When you think about sushi, you might picture nigiri, slices of raw salmon, tuna, or mackerel, resting on beds of pressed and seasoned white rice, wrapped in a band of seaweed, and arranged in look-alike rows on a white plate in a Japanese restaurant or in a black plastic tray at the supermarket, garnished with plastic grass, a ball of wasabi paste, and a rosebud of pickled ginger. Or maybe you picture maki, the traditional rice, seaweed, and fish combination, rolled together into a log and sliced into bite-size rounds. While both count as sushi, neither dish completely or even accurately defines the word.
The word sushi is not synonymous with raw fish, but rather with the seasoned vinegar—typically, rice wine vinegar flavored with a little salt and sugar—used to flavor any number of ingredients rolled into or sitting beside or atop a sticky mass of similarly flavored starchy, medium-grain white rice.
Though commonly referred to as sushi, the Japanese word for raw fish is actually sashimi. And even when traditional sushi dishes include fish, it’s not always raw. Some of the most popular varieties, both in Japan and the United States, are made with cooked eel, crab, and shrimp, not to mention the imitation seafood stuffed into many a California roll. In addition to providing a balanced combination of flavors, textures, and nutrients (if you choose wisely), the creation of sushi is often akin to an art form, because it can be just as much fun to look at, as it is to eat, especially when prepared by a talented and professional sushi chef.
Although “anything goes” when it comes to Western-style sushi dishes and fusion cooking, which blends various cuisines, you’re not likely to see commercially-prepared sushi dishes made with meat or poultry unless you come upon a teriyaki roll. But one popular topping is a sliced and lightly sweetened, omelet-style egg mixture known as tamago. Sushi dishes can also be vegetarian and feature vegetables like asparagus, mushroom, cucumber, carrot, scallion, and watercress. And more and more sushi combos are made with brown rice and sometimes other grains.
Make Careful Choices for Nutritional Balance
Sushi dishes are relatively low in calories and fat, hovering somewhere between 200 and 500 calories per serving, depending on the size of the roll or the number of pieces on your plate. Any dish that’s centered on white rice, however, can max out of your carb range in no time.That’s particularly true when it comes to sushi traditionally made with short-grain sticky rice, which is higher in carbs than standard long-grain rice.
You can fit sushi dishes into a healthful diabetic diet by choosing carefully and looking for rolls made with quinoa or brown rice instead of the traditional sticky, white rice. For example, a small California roll weighs in at around 200 calories, 43 g carb and 1 g fiber. Choose a quinoa-brown rice California roll instead, and the carbs drop down to 38 g while the fiber increase to 3g. To avoid excess fat, skip “crispy” or “tempura” rolls with batter-fried ingredients.
Limit soy sauce or any dipping sauce, that’s bound to be loaded with salt and possibly sugar as well. And when a traditional sushi dish doesn’t quite fill you up, add on to your meal with foods that are higher in protein and healthy fats (like avocado) to avoid excess carbs.
Another good sushi option that doesn't contain raw fish is an avocado roll which is higher in fiber and healthy fats. A cucumber roll might be an obvious choice but you won't find much fiber there.
How to Make Your Own Sushi at Home
The more exotic basic ingredients that lend true flavor to sushi dishes—nori (sheets of dried seaweed), seasoned rice wine vinegar, pink pickled ginger, and wasabi paste dyed a delicate green—are available in most large supermarkets. So you can also get creative at home and roll your own sushi. If your sushi rolling skills aren’t up to par, simply crumble or tear the nori sheet into small bits and combine with other ingredients in a serving bowl. Or shape the mixture into rice balls and enjoy those same favorite flavors without the special preparation.
When you make your own sushi dishes, you can control the ingredients and control your carb intake by using brown rice, or brown rice combined with other higher-fiber grains in place of white rice, and use less rice overall in proportion to other ingredients. You can skip the pickled ginger and instead, grate your own fresh ginger and sprinkle with a little vinegar. You can also skip the prepared wasabi and use plain grated horseradish instead, and use low-salt soy sauce when sodium is a concern.
And since rice vinegar and nori are the ingredients that define true sushi flavor, you can add pretty much add anything else you like to your sushi bowl, including leftover cooked lean meats, poultry, or fish, plain omelet or omelet seasoned with a little sesame oil and soy sauce, raw or cooked vegetables, fresh lemon or lime juice and sesame seeds, toasted or not.