It all started a month ago with this photo on Gena’s Instagram feed. Gena is the author of the excellent blog Choosing Raw, and she has long extolled the virtues of the vegetable nori roll as a quickly and easily assembled snack: her site offers almost a dozen examples, including this latest version.
The process is not unlike that which leads to maki, but here you forgo the seasoned rice altogether — this saves time and effort, and also means you don’t have to plan ahead — in favor of fresh vegetables, lots of them.
I was so inspired by that latest shot that I went out and got some cucumbers and sprouts the very next day to make my own, and I have been weaving variations on that theme about twice a week since then — that’s how enthused I am.
Although Gena likes to apply a thick layer of some sort of spread — think hummus or cashew cheese — directly on the nori sheet, I start with the sliced cucumbers as I prefer my nori to stay as crisp as possible* — the drier, the crisper — and find it most pleasing to bite into the crunchy layer of cucumbers first.
Having played around with various ingredients, I have now determined the foundation I like to build on (cucumber, avocado, sprouts, sesame), and will add whatever little things I have on hand — leftover chicken or fish, tofu, spread or dressing, crudités, greens, and herbs. I have a great fondness for the mango and jicama version I make as an affectionate nod to the maki served at Bob’s Kitchen.
These make for a lovely item to add to the mix when we’re composing a lunch or dinner from sundry elements (see “leftovers night” in my Menu Planning Tips & Tricks). You could offer them as finger food as well, cut into maki-style slices, and I’ve been known to fix myself a nori roll as a refreshing afternoon treat, too.
* For optimal texture, I like to eat the roll the moment it is made, but of course it’s fine to let it sit while you make the others, or if you’re packing them for lunch at the office or a picnic.
- 4 sheets nori seaweed (available from natural food stores and Japanese markets)
- 450 grams (1 pound) cucumbers, thinly sliced with a mandolin slicer (I don't peel my cucumbers; see note)
- toasted sesame seeds
- ground chili powder (optional)
- 1 ripe avocado, sliced into thin wedges
- 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) tofu, or cooked chicken, or fish (raw and super fresh, or cooked), cut into strips
- long-stem sprouts or sprouted seeds
- soy sauce, for serving
- simple tahini sauce
- raw cashew cheese or other spread
- pink radishes, thinly sliced with a mandolin slicer
- large handful of small salad leaves, such as baby spinach or baby kale
- fresh herbs, especially shiso or cilantro
- 1/2 ripe mango, sliced into strips
- 1/2 small jicama, peeled and cut into strips
- Have all the ingredients ready and portioned out into four equal servings before you begin, and have a small bowl or glass of water close at hand.
- Place a sheet of nori on a clean and dry cutting board, shiny side facing down and longest edge facing you.
- Starting from the left edge, arrange the cucumber slices in overlapping rows on the nori, leaving a 3-cm (1-inch) margin of uncovered nori at right.
- Sprinkle with sesame and ground chili powder, if using.
- If using tahini sauce or cashew cheese, drizzle or smear over the cucumber now.
- If using sliced radishes or salad leaves, arrange in a single layer on top of the cucumber now.
- Arrange the bulkier fillings -- avocado, tofu, sprouts, herbs, mango, jicama -- in an even, vertical pattern, about 5 cm (2 inches) from the left edge.
- Rotate the cutting board by a quarter of a turn counter-clockwise so the uncovered strip of nori is furthest from you. Using both hands, start rolling the sheet of nori from the edge closest to you, folding it up and over the fillings, then rolling it snugly away from you (see note).
- Just as you're about to reach the uncovered strip of nori at the end, dip your fingertips in the bowl of water and dab the nori lightly so it will stick.
- Set aside, seam side down, and repeat with the remaining ingredients to make three more rolls.
- Slice into halves or thick slices using a sharp chef knife. Serve with soy sauce for dipping.
- The exact variety of cucumber matters little for this recipe. What's more important is to pick smaller cucumbers that feel heavy for their size and are nice and firm throughout -- older cucumbers start shriveling up from the tips. Before slicing any cucumber, give it a taste to make sure it's not bitter. If it is, it will probably be more palatable peeled.
- I find it unnecessary to use a sushi-rolling mat here. Just use both your hands with your fingers splayed out to cover the width of the roll; you'll quickly get the hang of it.