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Visually stunning...but tasteless!
on January 30, 2001
This book is visually stunning, with some of the most inventive sushi I've ever encountered: nigiri colorfully topped with slices of carrot and lotus root tied together with a green stem; sushi rolls cut to reveal a pattern of plum blossoms, hearts, roses, or a checkerboard; a cute sushi ball topped with a shiitake mushroom cap that resembles an Oriental hat; others wound with shreds of vegetables to look like multicolor silk balls. There's sushi presented in a pumpkin cup, several varieties of stuffed tofu sushi, a sushi-and-vegetable "pizza," sushi salads, and even fruit sushi. Each recipe is illustrated with a mouth-watering full-page color photo, and the extremely clear directions feature rolling or assembly diagrams. I pounced on this book not only for its visual artistry and as Japanese Food Host at BellaOnline, but to make special vegetarian treats for my vegan son and his friends.
Yet, there's a central problem with this book. All the recipes I tested are virtually tasteless!
I'm sorry, but plain sushi rice topped with a slice of carrot boiled in saltwater does not make it in my culinary estimation. Nor do the beautiful sushi rolls that consist solely of rice wrapped in nori-however eye-appealing they are-or the assortment of boiled, saltless beans served over brown rice! And grapefruit cup sushi made of okra, carrot, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and grapefruit sections tossed with rice and stuffed into a grapefruit half? Yuck!
Even the basic rice recipes are peculiar: the one for white sushi rice calls for seasoning the rice with apple cider vinegar and honey instead of a standard sushi-su made from rice vinegar and sugar. A brown rice version uses salty plum vinegar and mirin. I've been trying to figure out if this book is meant to embrace Zen macrobiotic diet principles. But no, then honey wouldn't be called for. Also, for reasons unknown, the authors do not even mention wasabi in the book. Likewise, soy sauce is never suggested as a dipping sauce to accompany the sushi recipes. (Indeed, there's little soy sauce used throughout the book, and then almost exclusively to cook shiitake mushrooms or tofu pockets). And, despite several attempts, my sushi rice seasoned with plum vinegar did not turn out a bright pink as is shown in the book-or even pale pink. The authors might be using a different brand of plum vinegar than what's available in my area, but nowhere was that brand specified.
Of course, one can always add beet juice or food coloring to rice to achieve that lovely pink shade, or incorporate Japanese pickles to liven up the flavors of fillings, or add a smear of wasabi, or serve the sushi with a wasabi and soy sauce dip. But these ideas are not brought out in the book.
If you intend to use this book as inspiration and let your imagination soar, then this may be a great resource for you. However, if you are the kind of cook who needs to follow recipes exactly, or are seeking to re-create a Japanese restaurant taste experience, you are apt to be sorely disappointed with the results of the recipes in this book. Caveat emptor!