Izumi Shoji, Japanese housewife and mother, is the hugely successful vegetarian blogger, author, and owner of the Izumi Shoji Cooking School in Tokyo. Izumi decided to become vegetarian after the birth of her daughter twenty-one years ago through a gradual transition to vegetarianism. Believing that vegetable dishes are colorful, bright, and beautiful (and more forgiving than cooking meat dishes), she started her blog in 2007 as there were no Japanese-language cookbooks on vegetarian cooking available at that time. By writing a successful blog, she hoped to publish a book on vegetarian cooking. Now with over fifty books published in Japanese, “The Vegetable Sushi Cookbook” is her first title to be translated into English.
I was so excited when I heard that Kodansha was publishing her vegetarian sushi cookbook in English; as a longtime vegetarian living in Japan, I’ve been unable to enjoy most types of sushi as most contain seafood. (The few exceptions available to vegetarians are natto, gourd, and cucumber rolls, omelet, and inari-zushi, a fried tofu pouch stuffed with plain rice). Vegetable sushi is just now catching on here but is perhaps more a novelty than anything else; popular chain Sushi Nova introduced some similar vegetable (but not vegetarian; one contains prosciutto) sushi on its menu last year, but purely vegetarian rolls are still a rarity in the land of seafood.
The more than 100 recipes in “The Vegetable Sushi Cookbook” include many popular types of sushi including nigiri-zushi, maki-zushi, chirashi-zushi, gunkan-zushi, oshi-zushi, temari-zushi, maze-zushi and inari-zushi and show off Japanese veggies and herbs to their best advantage, including my personal favorites renkon (lotus root), eggplant, takenoko (baby bamboo), gobo (burdock), enoki, eringi, and shiitake mushrooms, turnips, leeks, etc. If you’re a fan of mouth-puckering umeboshi (pickled plums), you’re in luck; there are many recipes punched up with umeboshi, including the shiitake steamed with umeboshi plum maze-zushi, umeboshi plum and ginger-flavored turnip nigiri-zushi, asparagus and umeboshi plum maki-zushi.
You’ll find full-color photographs and detailed instructions on making great sushi rice (the most important part of making sushi; instructions are given for rice cooker and clay pot methods), simple steps to extract the most flavor from a wide range of Japanese veggies, and additional side dishes that complement the sushi. A beautifully photographed ingredients and tools glossary will make it easy to take the book along to your nearest Asian / Japanese supermarket to purchase (potentially) unfamiliar items.
This was my first attempt at making sushi, so with nervous anticipation, I purchased the ingredients for the steamed enoki mushroom gunkanmaki (p. 39), gingered bamboo shoot nigirizushi (p. 37), and mustard-flavored cabbage temarizushi (p. 69). As I live in Japan, I am fortunate to have abundant access to ultra-fresh Japanese veggies and herbs, but don’t worry; even if you can’t find uniquely Japanese ingredients like lotus root, there are plenty of recipes calling for staples like cabbage, mushrooms (both fresh and dried), carrots, asparagus, tomatoes, etc. Some of the recipes call for Western ingredients like balsamic vinegar (I used the amazing Fustini’s 18-year balsamic from my home state of Michigan).
Each recipe yields a small number of rolls (usually around three to four); because the recipes are so simple, it’s no trouble to double or triple a recipe if you anticipate a crowd. Ingredients are listed in both US and metric. Instructions are clear and concise, and some include step-by-step photos (maki-zushi, for example). I had no problems in following along and producing appealing sushi (see photos!). My favorite of the three I’ve tried so far was definitely the cabbage-flavored mustard; I loved the flavor so much I made a cabbage mustard salad out of the remaining head of cabbage!
If you don’t have access to pre-cut nori (here in Japan, you can purchase already trimmed nori designed for onigiri, musubi, gunkan-maki, etc.), be sure to use a very sharp knife or the nori will tear instead of cutting neatly. I found that scoring with a chef’s knife then bending at the score was also a good technique.
Many of the recipes call for no special equipment, but it’s worth investing in a few staples used to make sushi, such as a bamboo makisu (sushi rolling mat; Lekue also makes a great silicone one that I use in combination with a bamboo makisu as cleaning is much easier), plastic rice paddle (shamoji; if you already have an electric Japanese-style rice cooker, it should have come with one; if not, they are inexpensive), and an oshizushi mold if you plan on making pressed sushi (I opted for this plastic one for ease of cleaning, but you can also find beautiful wooden presses made in Japan).
I love that such unique and healthy rolls can be produced with literally any vegetables in your crisper (you’ll find ideas for radishes, celery, avocado, carrots, cabbage, etc.) with minimal ingredients and prep, preserving the natural colors, flavors and nutrients of the veggies and showing them off to their best advantage. It’s a fun way to incorporate more veggies into your diet, and if you have children in your house, many of these recipes can be adapted for younger helpers once the veggies are simmered / steamed, etc. My copy of “The Vegetable Sushi Cookbook” is flagged with dozens of other sushi recipes I can’t wait to try; highly recommended! いただきます!
(Thank you to Kodansha USA for the review copy; ありがとうございました!)