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Posted at: May 12, 2018, 12:34 AM; last updated: May 12, 2018, 12:34 AM (IST)

Rolling out desi sushi

In a country with a strong vegetarian base, the Japanese dish has undergone a transformation

Radhika Sharma

Pan-Asian cuisine is the latest genre to see a major fan following in India. While the green and red Thai curries have been menu favourites for a while, sushi is taking over. This traditional Japanese dish is a preparation of vinegared rice, raw seafood, vegetables (and tropical seasonal fruits occasionally), all rolled tightly and served in small rolls with pickled ginger and wasabi as garnishes.

However, in a country with a strong vegetarian base, the humble sushi has undergone a transformation of sorts. Paneer has replaced prawns, mushroom takes over meat and the veggie protein favourite soya bean ousts the shrimp — the veggie takeover is in full gear!

The old-school Japanese sushi does have vegetarian versions in its own culture and the Americans have also helped morph the sushi process over the years. The most common veggie transformation in India is the California Roll, which traditionally is a combination of crab, cucumber and avocado. The omission of the meat in this case makes for an excellent vegetarian version, which is immensely popular with the urban eclectic folks. Chef Paul Kinny, culinary director, Bellona Hospitality adds, “Although sushi is synonymous with raw fish, it does not mean raw fish.  The idea that sushi must contain meat/flesh is quite widespread in western countries, but anyone native to Japan will tell you that sushi actually means rice cooked in vinegar. We understand that in India a majority of the population is vegetarian. Another interesting fact that I encountered while travelling across Southeast Asia was the large population of Buddhists spread across and hence the plenty of diverse vegetarian options.”

Asparagus, mushroom, cucumber, horse radish, tofu, carrots, avocado and quinoa are some of the major ingredients in the veg sushi delights. A Three Mushroom Maki Roll at Shizusan, a leading Asian restaurant in Pune, is a yummy mix of shitake, button and oyster mushrooms. The Philadelphia Cream Cheese Sushi makes use of cream cheese as a garnish for the roll and adds a funky taste to the palate.

“The thing with maki rolls is that seafood lends a distinctive and diverse texture and flavour to it; and my challenge was to keep the texture consistent using vegetarian ingredients. If you have a look at our menu, you’ll find that we have equal vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. About half of our maki rolls are vegetarian. If you ask me my favourite ingredient for maki rolls, I’ll have to choose the buttery avocado. However, I have also curated maki rolls with sweet potato and asparagus,” he adds.

With over 40 per cent of the population being vegetarian, sushi isn’t the first dish to get a veggie makeover. The humble pizza through the years has gotten intensely desi-fied with chatka paneer instead of pepperoni, a “makhanwala” complete with veggies in curry and the latest being vegan versions with bases made of ragi instead of wheat. Nasi Goreng, the star of Balinese cuisine, is made with plenty of fresh Indian veggies in the same peanut preparation as its pork counterpart. Udon noodles have a non-chicken version too!

In the case of sushi, the conventional methods of cooking are followed in most restaurants while incorporating vegetarian methods. “As fish is usually assumed the main factor of sushi, many people believe that it’s a mandatory ingredient. However, as long as the chefs have the ingredients in their kitchen, they will happily serve the sushi that their customer’s request!”

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