How To Make Homemade Sushi

One of my favorite things about cooking is playing with my food. Composing a salad, the perfect toast or (in this case) sushi, allows me to have fun each step of the way!  For some, making your own sushi can sound daunting, but it’s actually simple. You don’t even need a sushi mat to make it (although it helps).

In this recipe, I made a vegan sweet potato and avocado sushi roll. Sushi is versatile, so play up your favorite flavor combinations! For the gals at What We Eat, we constantly make many variations of a carrot and avocado salad. So, in light of that inspiration, here is what we came up with! 

What you’ll need:

A clean dish towel

Plastic wrap

A bowl of cold water (to help the rice not stick to your hands)

Sushi mat 

Ingredients

Nori sheets

2 cups sushi rice, cooked and cooled with a splash of seasoned rice vinegar 

Julienned Vegetables of choice (I did sweet potato, cucumber, daikon, avocado, cilantro)

Method:

  1. Place a big square of plastic wrap on top of a sushi mat and place on top of a dish towel. (The towel is there to help with the mess). Place a single piece of nori on top of the plastic.

2. With wet hands, place a decent size scoop of the rice onto the nori and press down until even thickness throughout. The water will help the sushi rice to not stick to your hands. Life hack!

3. Add vegetables of choice in a straight line about ⅓ of the way in. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and top with cilantro.

4. Now the fun part! Using the sushi mat and plastic as a guide, tightly roll the sushi. Make sure the pressure is even when you roll to help prevent lumps. (Note: Chef hands in dire need of a paraffin treatment!!)

5. Allow to sit for 10 minutes rolled in the plastic before cutting.

6. Slice sushi into 8 pieces and enjoy dipped in your favorite sauce.

With Love,

Rian

 

 

Lacinato Kale, Roasted Wild Mushroom and Avocado Salad

After a week eating my way through Italy, then an indulgent Thanksgiving holiday with family in New England, I was ready to be return to my own kitchen in Brooklyn on Sunday.

It’s funny that the same reason I crave vacation, namely to bust out of my well-worn routines, is the same reason I can’t wait to get home.

Because I cook for a living, being fed by others for a sustained period is heaven. No menu planning. No grocery shopping. No cooking. No dishes. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do but we all need a break.

Before I leave, I obsessively peruse the internet, reach out to friends and read through favorite travel guides to discover the best of what’s to eat wherever I go. Then, with every delicious bite at every carefully selected restaurant, it’s like I’m consuming a little bit of that chef’s culinary point of view.

But there comes a time when I am ready to eat my food again. To return to the meal routines that work for me. Namely, meals that revolve around vegetables.

The very first thing I made when I got home was this massaged lacinato kale, roasted wild mushroom and avocado salad. It touches on all of the elements of a crave-worthy vegetable dish: ingredients that are seasonal, both raw and cooked, and vibrantly colorful, and that provide contrasting textures, a little indulgence and a few surprises.

Both kale and mushrooms are at their peak during fall and winter. In fact, kale gets better as the weather gets colder. For this salad, I roast the mushrooms to concentrate flavor, essentially transforming them into little crunchy umami bombs. I top the salad with deep red, slow-roasted cherry tomatoes for color. (I added them after taking the salad shots this time because they were still hot from the oven and I was too hungry to wait…typical.) The additions of avocado, toasted walnuts and shaved parmesan lend both contrasting texture and enough indulgence to keep me coming back for more. And finally, I finish the dish with lemon zest, thinly sliced scallions and a tiny bit of fresh mint and basil for a touch of freshness to balance the earthy mushrooms.

I’ve made this kale salad about a gazillion times since I first threw it together on a whim and realized I was onto something. While I see the kale, mushrooms and avocado as mandatory, all other ingredients are flex. Don’t have time to slow-roast tomatoes? Leave them out! Prefer shallots to scallions? Swap’em! #Putaneggonit and/or serve it over a cooked grain like farro to make it more of a complete meal. You get the picture.

Lacinato Kale, Roasted Wild Mushroom and Avocado Salad

Ingredients

  • 1.5-2 lbs mixed mushrooms (oyster, king oyster, hen of the woods and maitake are great wild varietals but the more widely available shitake is equally delicious – this will seem like a lot but they shrink up when roasted)
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • Few shakes of granulated garlic (1/2-1 tsp)
  • 2 bunches lacinato kale, washed, de-stemmed and torn into bite size pieces
  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced
  • 1 cup slow-roasted tomatoes (optional)
  • ½-1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts (hazelnuts are equally delicious)
  • ½-1 cup shaved parmesan (use a vegetable peeler)
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Small handful of fresh torn basil
  • Small handful of fresh torn mint
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Method

Roast the mushrooms:

  • Preheat oven to 425.
  • Prep mushrooms and break them into bite-size pieces. For shitake, this means removing their stems and tearing them into halves or fourths. For king oyster, this means slicing off a tiny bit of the root end and thinly slicing them lengthwise. Prep varies by varietal so purchase shrooms you’re comfortable with or Google proper prep technique.
  • Place shrooms on a sheet pan (lined with parchment for easy clean-up) and drizzle generously with olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper, a few shakes of granulated garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
  • Roast in the center of the oven for 25-35 minutes, turning the mushrooms halfway through, until they shrink down by nearly half and are very crisp around their edges. Cool on sheet tray.

Make the vinaigrette:

  • Zest lemon and reserve for salad. Juice zested lemon into small bowl, add in a large pinch of salt, then drizzle in an equal amount of olive oil by volume or a little more. Add in the two crushed garlic cloves and allow to steep while finishing the rest of the salad.

Assemble the salad

  • Combine the prepped kale (watch Char’s video tutorial!), cooled mushrooms, sliced avo, slow-roasted tomatoes (if using), toasted walnuts, shaved parm, sliced scallions, torn basil and mint and lemon zest in a large salad bowl. Remove garlic cloves from vinaigrette and drizzle over vegetables. Using clean hands or salad tongs, gently toss salad until every nook and cranny of every vegetable is dressed.
  • Enjoy!

Serves 4 hungry peeps.

On Elevating a Dish

ingredients for this recipe

I think it is safe to assume that everyone has at least one guilty pleasure food that comes from a can or box. When I grew up, many families used to fully subsist on toaster strudels and kraft mac and cheese in favor of time and Convenience. For me, it was Spaghettio’s and hamburger helper. Once of my clients has mentioned that his Mom had a “special occasion” chili casserole that that used Velveeta as a base and Fritos as a topping. When you think about it, these processed foods are pretty awful, and now I can’t believe that I ate so much instant Ramen as a growing child in need of nutrients. Unfortunately, even with this retrospective knowledge, I still can’t help but crave some of my childhood favorites every now and then.

This past weekend proves case and point. After a long day catering a very fun and intimate dinner party, Rian and I craved some easy comfort. Seeking the only open grocery store at midnight, we loaded up on Annie’s mac and cheese, Chicken flavored Ramen, and Cinnamon toast crunch. While the cereal definitely lived up to its expectations, we were saddened to find that the mac and cheese tasted like cardboard and the ramen tasted like flavored salt. Now that we know better as experienced food snobs, we could recognize how inferior these powdered, dehydrated and condensed versions of food really are in comparison to the real deal.

This was a moment when I realized how being a chef has changed my life and habits. Without even talking about it, Rian and I set about doing whatever we could to improve upon the flavor of each dish and cajole them into giving us the flavor experience we remembered from childhood. The mac and cheese received grated gruyere, chili flakes and garlic while the ramen transformed into a mediocre resemblance of pho with cilantro, mint, basil, scallions and lime juice.

cheese before baking

If only there were a way that we could still enjoy our childhood favorite foods but in a less guilty manner. I finally realized that we can take our favorite aspects of each meal we used to love and then transform them into a more wholesome version. One might sacrifice some extra time but benefit from better ingredients, flavor, texture and nutrition. For example, why not transform the above mentioned chili casserole by using fresh grated fontina and cheddar cheeses, a combination of home cooked beans, and a homemade charred corn crumble topping.

Green Beans with cream and spices

On the topic of casseroles, I find myself to be somewhat of an expert. Hailing from Minnesota, we masters of the slow cooker and “hot dish” meals. My absolute favorite was the classic green bean casserole, which included Campbell’s condensed mushroom soup and a can of crispy fried onions. In light of the coming holidays and my recent revelations, I have decided to experiment with my theory on elevating a classic by creating a What We Eat version of my favorite casserole using only fresh ingredients.

Green Bean and mushroom casserole

 

GREEN BEAN AND MUSHROOM CASSEROLE

Ingredients
2 lbs green beans, trimmed
8 ounces mixed mushrooms of choice
6 shallots (canola oil to pan-fry)
5 cloves garlic
1 onion
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Thinly shave the onion and and garlic. Caramelize the onion in a well oiled skillet. When the onion has achieved some color, add the mushrooms and cook until they have reduced and become slightly caramelized. Add the garlic and stir until aromatic. Add the flour, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper and nutmeg and stir until aromatic.

Slowly pour the chicken stock and heavy cream into the skillet while stirring to combine. Toss the green beans into the skillet and stir all ingredients until just mixed. Top with an even layer of grated parmesan and bake uncovered for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour a one-inch layer of canola oil into another skillet and heat on high heat. Shave the shallots very thinly. Working in small batches, fry the shallots until crisp and lightly browned. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to dry. Season with salt.

When the Casserole is bubbling and cooked through, remove from oven to let sit for ten minutes. Top with Crispy shallots to serve.

 

Serves 6

Work-Life Balance In the Culinary Industry

 

 

Get to Know It: Smoked Paprika

Corn on the cob with paprika

I can’t think of a single smoky-flavored food I don’t love. Smoked salmon and trout, all manner of BBQ, bacon…but living in Brooklyn with outdoor cooking prohibited and a sensitive fire alarm makes achieving that flavor with fire nearly impossible. Enter: smoked paprika.

I first added this spice into my culinary repertoire about five years ago when making David Tanis’ Pimenton Roast Chicken with Crispy Potatoes. To be honest, before this recipe I shied away from most dishes with paprika. I’m not sure why exactly. Probably because the only paprika I tasted growing up was a generic supermarket brand that had been sitting in the back of my parents’ spice drawer for years. I thought paprika was a spice that added a red hue but not much else to a dish. Boy, was I wrong.

Tanis’ crisp-skinned roast chicken had a depth of flavor I didn’t know was possible without open-fire cooking. It was garlicky, a little bit spicy and with a deep smoky aroma. With the success of this recipe, smoked paprika quickly inherited valuable real estate in my spice rack.

fish tacos with toppings
This spice is made most often in Spain where ripe red chile peppers are dried slowly over smoldering oak for up to two weeks before being ground into the powder we find on market shelves. Other aliases include pimenton, smoked pimenton, and Spanish paprika. The second you take a whiff, you’ll know you have the right spice. You can also find it at varying levels of heat, from sweet (dulce) to spicy (picante). I like all of them so that’s just a matter of personal preference.

cauliflower with paprika

Below are several favorite ways to use smoked paprika in cooking. This is a spice you can be quite heavy handed with, so don’t be shy. Give one or two of them a try and I promise you’ll be hooked.

On vegetables – sprinkle over roasted or grilled corn, cauliflower, sweet potatoes,

In vinaigrettes – add a pinch or two to a mix 50/50 mix of lime/olive oil (add a touch of honey or agave too, and of course salt and pepper to taste)

On proteins – sprinkle over fried eggs, season a mild white fish like halibut with it for fish tacos (use cumin too), use it on any poultry, or even use it as your secret ingredient in burgers

On pepitas – when toasted pumpkin seeds on the stovetop, add a little olive oil, salt, and smoked paprika for the last few minutes of toasting

On legumes – fry chickpeas in olive oil on the stovetop for about 10-15 minutes until crispy, adding a generous pinch of smoked paprika for the last few minutes and then finishing the whole thing with a squeeze of lime juice

With love always, Laura