Sushi can be just as delicious with vegetables rather than fish! This is a simply seasoned recipe of blanched spinach (horensou) dressed with a sesame sauce known as goma-ae in Japanese. It’s popular as a side dish but can also be used to make a savory vegan roll. Sweet, nutty goma-ae is typically used with spinach but other sturdy greens or vegetables can be substituted for a flavorful variation. Good options include green beans, broccoli, asparagus or burdock root.
a makisu (sushi rolling mat) and a suribachi and surikogi (Japanese mortar and pestle), mortar and pestle or spice grinder
If using bunched spinach, trim the very bottom of the stems and separate the leaves, leaving the stems intact (see Cook’s Note). Rinse and drain the spinach and set aside in a colander.
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the spinach to the boiling water and cook just until the leaves wilt and turn bright green, 8 to 10 seconds. Immediately drain the spinach and transfer to a large bowl filled with ice water. Drain, gently squeeze out the excess water and set aside.
Grind the toasted sesame seeds with 1 tablespoon sugar with a suribachi and surikogi (Japanese mortar and pestle), mortar and pestle or spice grinder until ground. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and grind until finely ground. Add the soy sauce and mix until a thick paste forms. If using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, transfer to a medium bowl. Add the blanched spinach and fold until the spinach leaves are evenly coated.
Lay a half nori sheet textured-side up (smooth/shiny-side down) on a cutting board with one of the longer sides closest to you. Lightly moisten your fingers with ice water. Gently spread 1/2 cup of prepared sushi rice evenly over the nori, leaving a 1/2-inch strip without rice at the far long side. Carefully place the sheet rice-side up on a makisu (sushi rolling mat).
Place 1 ounce of the spinach lengthwise in the center of the rice sheet. Use your thumbs to lift the edge of the makisu closest to you and roll the nori/rice sheet inside the makisu until the edge meets the rice. Make sure you leave the edge of the nori with no rice on it exposed.
Lift the edge of the makisu off of the sushi roll and continue rolling the sushi roll over until the seam is on the bottom. The empty nori strip with no rice on it should seal around the outside of the sushi roll. If it doesn’t, swipe a little water with your fingertip over the nori edge and let it sit seam-side down for a few seconds. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, making a total of 4 rolls.
Dip the tip of a knife into the ice water and allow the water to run down the blade. Slice the roll into 6 even pieces and serve with extra goma-ae, soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi if desired.
I like to use bunched spinach rather than just spinach leaves or baby spinach for goma-ae because the stems have great texture and flavor. I leave them on!
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