When we lived in Nice, we loved ordering sushi from this great little place just a few minutes walking from our rue Rossini apartment called Sushi Spirit. Every few weeks we'd phone them up, order our favourite sushi boxes and walk down about an hour later to pick them up. Christian was still a student at the time and I was struggling to find work in France, so our sushi nights were our special little treat and we always looked forward to them.
As good as our Sushi Spirit dinners were, it was actually our good friends Riyoko and Sylvain who introduced us to really phenomenal sushi. Riyoko is from Japan and Sylvain is from France, and they've been living together in France for years now. We got to know them because Christian and Sylvain studied together at EDHEC Business School.
I remember going to their house in Cagnes-sur-Mer one evening and sitting in their back yard enjoying some homemade hand rolls (also called temaki). They had placed all the fillings in the centre of the table - different vegetables, seafood, seasoned sushi rice and sauces. We then made our own hand rolls by taking a small sheet of nori in one hand, adding fillings and rolling them into small cones. We'd eat them as soon as they were ready with some chilled rosé (we were in the south of France, after all!) Christian and I were both amazed at how much better this homemade version tasted compared to the stuff you find in fast-food restaurants or at the supermarket. I think it was because it was much closer to authentic sushi. Among other tips, our friends told us that the most important aspect of sushi is the rice, which needs to be cooked just right and then seasoned well. Needless to say, we always look forward to dinners at Riyoko and Sylvain's when we visit them in France (although we don't get to go nearly as often as we'd like to)!
It was only when we moved to the UK that I decided to really learn how to make sushi at home - maybe it's because we couldn't find a suitable replacement for our favourite Niçois sushi joint, or the fact that we were now living considerably farther away from our friends making it difficult to meet up for sushi nights. I was still eating seafood when I started making sushi, so back then I'd often include crab sticks or smoked salmon (I never experimented with raw fish) along with vegetables. Now that I no longer eat seafood, this vegan (and gluten free) version is the one I make most often. It's loaded with avocado, fresh chives, cucumber, julienned carrots, toasted sesame seeds, raw tofu and salad cress. To make the rice, I loosely follow Emma Galloway's stove-top method for sushi rice that she included in her vegetarian sushi post a while ago, and it always turns out perfect (as long as you don't remove the lid of your pot to check on the rice during cooking!)
Once you make sushi a couple times and get the hang of the technique, you'll realise that it's not as daunting as it seems. And I promise you that the homemade version beats anything you'll find in fast-food restaurants or the supermarket - plus, you can make it for a fraction of the price! As I mentioned above, the key to delicious sushi is to take the time to make great sushi rice. From there you simply add whatever fillings you like, playing with different flavours and combinations. In our home, we normally stick to whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, millet, etc. - but sushi is the exception to our rule. I always make our sushi with white sushi rice, simply because I think it tastes amazing and we don't make it that often (we tend to make sushi when we celebrate special occasions). I hope this post has inspired you to try making sushi at home. If you do try it, or have some great tips or favourite filling ideas, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section!
Once you get the hang of it, making homemade sushi is quite easy and relatively quick to do. I have included my instructions below based on my experience of making sushi, but you will also almost always find clear instructions on the sushi rice and nori packages (one of my favourite brands is Clearspring, and they have some really helpful instructions with diagrams). The method I use to cook the rice is adapted from Emma Galloway's recipe for vegetarian sushi, which also includes a rice cooker option if you have one (though I've never felt the need to try it). I love to make my sushi with raw tofu, avocado, cucumber, carrots, chives, salad cress and toasted sesame seeds - but feel free to play around with different combinations! You can buy pre-made seasoned rice vinegar, or make it yourself using plain rice vinegar, sugar and salt.
- 2 cups sushi rice
- 2 cups water
- 5-6 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
- 7-8 sheets nori
- 1/2 cucumber, seeded and thinly sliced lengthwise
- 2 small carrots, julienned
- 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced lengthwise
- 200g raw tofu, drained and thinly sliced lengthwise
- 1 small pack of salad cress, sprouts or microgreens
- 1/2 small pack whole garden chives
- 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
- 1-2 bamboo mats
- 1 small-medium bowl cold water
- Tamari (gluten free if needed), wasabi and pickled ginger to serve
Start by preparing the rice. Place the rice in a fine-mesh sieve over the sink and rinse with cold water, massaging the grains as you rinse them, until the water runs clear. Drain the rice and place it in a medium pot along with 2 cups water, and soak for 30 minutes to 1 hour. When you are ready to start cooking the rice, bring the rice and water to a boil over high heat. As soon as the rice starts boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let the rice steam for another 15 minutes, without removing the lid (this is important!) When the time is up, uncover and add the seasoned rice vinegar and gently stir it through the hot rice using a wooden spoon. Spread the seasoned rice on a wooden chopping board or tray to cool.
While the rice is cooling, prepare the fillings and place them on a chopping board or plate. Clean your work surface and place the everything you'll need to make the sushi within arm's reach: the nori, cooked rice, prepared fillings, bamboo mat(s), a bowl of cold water and a tea towel or paper towels (to dry your hands).
Once the rice has cooled down to room temperature, you are ready to start making sushi rolls. To start, place a sheet of nori on a bamboo mat, shiny side facing down. Wet your fingers using the prepared bowl of water and then add a couple handfuls rice (about 1/2-3/4 cup, or as much as needed) onto the nori. Spread the rice evenly, wetting your fingers (as needed to avoid sticking) as you work, leaving a space of about 4 cm/1.5 inches clear of rice at the top of the nori sheet (i.e. the part farthest away from you) - see photo. Next, place the fillings of your choosing in the centre of the mat. I usually add a bit of garden chives and julienned carrots, 2-3 slices of each cucumber, tofu and avocado, a good amount of salad cress and a generous sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. To start rolling, lift the edge of the bamboo mat nearest you and firmly but gently roll forward, keeping the filling in place with your fingers. When you reach the end of the rice and the roll is nearly complete, hold the roll in place with one hand and run wet fingers over the section of nori that was kept clear of rice. Then continue rolling to seal the roll. Place the finished roll on a cutting board with the seam facing down. Repeat this process with the rest of the nori, rice and fillings.
When you are ready to serve the sushi, cut the rolls into 2 cm/ 3/4 inch rounds using a sharp knife (rinsing the blade of the knife in cold water will make cutting the sushi easier). Serve with tamari, wasabi paste and pickled ginger.
Makes 7-8 sushi rolls.