Christmas Sushi

by Maria Theresa Maggi on December 21, 2012

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.

Clark’s Green Zebra Heirloom Tomatoes

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:

(without the tomatoes, of course, but you get the idea)

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!






Leave a Comment

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nicole O'Shea December 21, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Yay! Christmas sushi! So pretty, so tasty, so satisfying and so much fun to make!

I love sushi, and I love making it. An ex-boyfriend used to love all things Japanese, and lived in Japan for awhile. He said that people there just throw whatever into their sushi: for example, hot dogs with mayonnaise! Ick.

Anyway, I have experimented with sushi rolls a bunch as portable food, similar to sandwiches since I don’t eat bread. My current treat-only fave is black rice with cuke, avocado and red onion inside. Also good is using a variation of cauliflower rice (a paleo diet invention that is shredded cauliflower, steamed without water and WITH oil; I just skip the oil. Yummers, and nice and light)

Oh I could go on! We should have a sushi party at your place!




2 moonwatcher December 21, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Hi Nicole!

You’re on!! Sushi party at my place! Thanks for telling me about your own sushi loves. I have never tried black rice. Always something to look forward to. I’ve heard of the cauliflower rice, but I always eat the cauliflower before I get around to grating it. I so agree they are a great fun alternative for those of us who don’t eat bread. Thanks for your delightful enthusiasm!




3 Mary Kate December 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I learned to make sushi years ago from the Post Punk Kitchen — spicy tempeh rolls. There used to be a video, but I can’t find it tonight. There is still a tips and tricks page:
I did it a bunch of times, then taught a friend, then we had a “roll your own” night with friends — with the same set of ingredients, it was amazing what different people came up with!

The best tip I can think of is to keep your fingers wet when making the rice part of the sushi — you can get it pretty even with your fingers, but to keep the rice from sticking to them, dip them in a bowl of water.

Yum. Now I want to make sushi!


4 moonwatcher December 21, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Thanks for the great tips, Mary Kate! I love the idea of a “roll your own” party! Glad the post got you in the mood for sushi.



5 SusanV (admin) December 22, 2012 at 7:40 am

Maria, your post brought back a funny and happy holiday sushi memory for me. Many years ago, my husband and I were packing up our apartment to move into our first house together over the Thanksgiving holiday. We packed all Thanksgiving day in order to move the next day. We didn’t have time to cook and thought we’d go out to eat or at least get vegan take-out, but every restaurant in town was closed. So we wound up eating the leftover sushi that I’d rolled the day before and kept, uncut, in the fridge. We called it our Thanksgiving Sushi Log (kind of like a Yule Log). It’s a private joke that sushi is our traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Anyway, thanks for bringing up that memory (probably funny only to me). Have a wonderful Christmas!


6 moonwatcher December 22, 2012 at 8:57 am

Thanks for sharing this memory, Susan. I loved it! “Thanksgiving Sushi Log”– now THERE’S an new tradition. My name for the uncut rolls is “sushi burrito,” but “Thanksgiving Sushi Log” has that special holiday ring to it. LOL Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas too!


7 Sheila Z December 22, 2012 at 9:36 am

The patio and the sushi are both works of art. Beautiful!


8 moonwatcher December 22, 2012 at 9:39 am

Thanks, Sheila!!


9 Marsha December 22, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Oh Maria, could you please, please send me the tamarind recipe? BTW, I love reading your blog….


10 moonwatcher December 22, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Hi Marsha,

I confess that we didn’t really measure. But we used a small amount of tamarind paste (a half teaspoon? I’m guessing. . .), a little more lime juice than that (a half to a whole tablespoon? guessing again), and then Bragg’s. The Bragg’s or coconut aminos is the “base,” so more of that than the other two. Just mix to taste, and enjoy. Here is the brand of tamarind paste thate we used:

It’s my new favorite ingredient! Have fun experimenting and tasting. 🙂



11 never give up December 23, 2012 at 6:35 am

Hi Maria,

I love, love everything about this post! Old houses, the beautiful and creative patio Clark made for you, his heirloom tomatoes and the beautifully plated sushi. The feelling of warmth from caring and sharing was everything I love about Christmas.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas and an even better new year!


12 moonwatcher December 23, 2012 at 9:54 am

Oh, thank you, thank you, never give up! So glad you loved it. That feeling of warmth and caring really is the ticket, isn’t it? Makes any day like Christmas.

holiday and new year blessings back to you and yours,



13 Kym December 24, 2012 at 9:35 am

I love your posts. They make me long for a home, long time good friends, and being settled. Traditions and comfort. I don’t seem to stay in one place long enough to make this happen. I rent, and am not settled, but maybe some day.

I have been eating plant based for a long time (over 22 years but not all healthy plant based!). I am not thin, nor am I pain free but I do the best I can and reading your posts let me know that I just have to keep fine tuning this path.

Merry Christmas and I hope next year is the best one for you yet!


14 moonwatcher December 24, 2012 at 10:16 am

Hi Kym. Thank you for reading along with me, and sharing some of your own circumstances here. Reading your comment this morning was a lovely Christmas Eve gift. All the best to you in your own process of fine tuning.

Blessings in the new year,



15 Ellen December 26, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Mmmmmm! You just can’t beat sushi, can you? I’ve never tried tamarind in my sauce, just Scriacha and soy, so I will be trying that.

We did a big Asian meal with my students last spring and one of the tables was a make-your-own-sushi table. Instead of rolling it, though, we made the nori into cones and then filled it with rice and veggies. It was a very quick way to get the sushi out, though I do love the rolls as they are so pretty. The cones would be great for a potluck or cocktail party.

As much as I love sushi, what I really enjoyed about this post of yours is your description. It came alive for me!


16 moonwatcher December 26, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Thanks, Ellen! So glad the description came alive for you. I love the idea of the sushi cones, too. I bet the students enjoyed that.



17 lucy miranda December 27, 2012 at 8:24 am

Marry Christmas to you too. I been reading your articles and I really enjoyed. You are an inspiration to me. Thanks.


18 moonwatcher December 27, 2012 at 8:52 am

Thanks so much, lucy! And happy holidays back to you, too.


19 veggiequest December 31, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Christmas sushi–I love it! Will definitely add that to my holiday rotation next year! I’m also excited to try making it with brown rice–I’ve only ever tried it with white. Wish me luck!


20 moonwatcher December 31, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Thanks, veggiequest! Good luck with the brown rice! I use short grain, which is stickier than long grain.


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