Vegetarian Sushi Secrets: 101 Healthy and Delicious Recipes - Marisa Baggett (2016)
Try This at Home!
Foreword by Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence
So there we were, tucked away in a dark corner of a Japanese restaurant one night in Memphis. We were out of our depth.
First, we stumbled over the pronunciation of “edamame.” Then, we ate the entire bowl of soybeans—pods and all. After searching in vain for discarded pods, our server kindly set us straight. We had much to learn.
Strangely enough for Southern vegetarians, sushi is a significant part of our diet. We grew up around Memphis and stayed in the area for college. Sushi dates were an escape from cafeteria food. It became a tradition for both special occasions and bad-day pick-me-ups.
In time, we moved out of the shadows and sidled up to the sushi bar, where we could watch the chefs assemble their beautiful works of art. We asked questions—lots of them.
Our intense enthusiasm led us to find our favorites and develop preferences. We picked up the terminology, and could soon say the words with confidence (and a big Southern accent). But sushi was still only for special occasions.
One Valentine’s Day about twelve years ago, we worked up the courage to try to make vegetarian sushi at home. Some light research plus the foggy recollections of interrogating long-suffering sushi chefs years ago led us to cautiously believe that we were up to the task. After all, we were no slouches in the kitchen!
We remember the excitement of that trip to the Asian grocery to pick up all the tools and ingredients we needed to make our very first vegetarian sushi rolls. We arrived home with the items, laid everything out on the counter, and got to work.
Trepidation built as we started the sushi rice, sliced vegetables and decided which ingredients we wanted to pair together. But all of the anxiety melted away when our first roll stayed together and looked just about right. It may not have been perfect—or all that pretty—but this first tentative bloom of success was the next thrilling step in our lifelong sushi journey. The first bite tasted like victory.
These days, sushi is missing the rarity and mystery it had when we first tried it. We still enlist sushi to celebrate life’s high points, but now we also have it for lunch on a Saturday or dinner on a Tuesday. And it’s the perfect thing to make when you have guests coming over.
If they don’t know any better, diners may come to the conclusion that sushi consists solely of a piece of raw fish and a little rice, The reality is that sushi is infinitely adaptable to a vegetarian diet. We love to add unexpected seasonal elements like pickled okra, sweet potatoes, and corn, as well as other local ingredients.
Vegetarian Sushi Secrets is truly a gift—it places a lifetime of sushi knowledge into your hands. It’s not about what’s missing; it’s about tapping into a vast array of fruits and vegetables, pairing favorite flavors, and finding new combinations that will delight your senses. It’s also about adding a healthy focus to our diets. It will open your mind and expand your palate. Use it as a road map for your next special meal.
Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence
authors of The Southern Vegetarian and
The Chubby Vegetarian blog
A Passion for Sushi
Foreword by Allison Day
Sushi has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My family’s New Year’s Day tradition involved driving to the local Japanese restaurant to pick up a big order of sushi. For many years, this was the entire extent of my sushi experience.
Later, I started to slowly branch out with my sushi eating. The man I would go on to marry came up with the idea that I should start a food blog—all about sushi.
Because I was a college student on a budget, a restaurant review blog was out of the question. I decided to first teach my readers how to make sushi, and then come up with all sorts of creative recipes for sushi. It was through this mutual passion for less traditional takes on sushi that Marisa and I found each other several years ago.
With all this sushi making at home, it wasn’t long before I took over my family’s New Year’s sushi duty, making dozens of different rolls every New Year’s morning. Sushi became my go-to contribution to potlucks, which led to experimentation in meat- and fish-free rolls for my vegetarian friends. I’ve added tempura-fried and grilled vegetables to maki rolls, topped inari sushi with mushrooms, and even made a roll with hummus and bell peppers. While most people may automatically associate sushi with raw fish, I’ve found it to be an excellent format for vegetable-based rolls as well.
Over the years, all this sushi-making led to an interest in developing sushi recipes that even the most sushi-averse would enjoy, as well as a passion for sustainability in sushi. These interests are two very big reasons why I’m so excited for Vegetarian Sushi Secrets. Marisa and I share a passion for feeding people and showing them just how delicious sushi can be. And what better way to promote sustainability than to prove that sushi can be crave-worthy even in the absence of fish?
To have an entire cookbook full of delicious vegetarian options is beyond exciting for me. At first glance, I’m already making a mental list of all the recipes I want to try, and then introduce to my vegetarian friends.
If you’re new to sushi, the inari and nigiri section (page 58) is a great place to start. In Japan, inari is the kids’ meal of sushi, which means it’s great for beginners. (And to be honest, many people—including myself—remain big fans of inari sushi well into adulthood!) As for nigiri, it’s simply a ball of rice topped with something—in this case, vegetables or a slice of Japanese-style omelette. If you’re hesitant about the seaweed aspect, as many people are, this is a great way to ease yourself into the world of sushi.
For those more familiar with Americanized sushi rolls, Marisa has created tasty vegetarian versions of all your favorites. From Spider Rolls made with mushrooms to Dynamite Rolls with tofu, to Caterpillar Rolls with her Vegetarian Eel Sauce, and even a vegetarian version of the classic California Roll, the best-known American takes on sushi make a great vegetarian showing in this cookbook.
One of the things I love most about Marisa, as evidenced beautifully by both of her cookbooks, is that she isn’t afraid to get creative with sushi while still staying true to the traditional techniques and spirit. Whether you’re strictly vegan, wanting to eat more sustainably, or just trying to get more vegetables in your life, there’s something for everyone in this cookbook!
author of Sushi Day blog
My Life with Sushi
How I Become a Sushi Chef
It always begins with the same question: Why sushi? My relationship with sushi began in the invincibility phase of my early twenties. Even though I was fortunate to own and operate a restaurant, catering company and coffeehouse, I was suffering a significant case of career wanderlust. I knew something was missing and I felt that I wasn’t “there” yet. To help with that inner nagging and keep me on my toes, my businesses offered so many food services that I was forced to be creative. At that time, you could call the Chocolate Giraffe and ask me to consider crafting a custom menu or experience. In a small Mississippi college town with limited options, this was a great source of fun. It was inconsistent. Problematic. But it answered my need for variety.
I can recall that fateful day when a local orthodontist asked to reserve the entire space for a private party. I was excited, but I was also beside myself because the request was for a sushi party. I nodded with enthusiasm as I recorded requests for items like miso soup, seaweed salad, spicy tuna, crunchy shrimp, and all manner of exotic things I had never heard of, much less attempted to create. I wanted to cry. Yet I stayed cool on the outside under the weight of fear and the stares of disbelief from my employees.
As soon as the session was over, I flipped out. I had promised to create an experience built around something I had never once seen or tasted in person. I had no way to run out to my local sushi bar and have a sushi experience, because there wasn’t one in town. The nearest place was several hours away, and I didn’t have the time to make the journey. For the first time, I wondered if I had bitten off way more than I could chew.
Armed with my library card, I ventured down the street to the public library and checked out as many books on Japan and Japanese cuisine as I was allowed. Much to my dismay, there were very few sources that spent significant time on the subject of sushi. (Blogs and informative web-sites were not a thing just yet.) What little information I did find I studied intensively. I became a little more comfortable with the idea.
The next hurdle was trying to locate the exotic ingredients. My local Asian market had some of the basics—rice, soy sauce and rice vinegar. But where was I supposed to get sushi-grade tuna,katsuobushi (smoked fish used to make basic Japanese soup stock), or shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-flavored pepper blend)? The necessary equipment was also a problem. Even if I could find them, could I justify to my business partners (aka Mom and Dad) the need for carbon-steel knives, a hangiri (the flat-bottomed bowl with straight sides made of cypress used only for marinating sushi rice), ashamoji (the wooden paddle used only for tossing steamed sushi rice with the dressing), and a large rice cooker just for this one party? I knew better than to even ask.
Tofu and Avocado Caterpillar Rolls (page 97)
The author enjoying sushi with friends
I had to improvise with my ingredients as well as with the tools I needed to make the sushi. My staff and I spent an incredible amount of energy perfecting a cold smoker for salmon and figuring out how many bricks and cans were needed to weigh down the lid of a pot to cook rice on the stove. When we couldn’t source suggested ingredients like pickled eggplant, we used what we felt were suitable substitutions—like the local staple, pickled okra.
Somehow we made it work. The party was a success. And that should have been enough. But when people found out that the Chocolate Giraffe served sushi (just that once), the requests for more kept coming in. Naturally, I promised we would start having sushi nights once a month. That turned into once every two weeks, then once a week, and then finally a small portion of the regular restaurant menu was dedicated to sushi. We were the talk of the town!
I couldn’t believe how much people loved our sushi. One day, I received a long-distance call with reservations for twelve! The man on the phone sounded so excited to bring his out-of-town colleagues to Starkville, more than an hour’s drive, for a sushi experience. We prepared and waited anxiously for them to arrive. But the moment the businessman from one of Mississippi’s car manufacturing plants arrived with his eleven male colleagues from Japan, I went to the restroom, locked myself in, and cried. I knew my sushi was far from authentic, and I finally decided that I was no longer an invincible “sushi chef” who would remain beloved and sheltered in my small Mississippi hometown. My staff knocked on the door and tried to lure me out. They threatened to call my parents. I eventually emerged to face the situation that I had wholeheartedly gotten myself into. And somehow, we made it work. The guests were delighted by the idea of creative American-style sushi. On that night, I decided I wanted to stand in front of customers with confidence and knowledge about sushi.
I searched high and low for a way to gain that knowledge. Just outside of Los Angeles, there was a place that seemed to offer exactly what I was looking for—the California Sushi Academy. Finally, I had the answer. Imagine my surprise when my family and friends asked if I was going crazy. Who ever heard of a black female sushi chef?! Couldn’t I just be content to continue making sushi in Starkville? I closed the businesses, settled my accounts, and decided to do it anyway.
Pomegranate and Basil Rolls (page 77)
Making sushi with friends is a great way to catch up while preparing a delicious meal
Mushroom “Spider” Rolls (page 90)
With every last bit of spunk and chutzpah I had remaining, I boarded a Greyhound bus with a one-way ticket to LA and less than $300 in my pocket. I was practically broke, mostly homeless, and always hungry. But sushi school did not disappoint. It was a magical time of learning and work that I would repeat with no regrets. I soaked up every bit of information available to me. I placed my cutting board as close to the sensei as possible every day. I studied, practiced, and went well beyond my required intern hours before the session was halfway done. And when I finished school, I decided that LA was not the place for a broke, homesick Mississippi girl. I moved to Memphis, Tennessee and began my professional sushi career as the chef of a small local sushi bar.
One of the things I realized while working there was that people wanted to take sushi into their own hands. But it was elusive, and sushi classes often made them feel more intimidated. There were sushi secrets that they wanted to know but couldn’t find. I often thought back to the days when I was trying to learn to make sushi. Why weren’t there simple methods? Why couldn’t people experiment? And why did sources insist that would-be home chefs buy expensive equipment that they most likely would never use? Necessity had truly been the mother of invention with most of my early sushi recipes and methods. I began a blog and series of workshops to help people create sushi in their home kitchens. And in 2012, Sushi Secrets: Easy Recipes for the Home Cook was released.
Why vegetarian sushi?
As soon as I submitted Sushi Secrets, I knew that its follow-up had to be a book that focused strictly on vegetarian sushi. One of the biggest things that appealed to me when writing Vegetarian Sushi Secrets was that it took a few leaps in the direction of debunking that all-too-familiar myth that sushi must contain raw fish.
What can I say? I suppose I like a challenge…or two. When I shared my intentions, well-meaning family and friends voiced a common concern: “How will you ever come up with enough vegetarian recipes to fill a sushi book?” Yet I found just the opposite problem. Unlike our diminishing access to thinly stretched seafood species, fresh vegetables and fruits are highly accessible. Many communities have a corner specialty grocer or a neighborhood farmers’ market. Backyard-gardening enthusiasts are sprouting up everywhere and cultivating that primal urge to dig in and get their hands a little dirty before dinner. With so many options available, it was quite a challenge to look each edible plant family in the eye, so to speak, and deem only some of them sushi-worthy, at least for the purposes of this book.
Edamame Hummus (page 45)
Sushi is serious business, as you can see!
I am not a vegetarian. Beginning in my teenage years, however, I did spend a little over a decade following a vegetarian lifestyle. During that time I learned many lessons—the biggest being how not to feed a vegetarian. Perhaps my experience with living that lifestyle instilled in me a unique vegetarian sensitivity that I carried over into my world of sushi.
In Vegetarian Sushi Secrets, you’ll discover potentially problematic ingredients to avoid when stocking your pantry, learn techniques for creating sushi-bar-style sushi, and gain vegetarian-friendly recipes for recreating some of sushi’s most famous rolls. You’ll encounter some new creations, too, of course. I encourage you to at least read about the different types of sushi before you get ready to roll. Each chapter is organized by sushi techniques, and offers delicious ways to become more familiar with each sushi form. Of course, you can’t live on sushi alone, so soups and appetizers, salads and pickles, and desserts and drinks are presented to help create balanced sushi experiences.
In the end, I hope you’ll use these methods and recipes as a guide to help you create your own unique style of sushi, or perhaps to learn how to recreate that delicious item from your favorite sushi bar. At the heart of all truly good sushi made in your home kitchen is the knowledge that practice makes perfect, but even mistakes taste incredibly wonderful. If there is any one thing to focus on, it would be to have fun.