Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yoko, Bento, and Not Boring Lunches!

I recently read a children's book called Yoko, by Rosemary Wells. In the story, Yoko takes all her favorite things for lunch, like sushi, to school and all the kids make fun of her, until, of course, they taste it! It's one of my kids favorite books! However, I was horrified when my kids told me their lunches are boring! Boring? After feeling a little hurt, I decided not only to give them more exciting lunches, but to start the art of making Japanese box lunches, known as bento. I have to say that at first I thought it would be difficult and another dreaded chore, but I actually find it fun and my kids love to help! So, in honor of Yoko, let me show you how to make my version of a California roll. Once you have all the ingredients and cook the rice, it is so simple, and far cheaper than any store-bought. Boring lunches? Not any more!

California Roll: Sushi 101

Makes 1 roll

For the sushi rice (makes enough for 3 rolls)
1 cup white sushi (short-grain) rice
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt

For the sushi
Bamboo sushi mat (available at most grocers)
Rice vinegar
1 sheet, Toasted Nori Seaweed (comes in a pakage of 10, 8"x7" sheets)
1/2 carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1/4 English cucumber, cut into thin matchsticks
1/4 ripe avocado, cut into strips
Cooked crab meat, or imitation crab sticks (cut in half)

To serve
Soy sauce (save those little packets from take-out), pickled ginger slices, wasabi (optional), and toasted sesame seeds (optional) 

For the sushi rice
Place 1 cup of uncooked rice in a sieve and rinse until the water runs clear. Transfer the rice to a saucepan and add the 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, give the rice a quick stir, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, undisturbed, until all the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Set the rice aside to cool.

Meanwhile, combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar and salt dissolve, about 2 minutes. Let cool. Transfer the cooked rice to a wide, shallow, glass dish and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Slowly pour in the vinegar mixture while slicing the spatula through the rice. Do not stir. Cover until ready to use. If refrigerated, add a sprinkle of water and microwave until slightly softened.

For the sushi
Make sure to have all your ingredients ready. Including a cup of water with a splash of vinegar, to put your rice paddle or spatula into. This helps you spread out the rice without it sticking. In addition, some recommend placing a piece of saran wrap over the mat, but I think it's easier without it. It's up to you.

Place the sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the bamboo mat, making sure the edge of the 7"-side lines up with the edge of the mat. Using a rice paddle or spatula, spread the nori with the rice, a little at a time, until almost fully covered. Leave the top 1" of nori uncovered. Don't worry about the edges, they will be trimmed off anyway.

Place some of the carrot, cucumber, avocado, and crab down the middle of the rice. Don't over-stuff or the sushi won't roll up neatly.

Using the mat, roll and enclose the filling with the first roll and press gently on the mat to secure the roll.

Next, raise the end of the mat slightly to prevent the mat from being rolled into the sushi, and continue rolling until all the nori is rolled up. Gently squeeze to secure the roll. If the very end of the nori does not seal completely, dampen slightly with a little water to adhere.

Allow the roll to rest a few minutes to "set" before cutting.

Trim off the messy ends and cut into 8 even pieces. Sprinkle each piece with a pinch of the sesame seeds. If you're not going to serve it immediately, roll the sushi log in saran wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Simply remove the plastic, cut, and serve. It sure makes a nice bento box!

Lucky Kids!

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