Eho-maki and California Sushi Rolls Eho-maki are a traditional seaweed wrapped sushi that can be enjoyed anytime during the year, but they have a central role in a Japanese festival, Setsubun, that takes place on February 3rd every year. Although the weather is still very cold in Japan, this event marks the beginning of Spring in the traditional calendar and it is now often a part of Haru Matsuri spring festivals. The celebration is otherwise known as the "bean throwing festival" (mamemaki). During this festival day, Japanese (particularly Japanese Buddhists) throw roasted soybeans at shrines, temples, and in some places, masked characters oni,(usually the senior male in a household) who play act like scary demons. The bean throwing drives away misfortune and evil spirits. Celebrations have become very elaborate at the larger temples. Sometimes the ritual is observed with specific dances, role-reversals (including cross-dressing and young people dressing like old people), special household decorations (including hanging sardine heads!) and the bringing of outdoor work tools inside homes to protect them from marauding and ill-tempered spirits. Ginger flavored sake is a popular drink on this day. Setsubun celebrations are most popular in the Kansai region where it is believed that they originated in, but are now celebrated nation-wide.
The Eho-maki rolls, which in addition to rice and nori (seaweed) have seven different fillings that symbolize the Seven Deities of Good Fortune (Shichifukujin). Ingredients often include: egg, spinach, crab (artificial or real), gourd strips (kanpyo), sweet fish powder (sakura denbu), cucumber and shitake mushrooms. Other versions might substitute eel or seasoned freeze-dried tofu (koyadofu). Normally, sushi rolls are cut into bite sized slices. However, for Setsubun are eating without being sliced. On the evening of Setsubun, participants face the current year's Zodiac constellation (the direction of good fortune), silently saying a prayer for good luck, and then eat the Eho-maki bite by bite until it is all finished. As Eho-maki rolls are rather large, this can sometimes be challenging!
All of the Japanese ingredients and equipment may be purchased at the Mitsuwa Marketplace or any other local Japanese grocery store. Helpful and Necessary Equipment:
- Rice cooker
- Large flat rice spoon
- Small cooking pan
- Small (9-inch) frying pan
- Large flat serving dish (really large)
- Japanese or other hand fan (optional)
- Sushi Rolling Mat
- 2 cups Japanese short-grain rice
- 1 package of Nori (seaweed)
- 2 tablespoons of Japanese sweet sake (Mirin)
- 4 tablespoons of Japanese rice vinegar
- 5 tablespoons of sugar
- 3 teaspoons of salt
- Soy sauce
7 Ingredients for Sushi Filling.
- 1 egg
- 1 bunch of spinach
- 1/2 cup dried shiitake mushroom pieces (not whole!)
- 1 small package of Japanese imitation crab (kanikama)
- 1 package dried gourd strips (kanpyo)
- 1 package sweet fish powder (really just for looks, it's bright pink!)
- 1 Japanese cucumber
- Cook 2 cups of Japanese rice according to directions on the package (amount of water varies)
- While rice is cooking, prepare the other ingredients below and then return to the next step here to finish the rice
- As soon as the rice finishes cooking, pile it into a very large flat bowl
- Drizzle all the seasoned vinegar on the rice and mix the rice very very gently so that the vinegar coats as much rice as possible
- Spread the rice out in the bowl so that it is a thin layer. Do this very gently so as to avoid breaking the rice kernels
- For absolutely perfect sushi rice, vigorously fan the rice with a hand fan to cool it rapidly (this step often separates good sushi from mediocre sushi, so it is highly recommended!
- Soak shitake mushrooms in warm water for 10 minutes
- Drain most of the mushroom water and reserve in a cup or bowl
- Add 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce, sugar, and sweet sake to remaining water with the softened mushrooms
- Gently boil mushroom until almost all of the liquid is absorbed or has evaporated
- Remove mushrooms and let cool
- Soak the gourd strips in cold water for 10 minutes
- Drain all of the water
- Pour the reserved mushroom water in a pot and add the softened gourd strips
- Add 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce, sugar and sweet sake to remaining water with the softened gourd strips
- Gently boil the gourd strips for ten minutes
- Remove gourd strips and let cool
- Cut cucumber into 4 lengthwise
- Carve away the seeds
- Slice cumbers into 3/8th inch strips
- Mix, but don't beat two eggs in a bowl
- Pour mixed eggs into a medium oiled or buttered 9-inch frying pan and make a flat omelette
- Remove from pan, cool the omelette and then cut into long strips
- Boil whole spinach leaves in water until softened
Rolling the Sushi
Sushi seaweed (nori) has a shiny side and a dull side. The shiny side should be placed face down on the sushi mat so that it will be on the outside of the finished sushi roll. Thinly spread rice on the lower 3/4 of the nori. The upper 1/4 (away from you) should be empty. In the middle of the rice place all the ingredients aligned left to right. Sprinkle everything with the sweet fish powder. At the two edges closest to you, pinch the sushi mat and the corners of the nori, lift and push forward until edge meets the end of the spread rice. Grasp the rolled mat with curved fingers, squeeze gently and roll it forward to seal the sushi roll. For the Setsubun ritual the roll is eaten whole, bite by bite. For everyday consumption, slice the rolls like regular sushi. The secret to perfectly sliced sushi is to start by cutting the roll precisely in half and then cutting the resulting pieces in half again and then cutting all those pieces in half. Using this method all the slices should be very close in thickness. Eho-maki is very mild tasting and you will find that all the flavors of the seven lucky ingredients are distinct and very pleasing. You can eat this sushi with wasabi, soy sauce and pink pickled ginger, but you really should try it first all by itself to experience the subtle interplay of all the ingredients without any masking from stronger ingredients.
Original recipe submitted by Megumi Sato
Photo by Emily Johnston-O'Neill
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