Summer Project: Make Vegetable Maki Sushi With Kids!

Here's a really fun and easy DIY project to do with kids this summer - hand-rolled vegetable maki sushi rolls! The ingredients you'll need are cheap and easy to find. Making your own maki sushi rolls is a very simple skill that kids can pick up quickly, and since it's all done with the hands, kids can actually "play" with their food for a change! Plus, it's an easy way to introduce sushi to kids; picky eaters are often more willing to try something new if they've participated in its preparation from start to finish.

Sushi that has ingredients which are rolled around a layer of nori seaweed is called maki. Here's what you'll need:

  • Bamboo rolling mat - you can find these at Japanese and Korean groceries, but Whole Foods often carries them. They can also be found online. These vary in price from $3 to $7.
  • One package of eight 7"x9" (approx) toasted nori sheets - again, available at Asian markets, Whole Foods, and/or online. Price is generally between $4 and $8.
  • One small bag of sushi rice - be sure it says "sushi rice." Found at Asian markets, Whole Foods, and/or online.
  • Rice vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Vegetable fillings of your choice - here is where you can get creative. In these photos, I used cucumber, sauteed spinach, carrot, and pickled Japanese eggplant. You can use sauteed shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, bell pepper, cooked sweet potato, green beans, etc.
  • Optional: pickled ginger

To get started, precook 1 1/2 cups of rice a few hours beforehand, and chill in the refrigerator. It needs to be cool in order to work with. You could do this the night before, after the kids are in bed, so you aren't distracted by them. While the rice is cooking, you can prepare the vegetables you are planning to use by slicing or cooking them. Once the rice is cool, add about 1/2 cup of rice vinegar to it (more or less according to your taste preferences) and mix well. When you're ready to make the maki rolls, organize your workspace with the food, the nori, the bamboo mat, and a bowl of water to dunk your hands in before working with the sticky rice.

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Select one sheet of nori and place it shiny side down on the bamboo mat. After wetting your hands, pick up some rice and spread it on the lower 1/3 of the nori, and then with your fingers, press it down gently. You don't want to press it into a solid block; you just want to make it a little more stable so it doesn't fall apart when you start rolling. The rice should be about 1/4 of an inch in height. Don't worry if you can still see some of the black nori through the rice.

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Add your fillings in the center of the rice and gently press down. Do one filling per roll, but if your kids are willing, feel free to try two or three fillings per roll. Always put down the biggest fillings first. Smaller fillings go on top. Don't pile the fillings too high, or it will be hard to roll.

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Now you can begin rolling! Lift the end of the bamboo mat that is nearest to you and fold it over the ingredients. Be sure to pull the end of the mat out in front of you so it doesn't roll up into the roll. Dip your fingers in the bowl of water and lightly moisten the top end of the nori sheet that is furthest away from you. With a gentle rolling motion, fold the roll into the end of the nori (the part you just moistened) and seal the roll. Squeeze the roll gently with your hands and with the palms of your hands, roll it back and forth between the fold of the bamboo mat to ensure the roll has sealed and to help shape it. Congratulations - you have made a maki sushi roll!

Of course, this part is adults-only; take the maki roll and slice it into 8 even slices with a sharp knife. Serve with soy sauce and pickled ginger. Enjoy!

(Images: Kathryn Hill)

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