Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wok and Roll

I don’t think Matt or I will be offered the job of sushi chef anytime soon, but our Vegan Sushi and Beyond class was fun and definitely worth the investment.

Matt and I headed into the city yesterday at around 3:30 p.m. With the holiday season in full swing, we weren’t sure what awaited us at the Holland Tunnel. It was smooth sailing in and out. After we parked, we had about 90 minutes to spare, so we went to a small restaurant across the street from the Natural Gourmet Institute. We had a cozy little table for two in back. It wasn’t a menu that had multiple vegan options from which to choose, but all we needed was one. Fortunately, we got two!

He and I each had a Kale Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Fuji Apples. It was incredibly tasty and didn’t come out dripping in dressing, as is most often the case (I guess my waiter didn’t hear me when I asked for it “on the side.”)

For our entrĂ©e, we shared a Barley, Farro and Root Vegetable Stew. Before ordering, we asked the waiter for his thoughts on it. He said it was a “healthful dish” but that some people had complained it was “bland.” Since he kept stressing the dish's "healthfulness," we thought we’d give it a try. He couldn’t have been more off with his “bland” comment. The dish had a wonderful aroma and was bursting with flavor. I tried really hard to zero in on the various herbs and spices used (so I could recreate the dish at home) but kept coming up short (although I picked up on parsley). All in all, it was a nice meal -- quick and filling and the company was fantastic.

We arrived at the Institute with a few minutes to spare and, of course, with a tall Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Soy Latte in hand. We checked in and were handed our aprons, towels and class information packets. At 6:35 on the nose, we were guided into the kitchen where -- for the next 3.5 hours -- we would try to master the art of sushi.

The teacher was an accomplished sous chef who began her career in Japan. She stood at probably 5 feet tall and, in fact, wore springs on her sneakers (which I had never seen before) that probably gave her an extra inch or two in height. She had an adorable personality. She talked about her “road to veganism,” which began after she came to the United States. Shortly following her arrival, she developed stomach issues and headaches and was tired all the time (not surprising … America + Western Diet = SICKNESS). She was seeing doctor after doctor, some of whom were misdiagnosing her with depression. Eventually she landed in the office of a wellness nutritionist who set her on the path to a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle. In a very short amount of time, all that ailed her had disappeared. She described herself as feeling so good that “I fly now!”

She then turned her attention to the reason we were there -- sushi!

There were 13 of us in the class and we were tasked with preparing the following eight recipes:

Romaine-Wrapped Kabocha Pumpkin Roll
Chocolate-Banana Mousse with Vanilla Cashew Nut Cream
Summer Roll with Peanut Sauce
Frozen Tofu-Stuffed Yuba Bean Curd Roll and Amaranth Sauce
Shumai Dumplings
Tazuna-Brown Rice Sushi Ropes
Colorful Inside-Out Roll
Dragon Roll

The first 90-minutes we watched her make some of the ingredients we needed to make our dishes -- such as the brown sushi rice, which she said should be rinsed and soaked in water for 15-24 hours prior to cooking. She demonstrated how to make several different types of brown rice -- sushi vinegar rice, which is made from brown rice vinegar, maple syrup, brown rice syrup and salt; pink sushi rice, which is made with sushi vinegar and grated red cabbage; and then a second pink sushi rice made with grated beet and sushi vinegar.

Chef Hideyo Yamada

She also prepared the Chocolate-Banana Mousse (which was seriously delicious, by the way). One great thing about this recipe is that every ingredient is easy to come by at any local grocery store. This is not the case with many of the others. I suspect I’ll need to make a trip to an Asian Store or order the items online.

After about 90-minutes of watching her move quickly but gracefully around the kitchen, she turned the class over to us. We were placed in teams to oversee the coordination of various recipes. Our team was responsible for Shumai Dumplings.

How it worked is that each team organized one or two recipe(s) so that everyone in class could walk over to each station and physically make one of everything. So even though Matt and I were officially on “dumpling duty,” we prepared a Colorful Inside-Out Roll, a Dragon Roll, etc.

Rolling the summer rolls was easy -- they came together much like burritos do. Rolling the actually sushi; however, proved challenging since it’s done using a bamboo mat and clingy plastic wrap. That takes some getting used to. It’s another example of “practice making perfect.” And we both intend to get a lot of practice recreating these recipes and some new ones we find at home.

After everything was "wok and rolled," we were ready to eat -- the best part! All our work paid off because it was absolutely delicious, especially the mousse!

All and all it was a great experience for both of us. It was so much fun to look across the table and see Matt in the trenches with me; sleeves rolled up (so to speak) and covered in sticky rice. He’s a great partner in and out of the kitchen!

I can’t wait to see how Ryan and Sienna make out in January. We're back to the Natural Gourmet Institute on MLK Jr. Day for a Kids Vegetarian Sushi Class. Fun, fun!

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