For almost all non-Japanese, sushi is THE Japanese food per se (although there is an amazing array of culinary treasures in this beautiful country). In Germany, sushi is a popular food with an upscale price. However, what you can get for not quite little money is (in my opinion) not very often good quality. Regarding sushi I have quite high requirements and there is a reason for this.
When I was a “poor” student who jobbed almost daily at a Japanese restaurant, I knew a very good sushi chef with a genuine qualification as a Japanese sushi chef. We called him “sushi master”. The sushi master prepared very high quality sushi. I and my other colleagues (poor students as well) in the restaurant had great fortune to try his sushi quite often. The sushi master was a very kind person and knew how much we sought the sushi made by him. He used to hide some sushi on small plates and “smuggled” them unobtrusively to the corner next to the cash register, where we usually took a small break and drank something in between serving. Every time we looked forward to some beautifully prepared maki- or nigiri-sushi waiting for us there. They were so incredibly delicious! This wonderful taste has been so deeply engraved in my memory that I spent many years to find comparably good sushi. Despite diligent searching I have been quite often disappointed and totally lost interest to sushi for a long time.
Our nice sushi master was at that time in his fifties and had lived in Germany for more than twenty years. He had a ten-year apprenticeship before he was qualified as a sushi chef in Japan. You know what about his story totally stunned me? Within the ten long hard years as trainee he spent SEVEN years learning how to cook sushi rice! Can you believe it? Seven years ONLY cooking rice, day in and day out! At that time I thought the Japanese were sometimes really freaks! If someone needs already seven years for learning the rice cooking, then how long for cutting and filleting fish? I thought the most important part of sushi must be of course the fish. Today, it is very obvious for me: The difference in quality is in the rice! However, I have just become aware of this in spring during my husband’s and my travel around Japan where we came in touch with incredibly delicious rice of different kinds.
During our journey through Japan, I was attacked by a kind of huge culinary happiness when I chewed on the snow-white rice grains in a sushi restaurant for the first time after our arrival in Tokyo. I automatically closed my eyes and concentrated fully on the discreet sweet-sour taste and the juicy yet firm consistency. I enjoyed every bite with great devotion. Thinking back, it felt almost like a ceremony. “From now on, every day during our trip I will eat rice!” I said to my husband and I actually sticked to my promise without regrets.
When I was back home in Germany, I immediately ordered seven varieties of sushi rice online from an Asia shop. I really wanted to find the Japanese rice with the same or at least a similar quality as the one from Japan. Now I’m already at the last package. Unfortunately I got to know that all available sushi rice in Germany does not come from Japan, but is cultivated in Europe (mostly Italy or Spain). Therefore, it can not taste exactly like the rice I had enjoyed in Japan for four weeks. However, I am also not so difficult to be satisfied. I was very happy to find one variety called Yume Nishiki which tastes quite close to the rice in Japan and I decided to stick to this rice in the future. After extensively practicing to cook sushi rice (well, not exactly for seven years but at least seven packages of 1 kg each), I developed my own technic for cooking delicious sushi rice which can satisfy me. I am so happy that I finally can have fun with not only preparing but also eating sushi again! 🙂
In designing this new recipe I wanted to give the traditional sushi a little European touch. Since I am addicted to homemade pestos these days, the first idea I got was sushi with pestos! I could imagine the taste fusion of sweet sour rice and aromatic basil pesto very good. Yep, my first sushi creation was going to be Sushi Italiano! In order to give my sushi Italiano a crisp texture, I used the crunchy fresh green beans from the farmers market. Thus, the combination of colors for my sushi was following my beloved Japanese aesthetic conception: simple and elegant. Only the correct dip caused me a bit of a headache. Because the traditional dip, a combination of aromatic soy sauce and spicy wasabi would no longer be the best companion here. I needed a lighter, fruitier alternative. After several attempts I decided to go for a dip made of balsamic vinegar, sugar and a little water. This did not cover the great taste of the rice but rather supported the aromatic pesto flavor with its fruity note. Even my husband, who is addicted to soy sauce, was delighted by my new creation! I felt I was on cloud nine! 🙂
Ingredients (4 servings):
For sushi rice:
300g sushi rice (Asia Shop)
1 piece of kombu the size of a postcard (Asia Shop)
4 tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the sushi roll:
4 sheets of nori (Japanese seaweed sheets, Asia shop)
4 tablespoons Basil Pesto (click here for the recipe)
100g green beans
For the dip:
2 tablespoons Balsamic Bianco Vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoon water
- Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Drain 30 minutes in the sieve.
- Meanwhile, cook the vinegar-sugar mixture for the sushi rice: Add the rice vinegar with the sugar and salt together in a small saucepan (not aluminum!). And heat it up briefly on small fire until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- In a pot with a heavy bottom bring the rice with the water and kombu together to boil over medium heat. Once the water is boiling, change to a stronger heat and cook for about 5 more minutes. Then reduce the heat again and cook the rice for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the rice steep with covered lid for further 20 minutes. Remove the kombu and add the rice to a large bowl.
- Slowly sprinkle the vinegar-sugar mixture over the hot rice while stirring gently. Chill the rice.
- Blanch the beans in boiling salted water just until they are done (4-5 mins, be careful that they don’t get too soft). Pour into a colander and rinse with cold water, drain the beans in the colander.
- Mix the drained bean strips with basil pesto and set aside.
- For the “Dip Verde”: heat balsamic bianco with sugar to a saucepan on low heat until the sugar dissolves, let cool and mix with the water.
- For the “Roll Verde”: Place a sushi mat on the work surface. Put a sheet of nori on it (the shiny side down). Form two elongated rice balls and place them on the sheet of nori. Distribute the rice evenly with your fingers. Keep some space free from rice at the top of the nori sheet (approx. 4cm). Place some beans and a few basil leaves in the middle of the rice. Roll it carefully with the help of the sushi mat and set aside.
- Do the same until all rice is used up.
- When the rolls are done, take a knife and plunge into cold water briefly and cut the rolls into half. Cut each half into 4 or 6 slices.
- For the “Dip Verde”: Mix the Basil Pesto with lemon juice and olive oil, season with salt and pepper.
Delizioso! おいしい (Oishii)!