Roll Your Own Fish Free Sushi

Roll Your Own Fish Free Sushi

When eating sushi, NEVER pass food to someone using your chopsticks. That act parallels passing cremated bones of a deceased relative at a Japanese funeral. Instead, pass the plate, allowing the sushi to be plucked from it.

Good to know.

I learned so much in the “Roll Your Own” vegetarian sushi making class at the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC, that I will never again eat sushi without deep appreciation and a (hopefully) more discerning and knowledgeable palate.

My new enlightenment has me hankering for sushi in a big way. I yearn to sit at the bar and pluck buttery pieces into my mouth within seconds of the rolls being prepared.  


I will closely observe the veggies being meticulously sliced, note the odd, sharp tang of umeboshi pickled plums, detect mildly sweet and salty dashi-jiru. M. and I will nod, knowingly (imperceptibly so as not to be obnoxious), as we watch the not quite symmetrical placement of perfectly cooked rice over shiny sheets of sushi nor.

Mamie Nishide was our patient, good humored chef/instructor.  We lucked out with a small group of only eight students (capacity is 14) in class.  It was a friendly crew, including two vegans, one veritable novice (he was in  waaay over his head) and two kosher keepers.

After Nishide modestly shared her impressive history of cooking in some very big name NYC restaurants, we plunged into this fully participatory class. The overhead screen helped us to more closely watch Nishide’s delicate hands as she sliced, diced and rolled.

Two work tables were set with knives, cutting boards and other necessities.  The tables behind our work stations had ingredients waiting to be cut, simmered and arranged.  Everything was perfectly organized and two helpful assistants ( in the work study program leading up to the  Chefs’ Training Program) were at the ready to support Nishide and the rest of us as we embarked on our rolling adventure.

Some time was spent on the importance of cooking rice properly and we cooked both Japanese short grain white and brown varieties. Nishide explained that the rice must not break down into a mush, rather one should sense the individual grains on the tongue. She instructed us carefully, wanting us to understand that 80% of making sushi properly is getting the rice right.

After cooking two large pots of rice, our group gathered to fan the rice after transferring it to large stainless work bowls from the steaming pots. Nishide entertained us by recalling that her Mom often waited for her to come home from school so that she could fan the rice.

Fanning cools it more quickly and helps to remove moisture. With texture being such a crucial characteristic, she gathered us all around to participate, relieving some of the focus and concentration we had directed to our rolling techniques.

We simmered carrots, cut two ways  (“Liz,  cut those into even thinner strips and shorter too”) blanched, shocked and wrung fresh spinach dry,  and soaked and simmered shitake mushrooms. We placed long, flat strips of dried gourd in dashi-jiru, a cooking sauce with simple and perfectly balanced sweet/salty flavors.

We stuffed tofu pockets, after boiling them to release excess oil. We gently inserted a  filling of bamboo shoots, fresh lotus root, snow peas and sushi rice into the golden pockets, creating a wonderful non-sushi addition to our end-of-class fiesta.


In addition to learning to roll our own, we practised making tamagoyaki or Japanese egg omelet, which often punctuates the end of the meal. I promise to forever marvel at the many fine layers, neatly stacked but still airy. Folding barely firm, scrambled egg repeatedly in a small, rectangular pan designed just for this purpose, was nearly impossible. Naturally, there were a couple of die hards who committed quite a bit of time trying to manage the technique.

“The Natural Gourmet Institute was founded on the principle that what we eat significantly affects our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.” Their focus is on mostly vegetarian, often vegan ingredients and cooking techniques. When classes are not vegetarian, they clearly state it, making many of their offerings great choices for those who are kosher like me (This is not a kosher cooking school). Their Chefs’ Training  Program is highly respected and well known for training the most talented and well educated vegetarian and vegan chefs. 

Check the site for the Natural Gourmet Institute for upcoming public classes, including a great selection of gluten-free choices (“Gluten Freedom-Reclaiming Our Bread”), seasonal offerings (Autumnal Vegetarian Party) and holiday highlights meant to shift the focus to healthier choices (“An Enlightened Hanukkah”).

Let me know if you want a buddy to come with.  I’m game for another adventure!

Mamie Nishide owns and runs two businesses: Japanese Cooking Studio and Gotta Eat Sweets. All recipes are property of Mamie Nishide.


Hosomaki (Thin Roll)
6-8 pieces
Hosomaki (Thin Roll)

Copyright © by Mamie Nishide. All rights reserved.


  • 1/2 cucumber, seeded and peeled if needed
  • 1/2 sheet sushi nori
  • 1/4 cup cooked sushi rice
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds


  1. Cut cucumber into 4” julienne (need 6-8 pieces total).
  2. Cut nori in half (longer side in a half).
  3. Spread sushi rice over the seaweed about 1/4-inch thick, leaving 1/2-inch margin at the end of the edge.
  4. Place cucumber and sesame seeds in the center of sushi rice.
  5. Using a bamboo mat, roll. Cut a roll into 6 or 8 piece


  1. Mony must have loved the small thin cutting, Israeli salad prepares you for that..
    Making sushi is also threputical. I find it relaxing .
    Fresh sushi is amazing.
    I’d love the recepie for the Japanese omelette

    • Mony was much better with the knife skills that I was. He IS a great Israeli salad chopper, you are right. I’ll see about getting that omelette recipe. You have to be up for a BIG challenge and using a special pan, though! With Mamie guiding and commenting on each turn of the eggs, we STILL couldn’t get it right. It takes years, I think!

  2. Sounds like great fun! I was told that the tamago omlet is a signature of the sushi chef and that in Japan patrons will order that first to determin the skill of the chef before ordering anything else.

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