22 April 2008

Alternative Sushi

After having fun and taking part in Art You Eat in March, I was completely set on keeping it up along with the Daring Bakers. But when the theme for AYE #3 was announced, I got a bit of a mental blockage - what to do with local produce that looks nice? I think I make fairly good food, but plating has never been my strong side, as most of the photos on the blog can tell. So over the next few days I kept scratching my head and unable to think of anything at all that would fit.

Luckily I got inspired when we were invited to Fred & Ginger the following week for a sushi night. Now I'd done a Japanese dinner party many years ago with a friend of mine and we'd spent some 8 hours preparing all the food. Obviously we'd missed one of the points with a sushi night - that the guests help with the "making of".

Anyway, it was nice and there were other things to eat as well, since I'm not a big fan of seafood and fish, I made a veggie sushi roll. Still the seaweed was fishy tasting.

And here's where I got the idea - sushi made with local ingredients. Local in this case being UK.

Now as far as I know, rice is not grown on a commercial scale in this country, if at all. So this would be the first thing to substitute - wheat. In Bulgaria wheat is boiled whole, then mixed with spices, sugar, breadcrumbs and fruit and served in church at special holidays. And when while wheat is boiled, it swells and bursts and releases loads of stickiness, so this should work out fine.

Next thing to change was the nori (dried seaweed). I'm not aware of an equivalent thing in Europe, but in addition to keeping the sushi rolls together and providing some flavour, it also gives a nice colour. Lundulph suggested cabbage. I wasn't convinced, but didn't have a better idea so that's what it was going to be.

Third thing to change was the fish. I'll repeat once again - I don't like fish much. Also not sure what fish would be available, if any, the coast isn't that close and our local river has probably more shopping trolleys than fish in it. So it was going to be chicken and beef, cut in thin long strips and quickly fried.

So with a shopping list of the above and the generic item "colourful vegetables" we went to our local farm shop. It's very posh, always crowded on week-ends and has lots of interesting things that are extremely tempting to buy.

The first thing I spotted was gigantic spinach leaves and with them the nori problem was resolved. But the red cabbages looked nice too and I put one in the shopping basket as well. On to herbs - all the fresh ones were from Guernsey and that didn't feel local enough, so I let them be. The meat was very local indeed, but they didn't have the right cut for what I needed. I got a bunch of carrots and cucumber, both locally grown and rather pathetic looking I might add.

Further into the shop I spotted packets of various grains. They had them all except wheat. The closest was spelt wheat and having had good experience with it in baking, I thought I'd use that just as well.

There was a plethora of sauces and chutneys and I should have taken time to pick some nice local ones out, but I didn't unfortunately, rooting for the jar of horseradish sauce I had in the larder.

And so, please find the majority of the ingredients:


The friendly butcher explained that the beef was from Scotland and the chicken from Norfolk. It could probably have been a bit more local than this.

First thing was to wash all vegetables and let them dry, particularly the spinach.

Ready to roll 1

The next thing to do was to boil the spelt wheat and the packet recommended 1 part spelt wheat with 3 parts water per volume. Or stock. I opted for stock to get some flavour, since I wasn't going to marinade the meat. Vegetable stock from Oxo. The packet also recommended simmering for 1 hour and 30 minutes. I boiled some water in the kettle, measured up 3 dl spelt wheat and rinsed it. Then into a pot, crumbled 5 Oxo cubes over it and covered with 9 dl boiling water and left it to bubble under cover. About an hour later, the spelt wheat tasted rather nice and salty, but there was still plenty of liquid left, so I left it on. 15 minutes after that and it was beginning to burn, so I took it off the heat and drained it.

Spelt wheat draining

To make sure I also spread it onto some kitchen paper. In hindsight, this was not necessary, but wasted valuable time scraping it off. Hopefully not too much paper was left in the spelt wheat after this.

I then cut the carrot and cucumber in strips and dug out one large onion from the onion jar as well. Finally I cut the beef and chicken in long thin strips and fried them in a bit of grapeseed oil. Here, everything's ready to roll:

Ready to roll 2

And at first it looked like it would work:

Begins well

But the spelt wheat was just not sticky enough and disaster struck:

Complete failure

At this point Lundulph came home from work, sniffed from the kitchen door and joyfully proclaimed that it smelt very nice and that he was hungry. So a quick rescue was needed. I skipped the spelt wheat and rolled up the vegetables and the meat - beef in the spinach leaves and chicken in the cabbage leaves. By the way, the cabbage leaves were quite hard and I used tooth picks to keep them in cone shapes. For the spelt wheat, I put cling film in a ramekin, filled it with the spelt wheat and pressed it in, then pulled out the cling film a little, tipped the whole thing onto the middle of the plate and pulled off the ramekin while holding on to the cling film. Once the ramekin was removed, I removed the cling film. Saved on washing the ramekin. I really should invest in some metal rings for shaping purposes, I really should.

Final result

And some close ups.

Chicken sushi

Beef sushi

Now the horse radish sauce - I really should have made my own. I bought the jar earlier this year with the intent of trying it out. Well, it was a disappointment - it tasted like mustard but had a sort of fibrous texture. Maybe it had gone off, though it was well within it's best before date.

So we ended up having sweet chili sauce as is traditionally used with spring rolls. Which made a world if difference taste wise, especially the beef "wraps".

I'm not sure if should post this for AYE #3. It was tasty but only because it failed miserably and I gave up and reached for the exotic dipping sauce. Not local at all.

I complained abut the lack of stickines of the spelt wheat to my Mum and she reckons that I should have used regular modern wheat, which is stickier, especially when overcooked.

In theory, though, all ingredients can be provided locally and later in the year, peppers and fresh herbs would also have been available in the garden, to add flavour. I still need to think about dipping sauces to get the sweet, hot and tangy edge to things.


Amanda said...

It looks lovely!

By the way... try cutting both ends off of a tuna tin. That makes a nice 'cutter' without the extra purchase.

Caramella Mou said...

Mrs W you are a genius! I would never have thought of that. Right, tuna for lunch today it is ;-)

Amanda said...

Hehe well, dear Caramella, I don't know if it's genius or cheapness, but I do try to find shortcuts to keep my pocketbook in my pocket! :)

AYE Admin said...

Whether it turned out the way you intended or not, I think it looks awesome! I especially love the purple. So pretty.