How to Make Healthy Sushi - it's easier than you think!

I used to look at pictures of homemade sushi rolls in awe. It all seemed so unattainable to me; sushi is something you order at a restaurant, something a professional makes for you and presents in a way that surely you could never replicate yourself. The ingredients, too, felt unreachable. I had a hunch that Whole Foods and even some larger Giants might carry nori and wasabi and pickled ginger, and yet they still felt so much less real than the Pepperidge Farm oatmeal bread or Chobani greek yogurt that have become staples on my shopping list.

Then, I found this post about “super healthy” homemade sushi, and suddenly I changed the way I looked at the endeavor. It wasn’t that it automatically sounded like a cinch: I wondered how I would ever be able to make and eat enough to use a full pack of nori without it spoiling; I imagined the rolls completely falling apart, leaving me with a sushi salad of sorts; and I lamented that unless I made it for me, myself, and I, I wouldn’t be able to find people to share it with. Still, I bookmarked the post – I mean, it did give a recipe for sticky quinoa, which just about set my heart aflutter – and moved on, thinking one day I would get around to it.

It didn’t take me too long to realize that my birthday was the perfect excuse to try this recipe out. It’s the one day out of the year that I can really push the boundaries on what I can convince my family to try. I like to encourage them to try new things, and my parents have for the most part been awesome about that, but at the same time I don’t want to overwhelm them with foods and recipes that they feel uncomfortable with or are unlikely to really, really enjoy. So, we agreed that I would make sushi for dinner and we would have the pizza delivery guy on speed dial, just in case it was a total flop.

I took a tofu stir fry recipe from Martha Stewart and adapted it to make a filling for the sushi, adding in shitake mushrooms and adjusting the size of the ingredients to be more suitable for a bite-size roll. I didn’t buy or make any pickled ginger, so I grated some fresh to add to the roll, too. I stuck with the recipe for sticky quinoa from the original post I had found and served the rolls alongside extra soy sauce, wasabi paste, and some steamed edamame pods with salt. My rolling skills could certainly use more practice and I should have divided each roll into 6, not 8, slices for a more traditionally-sized serving, but every single roll stayed intact and the taste was out of this world! I also cooked all of the vegetables which led to a lack of textural differentiation, so below I’ve suggested that you should leave the broccoli raw for a little crunch. You could also add in some radish, carrot, or other crunchy ingredient to help with varying the textures.

Because I was originally so intimidated by homemade sushi, I thought I would try to make this post a little more instructional than usual. I don’t have step by step pictures, but I do have a few taken throughout the process, and I will try to be as helpful as possible in the methods section. If you like sushi or you’re in the mood to try something new in the kitchen, this is the perfect meal to try. It’s easier than you might think, pretty darn healthy, and it’ll be sure to impress your guests!

Tofu & Veggie Sushi
Yield: 4 rolls, 24 pieces

The Ingredients – The Quinoa
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained
2 cups water
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

The Ingredients – The Filling
½ package (roughly 7 ounces) firm tofu
3 ounces shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 ½ tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar1
½ tablespoon minced garlic
½ tablespoon corn starch

The Ingredients – The Rolls & Sides
4 nori sheets
1 sushi mat or flexible, wooden placemat2
1 tablespoon grated ginger
¾ cup finely chopped broccoli
wasabi paste, for serving
soy sauce, for serving
1 package frozen edamame pods, steamed and salted

The Method
Start by preparing the sticky quinoa, as it will need time to cool before assembly. Combine the water and soy sauce in a pot and add in the cleaned quinoa. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water, roughly 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the vinegar and honey in a glass bowl. When the quinoa is done cooking, transfer to the bowl with the honey and vinegar and mix well. Allow to cool at least 30 minutes, keeping it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.

Next, prepare the filling. Drain the tofu by sandwiching it between two paper towels and weighing it down with a heavy object (I used a pie plate and liqueur bottle) for roughly twenty minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the marinade by whisking together the soy sauce, vinegar, red pepper flakes, garlic, and cornstarch; set aside. Julienne the tofu as best you can, keeping the strips relatively thin; the exact size isn’t crucial, but these are going into a sushi roll so you don’t want them t be huge. Add the oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the tofu slices. Cook, turning once, for about 5 minutes, then add in the mushrooms and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes. Pour the sauce into the pan and toss to coat. When the filling starts to stick to the pan, deglaze with about ¾ cup water. Simmer for another five minutes or so, then set aside to cool completely.

Get ready to make the actual rolls, which should be prepared no more than 3 hours in advance and left at room temperature for best results.3 You can wrap your mat with plastic wrap to make cleanup much easier, though I found that doing so severely limited my ability to roll the sushi, so you may want to consider skipping this step. Fill a bowl with water, which you will use to keep your hands moistened to prevent too much sticking and unruliness. Arrange containers of your fillings and ingredients around your mat so that you have easy access to everything in an assembly line manner.

Place one nori sheet shiny-side down, flush with one edge of the mat. Scoop approximately ¼ of the sticky quinoa onto the sheet, and use wet hands to press it over the sheet. You need much less quinoa than you might imagine, and you want the layer to be very thin, just barely concealing the sheet beneath it. Be sure to leave roughly 1-inch or 1/3 of the sheet opposite the end that is flush with the mat empty. Once the quinoa is on, re-wet your hands and add a thin strip of ginger approximately ½ inch from the end of the nori sheet flush with the mat. Top with roughly 2 tablespoons of the tofu and mushroom mixture, and add in a separate strip of the raw broccoli up against it (leaving the ½-inch strip on the one side free). 

 Prepare to roll your sushi.4 Bring both the mat and the flush edge of the nori sheet up and over the filling, tightly nestling the edge of the nori sheet under where the filling is to seal it. Carefully unravel the mat, leaving the edge of the nori sheet in place. Use your dominant hand to roll the nori sheet tightly as you go on, and use your non-dominant hand to guide the mat up and over the roll as you rotate it. What you are essentially looking to do is create a spiral with the nori sheet, but simply rotate the mat so that in the end the mat is upside down from where it was. When you reach the end that has no quinoa on it, move the mat out of the way and moisten the empty nori sheet with water. Press the moistened end up against the rolled portion to seal it.

Alternatively, you can simply roll the sushi up by hand. Like I said, the plastic wrap made it difficult for my mat to move much against my counter, and I found this method to be easier for me this time around. Start in the same way, using the mat to guide the sheet up and around the filling to get a nice tight start to your roll. Then, instead of trying to fuss with the mat to get it to roll with the sushi, let the mat fall back against the counter and carefully roll the sushi up with your hand, tightening as you go. It’s more likely that the rolls will be of uneven thicknesses when done this way and it’s more challenging to get them as tight as needed, but you can experiment this way and find what works best for you.

Once all of the rolls have been assembled, use a sharp, serrated knife moistened with water to slice each roll in half. Divide each half into thirds in the same manner, re-wetting the knife between each cut. Serve alongside extra soy sauce, wasabi paste5, and salted edamame pods.

And that’s it; you’ve done it! You’ve made your first sushi roll! That wasn’t so hard now, was it? Now that you’ve gotten the hang of it, experiment with different flavors for the fillings, different ingredients, and even different ethnic cuisines. I’ve seen recipes for buffalo tempeh rolls, Mexican-themed rolls, everything! 

1 For a more traditional flavor, use rice wine vinegar; I didn’t have any, so I used a mild white wine vinegar instead. If you’re using a different flavor profile in the filling, consider pairing it with the vinegar you choose – traditional is nice, but not necessary. Have fun with it!
2 I got mine for 10 cents at a yard sale (get this – just 3 days before I was set to make the sushi: how fortuitous! I also snagged a $1 cookbook all about sushi at the same place), so don’t feel like you need to go out and spend tons of money on equipment for this, especially if you don’t plan to make sushi often.
3 I did a lot of research on this, because I really like making things in advance and just having them ready to go. Sushi purists were adamant that sushi had to be made moments before serving, and while this is definitely accurate for producing high-quality sushi, I don’t think it’s as necessary as they’d like you to believe. I had a few extra slices and not only did I keep them, but I refrigerated them which is supposed to do all kinds of detrimental things to sushi, and they tasted fine. They were not as good as the day before, but they were certainly edible. So try to make them as close to serving time as possible, but don’t drive yourself crazy rearranging your schedule if you can’t manage it. Make this process as stress-free as possible.
4 Written descriptions of this process are shoddy at best. It really is the kind of thing you need to see to grasp, so if you’re at all confused by my attempts at describing it, check out youtube for clarifications. I found a lot of really helpful videos simply by typing in “how to roll sushi” to the search bar.
5 I borrowed wasabi powder from L’s mom, which you reconsistute with a little bit of water to make a paste. I would imagine that you can find this in the international section of most larger supermarkets, or at Asian specialty markets if those are more common in your area. If all else fails, I’ve heard that a mixture of horseradish and mustard is an acceptable substitute, though don’t expect to get the same green color as the real thing (unless you add food dye, but I try to avoid food additives and dyes when possible).


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