vegetarian california rolls

the first time i ate sushi i popped the dollop of wasabi into my mouth and swallowed it whole . . .  it took a few seconds before the vapors hit my sinuses . . . and a few seconds more before my eyes started to water. and then, i heard the siren of an ambulance going by, and i remember having the hope that it was coming for me. 
          it was the late 70s and i was visiting a friend, diana, in new york city. she asked me if i liked sushi, and suggested we have lunch at a japanese restaurant. "sure thing" i responded not wanting to admit to the sophisticated, modern, diana, that i had never eaten raw fish, edamame, or seaweed before. coming from a small farm in greenville, indiana, my experience with ethnic foods wasn't just green, it was chartreuse. i thought the strange, rectangular plate set down in front of me looked like a little stage. and, i was just glad to see some rice on it . . . rice, i had eaten before.
cucumbers, carrots, and avocado for filling california rolls.
          after i regained my composure from the wasabi blast, i learned from my naive mistake and followed diana's lead on how to proceed with the meal. she took me on a journey into the exotic, fresh tastes of the cuisine, and i remember being delighted with the surprises that came with each bite. crunchy and smooth textures. delicate and bold flavors. cold fish and hot wasabi. it all resonated like timpani and triangles banging and pitching into my senses.
          i have eaten nigiri, maki, and sashimi countless times since that blunder in the japanese restaurant with diana. and every time, the symphony of flavors underscores my pleasure in eating it. i actually crave it sometimes. so i taught myself to roll maki with a sushi mat– that way i can have it whenever i get the urge. serve these vegetarian california rolls with an entree of teriyaki-marinated tuna. or serve them with some tofu and miso soup for a vegetarian meal. but please heed this advice, make sure you dilute the wasabi! 
cover the nori with rice  /  fold the top edge of the mat down & then flip it over  /  lay the veggies on the nori
use the mat to make the roll  /  apply pressure with both hands as you roll it  /  cut it into eight equal pieces
• several cups of japanese rice
• a few tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
• a tablespoon of sugar
• salt
• toasted sesame seeds
• 1 med. carrot, cut into thin strips
• 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips
• 1 avocado, cut into thin strips
• several sheets of nori
to make the sticky rice:
1. rinse the rice grains well, in a fine sieve under cold water.
2. put the rice into a med. sauce pan with a tight fitting lid. just cover it with water about 1/4 of an inch.
3. bring the pot to a boil, give the rice a stir, and put the lid on it. turn the flame to extra low, and simmer for several minutes until all of the water is absorbed. remove the pan from the heat.
4. mix a few tablespoons of rice wine vinegar with the sugar and salt.
5. fluff the rice and sprinkle on the sugar water.
to make inside out rolls:
1. cover a sushi mat with plastic wrap.
2. fold a piece of nori in half and it will break at the seam.
3. lay the nori on the mat and cover it with some of the sticky rice. sprinkle the rice with the toasted sesame seeds.
4. fold the top half of the mat over the rice and then flip the whole thing over. now the nori is facing up.
5. lay a few of the slices of carrot, cucumber, and avocado on the bottom edge of the nori.
6. using both hands, roll up the bottom edge of the mat and stop at several points to squeeze it to make a tight roll.
7. cut the roll into eight equal pieces, and serve with wasabi, soy sauce, and pickled ginger.

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