Thursday, August 20, 2009

hey, I could make vegan sushi

Yeah, I know, another food post. But the reality is, I make more food than anything else.

I never liked sushi, despite the ravings of all my friends. It was the fish that turned me off, and the fishiness of the seaweed. When I discovered that sushi can be made with other stuff-- lots of other stuff-- I decided to give it another try. It took a little while to get used to the ocean-debris flavor of the seaweed wraps, but the stickiness of the rice and the complexity of the sweet-sour-salty-spicy rolls dipped in soy sauce and wasabi got me hooked.

Going out for sushi can be an expensive habit, and gets pretty boring if you're a vegan; at many restaurants, you're limited to one or two rolls, usually cucumber and avocado or asparagus. If you can learn to make sushi at home, though, the possibilities are limitless. And it's not as hard as it seems.

I've seen it made at home with more and less intricacy, but here's what Mr. Annie and I did last night (much credit to his practiced expertise.) Generally speaking, the only specialty tools you need are a bamboo mat to roll it up with and a wooden spatula to stir the rice with. As always, improvisation saves the day if you can't find or afford these things; you could probably form the rolls with wax paper or plastic wrap, and mix the rice with a regular wooden spoon or even your hands. I dunno. It seems like it would work.

The ingredients are a bit trickier. Most importantly, buy sushi rice. Don't use plain medium- or even short-grain rice. Trust me. They even have it at the crappiest Giant here. You'll also want some rice wine vinegar-- this is good to have on hand anyway-- NOT some other kind. Really, the rice is my favorite part, so don't mess it up. Also sugar, but you probably have that.

As for the seaweed (nori), I'm really a neophyte. All I know is, make sure it's fresh or it'll get crackly and hard to roll, possibly also grosser. I'm not great friends with the sea vegetables, but some have less of a seaside aroma and flavor; the kind we used last night was dark, dark purple and smelled the least offensive of the four or five packages kicking around the kitchen. You can also use rice paper if you really can't handle the seaweed taste. I would not blame you.

Fillings! The best part. Put in whatever you want to. Purists might prefer avocado, cucumber, asparagus, weird mushrooms, pickled vegetables, daikon, etc... Try those, do. Then branch out. The most fun part of a sushi-making party is trying new combinations of flavors and textures, so turn on your brain juices and throw in whatever seems good.

I do like the traditional dip, though: soy sauce mixed with wasabi. Adjust to taste, dunk judiciously, enjoy.

Making the sushi itself is kind of time-intensive, but not really difficult once you get the hang of it. Getting the rice just right takes practice, but start with the recipe on the bag. I would generally use less sugar and vinegar than they suggest, since you can always add more if you find it bland.

Okay, so rolling. This instructable describes the whole process probably better than I can, and explains some of the more fancy-shmancy ways to make it. Steps 3 through 9 actually describe the rolling process, though, if you don't want to just wing it. Make sure your knife is sharp.

My favorite roll of last night's attempt was an "inside-out" (uramaki) roll filled with peaches, vegan cream cheese, and chiffonaded mint from the garden. We toasted and crushed Cheerios and covered the outside with the crumbs.

(avocado, asparagus, cucumber: the trinity.)

Makes good lunch the next day, too. Your office will be jealous.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

hey, I could make my own conditioner

Okay, so I was visiting my sister in Boulder, CO this past weekend and used her Avalon-brand rosemary conditioner. I loved the scent that followed me around for two days afterward (it was a kind of grungy trip, and the desert, so lay off.) When I went to pick up a bottle at my local organic market, I noticed it was $11-- or a dollar per ounce. I've got a job and everything now, but I still can't rationalize spending a dollar every time I condition my hair. A bottle of rosemary essential oil, on the other hand, cost about $5, so I picked that up instead.

I'd seen recipes before for flaxseed hair gel, so I scooped about a half-pound of brown flaxseeds from the bulk bins ($2 or so, also good in granola and smoothies if you're a hippie like me, apparently.) A quick surf of the invaluable led me to a recipe for homemade conditioner/gel using just oil, water and guar/xanthan gum. Xanthan is god-damn expensive, so I just grabbed a jar of guar-- I'll have to see if it improves vegan baked goods too-- on my next jaunt to the Health Concern.

From what I've gleaned by reading people's wild ideas on the internet, it seems like the point of conditioner is to spread a thin layer of oil on your hair to replace the natural oil you strip off when you clean it with shampoo. I'm not sold on shampoo in general, but it's what I'm using now. Basically, what you need to do is to emulsify the right amount of oil in something, like water, that will deliver it evenly. In my conditioner, I used water and flaxseed goop because I liked the idea of flax proteins, and I thought I might try it as a leave-in conditoner, in which case the goop would give it more hold.

Here's what I did:

1 cup water + 1 tsp flax seeds + 1 tiny cast iron skillet
bring to a boil, simmer until reduced in half and gooey. strain out the flax seeds, play with the slime.
I would probably reduce this down a little more next time, since the conditioner ended up thin.

pour the flax goo, 1/2 cup water, and 1/4 tsp guar gum into the food processor, whir until thin. add a few teaspoons olive oil (what we had in the kitchen) and a teaspoon or so of the oil that separated off the almond butter in the cupboard (why not?) squeeze a little lemon juice in (I've heard acid helps smooth the hair shaft) along with some shakes of the essential oil and mix again.

The resulting goop was... less goop-like than I would have liked, so I shook in more guar gum (maybe 1/4 tsp more) until it thickened up to a good consistency. A stint in the freezer to cool it helped too.

I tried a couple of containers for this, including a glass jam jar and a hot sauce bottle (well-washed, don't worry) before remembering the emptyish hand soap pump kicking around the bathroom.

The verdict? Mr. Annie and I both used it in the shower, and for his shorter, thicker hair it worked really well. My longer, finer hair ended up kind of oily the next morning, although I kept touching it in the evening because it was so soft. The rosemary scent had all but disappeared the next morning too... maybe a result of cheap oils? I'll keep working on this one...