We’ve been eating lots of sandwiches of late. When I can, they involve homemade sourdough, and we toast them up in a frying pan with a splash of olive oil to make them extra delicious. But still, it equals bread for lunch, and I don’t think it’s clever if we’ve also had bread for breakfast.
We eat so much wheat in the western world that with toast or maybe packaged cereal like Wheat Bix for breakfast, followed by a sandwich for lunch, followed by pasta or perhaps couscous for dinner, it’s so easy to bank up three meals of wheat in one day, plus snacks. That doesn’t seem healthy to me. What if one day someone in my family develops gluten intolerance? The bread, cake and pasta we would no longer be able to eat when we felt like it would be tragic. (A part of me thinks that by varying our grains we will be less likely to go down that path – but it’s just a personal inkling, not science.)
Nori rolls are Japan’s answer to a sandwich. And in terms of making something from scratch, I’d have to say they’re very easy. Cooking rice is a cinch compared to kneading and baking a loaf of bread – although buying a loaf of bread from a bakery is easiest of all, of course.
Sandwiches and nori rolls can share many of the same ingredients – tuna, salmon, chicken, egg, cucumber, lettuce, avocado, mayonnaise. This last one is interesting. To me mayonnaise has always seemed an odd fit with sushi – a bit vulgar, even sickly, with the clean and pure flavours of Japanese food. Though now I’ve had quite a bit of it in takeaway nori rolls, it’s grown on me. The creaminess goes well with salty soy sauce. But I can’t bring myself to buy Japanese mayonnaise in a funny squeezey bottle with that strange baby on the front (the Kewpie brand). I have read that mayonnaise arrived in Japan in the last century but grew quickly into a much-loved condiment, albeit one that people don’t usually make at home but buy ready-made. Japanese mayonnaise is made with oil such as soybean oil and with rice or cider vinegar, but generally also contains MSG. Instead I prefer to make my own, and on this day I already had some on hand from a previous occasion. It was whisked up with an egg yolk, light olive oil and lemon juice – not so Japanese, but it did the job.
With all the other ingredients on hand, I just needed to cook the rice. I decided to give brown rice a go, to add some extra nutrition. (Making sushi with brown rice would be lunacy in Japan, but when you’re already bending tradition, why worry about adding something else to the list?)
The true Japanese style is to fan the cooked and seasoned rice to room temperature to ensure it doesn’t sweat and gloop. But as time for fanning isn’t factored into my day, I tipped the cooked rice into a bowl and folded in the seasoned rice vinegar with as light a hand as possible, then left it to cool on its own. It didn’t seem too wet or sticky.
The brown rice added a little more bite to the rolls. It was still soft, though, and a great backdrop for the filling, which this time was avocado, tuna, cucumber, lettuce and a thin spreading of my mayonnaise.
With a cup of green tea on the side, our nori rolls were the perfect healthy lunch for a working day. A slice of chocolate cake to follow? Well, when you’ve just had something so delicious yet virtuous, why not!
Brown-rice nori rolls
This quantity can be doubled to serve more people – although it isn’t a good idea to make more rice than you need, as leftover rice is not very nice once it’s come out of the refrigerator.
1 cup short- or medium-grain brown rice
450 ml water
1½ tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
3–4 nori sheets
fillings of your choice (our all-time favourite combination is homemade mayonnaise, avocado, tuna and cucumber)
wasabi and pickled ginger if desired
Put the rice into a saucepan and fill with water. Swirl it around to rinse the grains, and pick out any bad grains of rice as you see them. Carefully pour off most of the water. Repeat two more times, pouring off all the water you can on the final time. Add the 450 ml of water, cover with a lid and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for around 25–30 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. If the rice is still a little too crunchy, add a small splash of extra water and continue cooking until the rice is soft but still with some bite. Turn off the heat and leave for 5 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, combine the vinegar, sugar and salt in a cup.
Tip the hot rice into a large, wide bowl and add the vinegar mixture, scraping out any remaining sugar in the cup. Gently mix together with a wooden spoon. Leave the rice to cool to room temperature covered with a light tea towel for around 30 minutes (or longer if convenient), stirring every so often so it doesn’t clump together.
Lay the nori sheets out on a bench. Use your hands to cover each with a thin, even layer of rice, leaving a few centimetres free at the top and bottom.
Lay your fillings in a line along the centre of the rice. Dip your finger into a bowl or cup of water and run it along the exposed top edge of seaweed. Roll up firmly from the bottom to the top, gently pressing to stick down the wet edge. Slice the rolls with a sharp knife. Serve with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger if desired.