Sushi Salad: A deconstructed salad
with the help of an exotic “local” crop
It’s January and time for salad! The holidays over, the refrigerator cleaned out, and we search for something a little lighter for our plates. A salad using some common components of the “California Roll” fits the bill as a light offering, and it’s also quick and easy to make.
Now, one might not immediately associate Vermont with the growing of ginger, and yet, in the past few years these exotic tropical nuggets, along with their cousin turmeric, are making a name as an up-and-coming crop.
They have found their way to Vermont farms not because of global warming, but rather from the determination of local dedicated farmers who like to push the limits of what we can grow in our short season.
“It’s interesting to have new challenges,” Jack Manix said. Manix and his wife Karen own Walker Farm in Dummerston. They started growing ginger and turmeric about five years ago, and it has been quite a popular venture, he said.
Ginger is indeed a tropical plant and is not hardy to our climate. Manix orders organic rhizomes from Hawaii annually, and plants a new crop each year. In fact, he just completed this year’s order for shipment in March. Once they are received, they will be sprouted in peat moss in a cozy warm spot, 80 degrees, for two to three weeks.
And these delicate babies will continue to live the pampered life once planted, spending their growing season in greenhouses throughout the summer.
“Ginger loves the heat,” Manix said.
Harvest begins in late September, and is done in stages. The ginger grown here gets to be a nice size, Manix explained, bigger than his hand, and is thinner skinned than what you find in the supermarket, whiter, with a pretty pinkish/purplish tint.
“It’s really fragrant, too,” he said, adding that he places it near the cash register and folks cannot resist the intoxicating aroma, a Vermont farmer’s “impulse buying” lure. “We don’t put potato chips there,” he joked.
And what will the next challenge be? Manix said Vermont farmers have already started experimenting with figs, so who knows what else will find its way to our greenhouses.
“Bananas and oranges may not be far behind,” he said.
Ginger and turmeric freeze well, so when you spot local grown, don’t be afraid to stock up and tuck them away in the freezer for use all winter. They are actually easier to grate when frozen.
Sushi Salad with Pickled Ginger
We’ve eaten lots of rich foods and desserts. Our bodies are asking us for salad and green vegetables! Yes, they are. This is always a good time to turn to dishes with a Japanese influence; they do not include dairy, much wheat, or gobs of butter and chocolate, so that’s a good place to start for the New Year.
We love sushi and sashimi. We make it at home. It is messy. It also requires a bit of a learning curb to roll it right. Enter, a salad with all the flavor of the traditional “California roll,” with most of the fuss removed! This is also great made with sushi-grade raw tuna or salmon, sliced paper thin, or small cubes of pressed tofu that you have marinated in a half-and-half mixture of mirin and rice vinegar.
Local fish markets carry the Maine or New England crabmeat, even if tucked into their freezer when it is not readily available. If you don’t see it, ask for it, or another U.S. or Canadian product. Avoid the canned crab that is processed from Indonesia, Thailand, and other Asian countries, and these are not usually sustainably raised, contain preservatives, and they have an unpleasant after taste.
Local co-ops also have an abundance of wild Atlantic seaweed, so experiment with the different varieties. Since you are not making rolls, the sheets are not necessary. The sushi rice is widely available at co-ops and some supermarkets, as are the rice vinegar and mirin. If you cannot find the mirin, substitute dry sherry.
Double this recipe and it is a great salad for a party or to bring to a potluck.
3 or 4 sheets dried seaweed, or a couple of cups of dried and crumbled
1 ½ cups sushi rice
2 cups fish or vegetable stock or water
3 tbsp. rice vinegar
3 tbsp. mirin
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
8 oz. Maine crabmeat
1 Haas avocado, sliced
Pickled ginger (see recipe)
2 scallions, sliced thinly, diagonally
½ small carrot, fine julienne
1 tbsp. black sesame seeds and parsley to garnish, optional
2 tbsp. Wasabi powder
Toast the seaweed over a gas flame or under the broiler. It only takes a few moments, so keep your eye on it. Crumble, and set aside.
The washing of the rice for sushi of any type is important, almost a ritual, and I enjoy this process. Place your rice in a bowl and cover with water. Swish it around for a little bit, then put it in a wire mesh strainer. Rinse under the water for a couple of minutes, until the water runs clear, indicating you have removed enough of the surface starch. This is a step you don’t want to skip.
Place the rice and stock in a pan and bring to a boil. Cover, and reduce heat to the lowest temperature and cook for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, and keep covered for 20 minutes. Then, fluff it gently with a fork. Turn it out onto a baking sheet to cool.
When the rice has almost finished cooling, whisk together the vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt. Pour this over the rice, and mix it up. I use a fork in each hand, like I’m tossing a salad. This will already start to smell like sushi. Let cool, covered with a damp towel.
While the rice cools, prep the rest of your dish: slice scallions and the avocados, drain a little of the brine from your pickled ginger over the avocados so they won’t discolor (or a little squeeze of lemon), and cut your carrot into thin matchsticks. Find your sesame seeds, if using, and prepare your wasabi sauce by mixing the powder with a bit of water to make a paste the thickness you like.
When ready to assemble, chop up the toasted nori sheets and place them around the edges on the bottom of your serving platter, reserving a few for garnish. Tumble out your rice evenly over the middle of the plate.
Then, you get to be creative. Add your protein. If I am using crab, I mound it in the center. Arrange your avocados, carrots, perhaps some cucumber, pickled ginger, scallions, sesame seeds, and chopped parsley. Use your imagination, and make it pretty.
Serve with soy sauce, wasabi paste, and the beautiful pickled ginger. If you are a ginger fanatic, feel free to heap lots of extra on the salad.