Japan celebrated their New Year’s Day, or gantan, along with the rest of the world who follow the Gregorian calendar, on January 1st. But they’re already one up on everyone else with holidays – on the 11th, Japan observed Coming of Age Day, seijin no hi – in honor of the youngsters turning 20 this year.
The Japanese have several new year customs and traditions, including eating osechi – comprising boiled seaweed, fish cakes, sweet potato with chestnut and sweet black soybeans – along with sushi and sashimi and non-Japanese food, which were added in the modern era. Practices include sending new year postcards, giving money to children, making sticky-rice cakes, and paying heed the first time something is done that year, such as watching the first sunrise, visiting the temple the first time, the first tea ceremony, the first sale at the shops, and so on.
As I bid my lovely Japanese friends a belated akemashite omedeto gozaimasu, I am grateful to the nation that gave the world sushi and have finally said Yes to my kids who have begged me for weeks to make it. This is something we used to do regularly together, when I realized that having an entire family of Japanese-food enthusiasts wasn’t going to do our bank balance any favors.
We introduced the boys to sushi after their first birthdays, and instantly, they were hooked. Those were the days when weekly sushi outings were possible and indeed, part of our weekend ritual. We lived in Singapore, and it was as much fun for us to watch the boys’ reaction to a conveyor-belt purveyor of sushi (Genki Sushi, do they still exist?) as it was for all of us to try as many options as kosherly possible. While such restaurants aren’t recommended for anyone seeking top-notch, alive-two-minutes-ago sushi, they were perfect for our requirements (ie. cheapskates budget-conscious folk looking to eat lots of the stuff).
Like cats at a tennis match (and you know there are many of these), the boys would watch each hygienically covered plate move along, left to right, left to right, finally pouncing out towards a dish they recognized with a chubby paw, or asking one of us to grab it for them. The one-year-old’s favorites were salmon roe, tamago (egg) and inari sushi (tofu skin stuffed with seasoned rice, sometimes flecked with black sesame seeds and small flakes of fish), while the three year old couldn’t get enough of tuna and salmon sashimi and maki.
The boys’ tastes haven’t changed since then. But when I make sushi at home, I marinade and cook the fish, just to be on the safe side. It’s a few hours to the Jersey coast from here and I haven’t found a fishmonger who sells sushi-grade fish yet! Anyone know one?
Here’s what we made last night. I rolled the maki in front of the kids – they helped pat down the rice on the sushi mat and cut the fish – and they ate the maki as soon as I sliced it. Their daddy walked through the door, remarked on the sushi and stepped out for a minute to hang up his coat. By the time he returned, the kids had vanished, along with four rolls of teriyaki salmon maki, lemon red snapper and vegetables, making up about 40 slices of maki. I had to summon them back for Round 2 as I had forgotten to serve the miso soup!
My husband and I polished off the rest of the maki, along with a fresh, crunchy, deconstructed cole slaw and soup. I’m certain that no self-respecting Japanese, chef or otherwise, could have contained their frowns on the manner, method and ingredients used in the whole process (to be fair, they’re so polite and not given to showing their disdain openly), but it was all… yum!
Below isn’t a recipe as such, as I’m not an authority on sushi making. However, if you have a bamboo sushi mat, and the ingredients mentioned below, there’s no reason you wouldn’t be able to reproduce a version yourself 🙂
To make sushi rice
- sushi rice, 1 cup
- water, 1 1/2 cups
- rice vinegar, 2 tbsp
- salt, 1/2 tsp
- sugar, 1 1/2 tsp
- Rinse the rice thoroughly and cook it, with the water, on high heat for 5 minutes
- Turn the temperature down, cook for a further 10 minutes or till done
- Fluff with a fork, add the mixture of vinegar/sugar/salt and stir.
- Keep warm
- Marinate a fillet of salmon in teriyaki sauce (or a mixture of 4 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp garlic, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1 tsp brown sugar)
- Cook it on moderate heat for 3-4 minutes a side or till done. Watch so it doesn’t burn.
- The fish should be just cooked, and tender and moist inside
For Lemon Snapper
- Squeeze half a lemon over a fillet of red snapper, season with salt and pepper
- Cook it in a little oil as for the salmon above
- Julienne a selection of vegetables, like cucumber, carrot, red cabbage
- Use this for veg maki and for a side salad.
For a dressing, mix 1 tsp wasabi with 3 tbsp of mayo, a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of honey.
A mix for miso soup can be bought, in powder form or in a wet paste, from grocery stores. Whole Foods does a lovely organic paste for red miso which was delicious. I sauteed one shallot, added some julienned carrot, was unfortunately out of tofu but tore up some seaweed and allowed it all to simmer for about ten minutes.
Perfect, with the added bonus that you have control over the amount of sodium in it!
Mayonnaise or Spicy Mayo (made with 1 tbsp mayo, squeeze of lemon juice and 1 tbsp Thai dipping sauce)