really well in the nori sheets, tasted good, and took less time to cook than rice, if you’re in a hurry. Since I feel better if I don’t eat noodles regularly, the next time we cooked some organic short grain brown rice, and sprinkled it with seasoned rice vinegar. We steamed the sweet potatoes. Everything else was raw, and sliced or grated thin and long. We decided the smooth side up of the nori would help the rice stick better. Then we arranged the rice on the nori sheet, flattening it with a wooden spoon. Then we arranged any combination of our slices in the middle of the rice. Then we rolled, curling the end of the nori around the veggies and pressing as we went. The other end of the nori was moistened with water, to help it stick once the rest was rolled up to it.
Pretty simple, after all these years of fearing it was a complicated mystery I could never grasp. But it’s also a wonder that my hands can now do it, without flying off the handle, so to speak, and scattering the ingredients involuntarily across the counter, or to the floor. Another joyous little victory.
I was so excited with my accomplishment of rolling up the nori sheets that I forgot all about learning how to cut the rolls into those beautiful little slices. The next day I had a few veggies and some brown rice left over, and half of a red bell pepper. I was feeling brave, so I decided to practice. The results of my solo practice run were mixed, so I’m looking forward to my next sushi tutorial. But I did, by happy accident, get a few good rolls to plate up (the rest went into “sushi salad”). The red bell pepper and the arugula gave these an additional Christmas feel. And I realized they could be a fun healthy addition to my list of eclectic Christmas treats. Like the Christmas lights I’ve loved to see twinkling at night since I was a little girl, these little spirals of healthy goodness add a magical “spin” that makes any day feel like a holiday.
Merry Christmas! May your holidays swirl and shine, with traditions old and new, however you celebrate them!