One of the things I love about sushi is its ceremony. Based on etiquette and order, sushi demands a distinct method of preparation and dining. At the sushi bar, the sequence of service never alters: It starts with a hot towel and ends with a sweet orange cut into segments and speared with toothpicks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own version of this ceremonious appeal with a homemade sushi dinner.
There are Japanese customs to follow, such as eating sashimi with chopsticks but sushi with fingers; dipping the fish, not the rice, into your soy-wasabi mixture and never pouring your own drink but ensuring your friend’s glass is always full. These rules apply whether you’re in a restaurant or enjoying homemade sushi.
Sushi rolls for Setsuban
In Japan, spring is welcomed with Setsuban, or change of season, a holiday celebrated with rituals to welcome good luck.
Setsuban is also known as mame-maki (bean throwing,) because more than a thousand years ago, daizu (soy beans) were offered to Toshitokkujin, the rice god. In this day and age, the Japanese toss beans around their home as they loudly call out, “Oniwa soto fukuwa uchi,” meaning out with the devils and in with good luck. It is also customary to eat as many beans as one’s age, and one extra for the new season, considered the beginning of the year. This ensures good health and fortune for the coming year.
Setsuban is also celebrated by the consumption of “good fortune-direction sushi rolls.” Normally, plump nori-covered rolls are cut into pieces, but in this instance slicing them would cut good fortune. One legend has it that a great samurai downed an entire roll in this manner before heading into a battle he eventually won.
Celebrating spring with a romantic sushi dinner
Welcome spring with the ceremony of sushi and the spirit of Setsuban. Preparing sushi at home is easier and less expensive than you think: Maki-sushi, the rolls that invite countless variations, is simple if you have a bamboo mat for your easy, homemade sushi rolls into cylinders.
Since I am Californian, not Japanese, I made a menu to reflect my heritage and one that is relatable to most American sushi lovers. But to prepare your homemade sushi, you’ll need sushi rice.
What is sushi rice?
Sushi rice is short-grain rice that offers a sticky texture when cooked. You can’t substitute with jasmine rice or basmati. That’s because these are longer-grain rice with different moisture content than that of short-grain, Japanese rice. And they will not provide the right texture for making sushi. If you aren’t sure what to look for, I’ve provided a link below where you can order the right kind of rice for sushi online.
Additional ingredients for making sushi at home
You are also going to need to purchase fresh, sushi-quality fish. Don’t worry, any good fishmonger will be able to help you with this. If you can’t find a fish retailer with sushi-grade ahi, try calling a Japanese restaurant in your area and see if they can recommend a retailer. If you can’t find it, you can always skip the ahi roll on your at-home sushi night.
Two more keys to making sushi at home are sheets of nori (dried seaweed), and a sharp chef’s knife or santoku knife. Of course, you’ll also want chopsticks for dining, a dash of wasabi and some pickled ginger. (I’ve provided links for ordering wasabi and ginger online in my sushi shopping list below.)
My romantic sushi menu with simple sushi rolls
Pineapple Mint Sake
Spicy Ahi Tuna Roll
California Sunrise Roll
Salty Spicy Edamame
(get the recipes)
My shopping list for this sushi aphrodisiac dinner
I’ve skipped the normal pantry staples (like sugar and peppercorns). And I’ve included links to the more exotic pantry items you can order online in this homemade sushi ingredients list.
Japanese short grain rice (sushi rice)
rice wine vinegar
quality soy sauce
sweet white miso
silken tofu (soft)
ahi tuna (you will need to find a good, local fishmonger)
Sriracha chili sauce
toasted sesame seeds
frozen edamame (Sold in the frozen vegetable section of many grocers)
Japanese beer or sake of your choice
What to eat with sushi
Start out your romantic, sushi dinner with miso soup, edamame and, of course, Japanese beer or sake. (I’ve included key ingredients in my shopping list above.) Or create a sake infused with fresh fruit or herbs. My pineapple mint-infused sake recipe is included in the recipe link below.
Salute spring, Setsuban and your inner Iron Chef with a cheer of “kapai!”
Diane Brown is author of The Seduction Cookbook: Culinary Creations For Lovers
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