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“California Roll”ing It Up in New Jersey

After looking through the past couple of posts, I’ve realized that most of my posts from spring break have been about restaurants and eating out instead of good, old-fashioned, homemade eats.

Whaaaat?? How did THAT happen?

It was probably in all the excitement of Yelp and traveling that I lost myself in discovering new, delicious places to eat. But I’m actually mad at myself for letting myself get caught up in all of that tomfoolery. It’s an ABSOLUTE TRAVESTY, because the food that I honestly and sincerely enjoy THE most (whether I’m at school or at home) is my mom’s food.

So! I’m kicking this blog back into shape with this post, and taking time to refocus on what this blog is really about (because I’m always eatin’ nice when my mom’s around).

Now take a look at this:

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Hmm, now what could this delicious mound of vegetables possibly be for? Any guesses?

Well, if you’re magically psychic (or just logical and guessed it from this entry’s title), and guessed that they’re for California Rolls, YOU’RE RIGHT.

But these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill, blegh, gummy California rolls you get at some random sushi bar. These are HOMEMADE.

I know. It’s amazing. I mean, who makes homemade California rolls?

Well, the Choi’s do. Alright, to be honest these aren’t REALLY California rolls (hence the quotation marks). They’re technically maki, or hand rolls, and we just stuff them with whatever we want. But a few of the ingredients are similar to some of the California rolls out there, so that’s what call it.

This has actually been kind of a tradition(ish) thing for a while, and we do a bunch of other put-whatever-you-want-into-an-Asian-wrap-and-roll-it-up meals every now and then. But we hadn’t eaten “California rolls” in a while, and my mom decided to bring it back while I was still home from school. :)

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Like with any sushi/maki, rice plays a crucial role when making California rolls. Here, you see my mom mixing up freshly-cooked rice with a vinegar-sugar mix in a special bamboo bowl to make the sushi rice. If you look carefully, you can see that she’s gently blowing on the rice, and my sister (off-screen) is fanning the rice with a magazine. In order to get the proper texture of chewy-not-gummy sushi rice, you have to combine and cool the little granules carefully, making sure that each grain is separate yet coated with the vinegar mix.

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mix, mix

To make it healthier, my mom also used brown rice (more fiber! more minerals! yay!) for our California rolls; this obviously is pretty untraditional, but with my mom care and attention, the sushi rice turned out perfect.

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stir, stir

You’d be surprised to find out how time-intensive this step was. Want to know a fun fact? When you go to a sushi restaurant, the most important and laborious things that the sushi chefs do is make the rice. My dad (the sushi connoisseur) always says that you can tell a good sushi restaurant from a bad one by the quality of its rice! (Although the fish should be impeccably fresh too). In fact, this step is so important that sushi chefs-in-training spend an average of 3 YEARS learning how to make the rice alone.

Wow. Now that’s a lot of pouring, mixing, fanning, and stirring.

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Anyways, this is what the rice looked like when my mom was done with it – both a little tart and sweet from the sugar-vinegar mix, carefully fluffed and separated, but still sticky.

Next, the wrapper:

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I’m sure you’ve seen these before – nori, or Japanese seaweed that’s been dried into sheets. These are what you’ll see used as wrappers in sushi restaurant, but this is NOT the Korean keem that the Choi’s eat at most of our meals. Korean keem is thinner and always seasoned with oil (usually sesame) and salt. It’s delicious for wrapping up kimchi or other banchan, but not really ideal for sushi because not only would it break when wrapping makis, they’d overpower the fish (when eating sushi anyways).

Nori, as you can see, is thicker and unseasoned, ideal for wrapper-ing various veggies and proteins.

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Like unagi! Or super-delicious freshwater eel that’s been semi-marinated with a soy sauce-based sauce (jeez, redundant much?) and pan-fried. Mmm… sweet, buttery eel flesh… (Don’t worry, I’m not a fish-hungry monster; I managed to limit myself with one roll with eel).

Another essential part of maki-making…

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Soy sauce and wasabi! These are always at sushi restaurants too, right? For our special roll-dinner, my mom used a special, high-quality soy sauce (which is different from the one she uses for normal cooking), and wasabi paste made from wasabi POWDER.

What’s wasabi powder, you ask? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like – wasabi root dried up and ground into a nose-searingly spicy powder. Most of the wasabi you get in tubes at the store is actually made from horseradish (which is a cousin of wasabi, but not the exact thing) and green coloring. Eww…. So while this wasn’t fresh-grated wasabi that you get at quality sushi restaurants, this was the next best thing.

So can you see all the care and effort my mom put into making this dinner? Amazing, right? She’s absolutely amazing in the kitchen (I miss it already…), and I’m always overwhelmed at how much love she puts into each meal.

For the main fillers of our rolls, she cut and prepped:

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bell peppers, perilla (i.e. sesame) leaves, cucumber, sprouts, radish, avocado, crab meat, egg & fish roe

The veggies! And masago (or fish roe, the orange thing in the middle). Once this was set on the table, everyone started digging in and assembling their “Jersey” rolls (aharharhar, I’m so clever).

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my dad's roll

So, are you ready for some Maki 101?

My mom must be really observant when she goes to sushi restaurants, because she was able to tell me how to exactly make those cone-shaped handrolls. Didn’t you ever wonder how they got them to be so perfectly… coney? Here are step-by-step instructions, so you can make yourself a maki the next time you’ve got some nori and rice on hand.

First, you start with a large piece of nori (the smaller pieces were for the regular, tubular rolls) and spread rice on it:

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Then you add your vegetable/protein stuffs:

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This is a little sparse; I usually add a lot more vegetables, but I think it was better for me to start off small with my first roll.

Now, this is the tricky part; you have to grab the bottom corner of the nori and fold it to the upper third on the other side of the vegetables, like so:

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You see the cone forming, right?

After that step, you keep on rolling it, making sure to keep the pointy end closed by wrapping tightly around the filling.

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If you do it properly, your roll should look like this!

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When making makis, you usually dab the masago and the soy sauce on top after you’ve rolled it up.

Of course, if you don’t want to use such a complicated method (it’s practically edible origami..), you can just use a smaller nori to make a regular roll:

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But the cone is so much more FUN! :D

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yumm.... maki innards

It almost feels like you’re holding a microphone. And you get more nori with each bite, which is never a bad thing in my opinion.

Now, don’t you want to try some?

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This was one of the most memorable dinners at home, because like in our shabu-shabu meal, my family was all gathered around one table, with everyone grabbing stuff from the same plate. It was definitely a bonding experience to talk while making these hand rolls, and having “maki contests” to see whose maki was better than whose. I feel like the four of us don’t sit down to eat together that often, so having my dad at the table that day was definitely a welcome change. It was a different dynamic, and an enjoyable one at that.

Plus, the makis were delicious. I mean come on; look at all that variety! SO MANY CHOICES.

And look at this:

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you know what they say - a picture is worth 1000 words

‘Nuff said.

This dinner was wholesome in more ways than one. Yes, it’s healthy and chock full o’ vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, but it was just so much FUN. An interactive meal, where we really got our hands into it. :)

I’ve only been at school for a week, and I miss this family dynamic already! I’m trying not to be too homesick; after all, it’s already April. It feels like there’s so much of the semester left, but everyone is telling me it really flies. Hopefully, I’ll be back enjoying family food before I know it… But until then, good luck all!

And happy Friday – is it just me, or has this week been ridiculously long..?

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Discussion

4 thoughts on ““California Roll”ing It Up in New Jersey

  1. LOLL. we do this at my house too! love u and ur familyyy <3

    Posted by Ji Sun | April 2, 2011, 5:27 pm
  2. eunice this is the most heart warming blog post ever!
    i love your blog haha it always makes me so hungry :)

    Posted by jackie | May 1, 2011, 6:28 pm

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