The Nickel Pincher: Simple Homemade Sushi

You'll be surprised by how easy it is!

January 30, 2013

Making your own sushi allows you to control the sustainability, the calories and, most importantly, the price.

Like sushi, but wish you could enjoy it without taking a bite out of an endangered tuna or some other fish that's filled with PCBs or mercury? Make your own! Homemade sushi is much less daunting than you might think, and it allows you to stick with the most sustainable seafood on the planet. You can also use organic ingredients—not easy to find in most sushi joints!


The Basics of Homemade Sushi

Tools: You will have an easier time making nice tight rolls if you invest in a bamboo rolling mat. My local supermarket stocks a kit with a mat and a rice paddle (which is strictly optional; a wooden spoon works just fine) priced at less than $5. You might also find the kits at dollar stores.

Nori: The traditional sushi wrapper is called nori, a type of dried seaweed. Toasted nori is the type usually used in making sushi.

Rice: Sushi is traditionally made with a type of short-grain white rice that is quite sticky when cooked. You can also make sushi from short-grain brown rice, quinoa, or a combination of the two, but the whole-grain options have a more distinct flavor and work best with spicy or other strong-flavored fillings (otherwise, all you taste is the grain).

Here are the two best ways to prepare it.

White Sushi Rice (enough for 4 medium or 2 large rolls)

1 cup white sushi rice, organic

1¼ cups water

1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon brown rice syrup (or ¾ Tablespoon sugar)

½ teaspoon salt

Wash rice in cold water until the water runs clear, then drain rice. Bring fresh water and rice to boil in a one-quart saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 15 minutes.

Place vinegar, brown rice syrup (or sugar), and salt in a small saucepan. Heat slowly until salt and sweetener dissolve. Scoop the hot cooked rice into a wide, shallow glass bowl, and pour the vinegar mixture over it. Toss gently to combine, and set aside to cool.

Whole-Grain Sushi Blend (enough for 4 medium or 2 large rolls)

½ cup short-grain brown rice, organic

½ cup white quinoa, organic

1½ Tablespoons ground flaxseed, organic

2 cups water

Wash rice and quinoa in cold water until the water runs clear, then drain rice. In a one-quart saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, add water and flaxseed, and let sit at room temperature for up to four hours to help tenderize the grains. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until water is absorbed and rice is tender, for 35 to 40 minutes (a little longer if you skipped the soaking step). Turn off heat and let stand for 30 minutes, then scoop rice into a wide shallow glass bowl and set aside to cool.

Fillings: While fish and seafood (raw or cooked) are common sushi fillings, vegetables are also traditional. You can also use cooked egg, cream cheese, fruit, cooked meat, peeled broccoli stems, sprouts, mushrooms, and just about any food that strikes your fancy. I made some very tasty banana-and-chocolate-chip rolls once, and the hands-down favorite at my birthday sushi feast was Asian duck breast with crispy skin and blanched green onions (even the sushi haters loved it). Harder veggies (sweet potato, green beans, and carrots, for instance) will be easier to eat if you blanch them in boiling water until they are crisp-tender and chill them in ice water to keep them from getting mushy.

For three simple recipes, check out page two!

Simple Homemade Sushi Recipes

Anytime Spicy Tuna or Salmon Roll

Makes two modest-size rolls

2 sheets nori

1 cup prepared rice or rice blend

3 ounces canned salmon or canned tuna (Vital Choice and Wild Planet are two good brands)

1 Tablespoon mayonnaise

¼ teaspoon hot chili sauce or a pinch of ground hot chili pepper powder

Mix the mayonnaise and chili (make extra, if you want, for dipping) and mash it into the fish. Taste and add more chili if desired. Set the mix aside.

Lay out your rolling mat, a bowl of cold water (to wet and clean your hands with), a clean hand towel, the rice, and the prepared fish filling. The bamboo sticks in the mat should be parallel to the edge of your work surface.

Remove a single sheet of nori and lay it, smooth side down, on the rolling mat.

Wet your hands, scoop up half of the prepared rice, and press it down into an even layer on the nori, covering all but a strip about an inch wide. Clean and dry your hands.

Spread half of your filling over the rice in a narrow, even strip along the edge nearest you.

Use your bamboo mat to roll the nori over your filling, pressing down gently but firmly on the mat to create a nice tight roll.

When you reach the end of the rice, dip your finger in the water, wet the last exposed section of nori, and then keep rolling over that to seal the end.

Place the finished roll on a flat cutting surface, and use a very sharp, wet knife to slice the roll into 6 or 7 even rounds.

Quick Sweet-Potato Roll

Makes 2 modest-size rolls

2 sheets nori

1 cup prepared rice or rice blend

½ medium potato

½ medium sweet red bell pepper

Small handful of baby spinach leaves

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (for crunch)

Cut the sweet potato into ¼-inch-long strips and cook it in boiling water for a few minutes until just tender, and then chill the strips in cold water so they don't overcook. Slice the straight sides of the red pepper into matchstick-size strips. Cut the spinach into ¼-inch strips.

Proceed as for the Anytime Spicy Roll, substituting a line of sweet potato, a couple of pepper sticks, and a few layers of spinach all the way along the near edge of the rice. Sprinkle half of the sesame seeds over the fillings and then roll away.

Cleaned-Up California Roll

Makes two modest-size rolls

California rolls are usually made with imitation crab, a processed product made from white fish, starch, sugar, and added colors, flavors, and preservatives that may or may not be sustainable and certainly isn't natural. I've substituted real crab instead. This roll is usually made "inside-out," with the rice on the outside, so the rolling technique is slightly different.

1 sheet nori, folded and snapped in half to create two rectangles

4 ounces cooked crabmeat

1 Tablespoon mayonnaise

1 avocado or 1 small pouch prepared guacamole

1 cucumber

1 Tablespoon toasted black or tan sesame seeds

Mix the crab and the mayonnaise and set it aside. Slice the avocado flesh into thin slices, if using, and slice the peeled and seeded cucumber into matchstick-size strips.

Slip your rolling mat inside a large, sturdy plastic ziptop bag (the mat has to lie flat inside it) because the rice will stick to a bare mat.

Press half the rice into an even layer on one half-sheet of nori.

Sprinkle half the sesame seeds evenly over the rice and press them gently in with your hand.

Flip the nori/rice rectangle over so the nori is facing you.

Spread half of the crab mixture along one long edge of the exposed nori, flanked by a line of avocado or guacamole on one side and a line of cucumber sticks on the other.

Roll, starting with a long edge and squeezing the filling back as you go.

When you get to the end, squash the exposed edge of the rice against the roll a little to overlap the end of the nori and seal the roll.

Trimmings: Slices of sushi rolls are traditionally served with a small dish of Japanese soy sauce (tamari) for dipping, pickled ginger (thinly sliced ginger root simmered in a little vinegar and sweetener until tender), and a little wasabi paste (made from a hot horseradishlike root) on the side. Spicy mayonnaise and hot chili sauce can also be used to make artistic swirls and dollops on or around sushi slices.

Grab your chopsticks and enjoy!

Farm gal, library worker, and all-around money-pincher Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every week on