Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Rookie vegan sushi night!

I dabble in a great many things that are cooking-related.

One of these things is making vegan Japanese food.  As a cuisine, Japanese is not very inherently vegan, so sometimes you have to be on the lookout for alternatives to fit the bill, without taking away too much from the authentic tastes. 

Let me preface this whole thing in saying that I am a complete and total rookie when it comes to sushi and nori rolls.  I have only made nori rolls a handful of times in my life, and up until just the other day had never made sushi.  I'm not going to go into the finer points of rolling technique, because the internet has videos and instructionals galore on the subject already. 

Also because it's pretty much impossible to photograph and roll when your hands are covered in sticky rice...

And so here is just a brief rundown of how you too can be a total amateur vegan sushi making genius!

Step #1: Obtain an awesome recipe

The secret is in the filling...
The trick (as far as I understand it, once you get past the emotional difficulties of rolling) to good nori rolls is good fillings!  My favorite recipe for this so far is Isa Chandra Moskowitz's "Spicy Tempeh Nori Rolls", which can be found in her Veganomicon cookbook (google books preview for this recipe here, hope it works for you to see!)  This recipe calls for a half pack of tempeh to make the main component of the filling (on the left in the above photo), rolled up with green onions, avocado and sesame seeds.  What is the other thing, those brown squares on the right, you ask?  Those are inari, or sweet tofu skins, which I used to make my sushi (no recipe required, more on that later!).  These fillings make for super easy prep, and with no meat you have no worries on contamination issues.  The tempeh stands in for the fish, and makes for a California-roll kind of taste.

Step #2: The rice maker is now your new god

All hail!
 Seriously not kidding here, the rice maker will deliver you to a state of pure, unadulterated happiness... if you use it correctly!  I've found the trick to great rice (be it sushi, basmati, brown, long grain, whatever) is to ditch the little measuring cup that comes with the rice maker and use the same rice-to-water ratios that you would use if you were making it stove top.  My brown rice is never sticky, and my sushi rice always is!  This wonderful contraption requires no action from you during the cooking process, just turn it on and let it work.

Step #3: If you burn yourself while making sushi everyone is gonna laugh at you

Good things come to those who wait.  And in this case, if you don't wait until your rice has cooled down a bit to handle it, you are gonna burn the shit out of your hands when you try to make rolls.  In order to cool it, but not dry it out, I recommend taking the whole thing out of the rice maker and covering it with plastic wrap.  Let sit about 15 minutes before you try to work with it.  While you wait, you can admire how I bought the 70 SHEET PACKAGE of sushi nori, which will probably last me for the literal rest of my life.

Step #4: Roll until you can't roll anymore

Like I said, sticky rice hands - no photo.  That being said, my main piece of advice for the rolling process is to have a bowl with vinegar and water (no exact proportions necessary) nearby.  Dampen your hands before you try to handle the rice, so that it doesn't stick to you as badly.  This is necessary if you are making the little balls of rice to put under your sushi toppings (the aforementioned inari). 

Step #5: Cut up your rolls into wonderful bite-sized pieces

 For this phase of operations you want to use your sharpest knife.  Pressure can't be too firm or you'll moosh the rolls, so a sharp knife is imperative.  You can actually buy special knives just for cutting your nori rolls.  You know, if you are made out of money and have a bajillion dollars to spend.  In the case of the sushi, I stuffed the little inari pockets each with a little ball of rice:

Oishii, as the Japanese would say!
Inari is just one of many vegan sushi options out there.  You can top your little balls of rice with sliced avocado or shiitake mushrooms, for example.

Step #6: Stuff your face

Itadakimasu! (let's eat!)
 And that, my friends, is my rookie Japanese sushi feast.  On top of our rolls and inari sushi, we also had spring rolls and delicious buttery edamame in the shell.  Dip your rolls in soy sauce (or some gluten-free tamari), mix in a little wasabi and chow down.  It might not look like a lot of food, but that's the beauty of Japanese, it's deceptively filling.  This amount stuffed three of us, with a small amount of leftovers.

Good eating, one and all!

Monday, 4 November 2013

The Sadness of a Series: Margaret Atwood's "Maddaddam" (book review)

Trilogies fill me with a weird sense of regret.  There is a certain sadness that comes with finishing the story, and knowing that's there all there is and all there is going to be. No more hope for sequels when sequels have already been had.

In the case of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, I never really expected there to be a sequel.  Sure it has a cliffhanger ending, but I thought the ending was perfectly suited to the tone and subject matter of the story and was in no need of further explanation.  Yet I eagerly devoured both The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam, the latter of the two being my read for this month's bookclub, where our genre (so to speak) was women writers.

Loose ends are sewn up nicely in MaddAddam, which unifies the stories found in the previous two volumes and brings together the Crakers, Snowman/Jimmy, and the MaddAddamites.  Snowman/Jimmy, who spent a good portion of the last two books hovering around death's door, is nursed back to health and plays a pivotal role (albeit somewhat inadvertently) in uniting the Crakers and MaddAddamites in the common goal of protecting themselves from the vicious criminal painballers.  I really enjoyed how the book focused on the perspective of Toby, who was introduced and served as one of the main characters in the previous book.  It was also wonderful to finally get a Craker perspective in the form of Blackbeard.  In the early part of this book, I found the Crakers too be too much comic relief (who is Fuck?  hee hee), but Blackbeard's point-of-view helps to balance this out a bit.

And so now comes the mourning.  Well, mourning is maybe a little dramatic.  Now comes the wistfulness of knowing you've come to the end of a great story.  If you haven't read any of this trilogy, I highly recommend it, the first book Oryx and Crake is the best of the bunch and is really an outstanding work of dystopian fiction.  As always, I recommend these books most of all to people who are not Margaret Atwood fans.  There is something universal about these books in their appeal that reaches even to those (like me) who were force-fed Atwood poetry in high school and disliked it.

Trust me on this one.