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Many people argue that the Japanese diet is the healthiest in the world. Whilst this title is subject to fierce debate, there are certainly some health advantages to Japanese food that can easily be incorporated into the food we cook at home. There are three key foundations underlying the benefits of the Japanese diet:

Lots of boiled or steamed rice. Boiled and steamed rice provides a low-fat carbohydrate base for meals. Plus it's cheap, meaning it's an easy and affordable way to fill up healthily.

Lots of vegetables. Whilst many people may think of Japanese food as being primarily sushi-based, one recent survey found that the meal Japanese women most commonly cook for their families is vegetables simmered in broth. It's easy, quick, healthy and warming. Use miso soup from a paste to make the broth for a more Japanese flavour.

Lots of fish and less red meat. Japan accounts for 2% of the world's population but around 10% of the world's fish consumption. Although there is an ethical question about eating lots of certain types of fish, there are plenty of dietary advantages to choosing seafood. Much of the seafood commonly found in Japanese cuisine, such as eel and prawn, provides a high-protein, low-fat ingredient; much better for you than the high saturated fat red meat that the European diet is often based around. Some of the oily fish used in Japanese food, like salmon and tuna, contains health boosting omega-3 fatty acids.


Although expert chefs need many years of training to make sushi that could be classed as a work of art, simple sushi is not hard to make at home. There are a few principles to stick to, beyond which you should be able to make something tasty, healthy and impressive to dinner party guests (if you are generous enough to share!):

Buy proper sushi rice. This is essential, as it has a shorter grain and requires a slightly different method of cooking to long grain rice. It is easy to find in Asian food shops and bigger supermarkets and isn't expensive. While you're there, pick up rice vinegar and some decent soy sauce (e.g. Kikkoman), nori (seaweed sheets) if you want to make rolls (maki) and a tube of wasabi paste if you like a bit of a mustardy kick.

Buy very fresh fish. If you can't get your hands on fish you trust enough to eat raw, or you're too squeamish to enjoy such delights, you can use vegetables (blanched asparagus, radish or cucumber work well), omelette, tofu or cooked fish, or a combination.

Measure the rice and water precisely according to the packet instructions.

Cook rice without removing the lid. Seriously, don't remove the lid. It traps the steam in and helps the grains cook to sticky perfection.

Make a 'sushi-su'. This is light seasoning for the rice made out of sugar, salt and rice vinegar. Don't try to use malt vinegar. I've tried and it's not pleasant. Warm half a cup of rice vinegar in a small pan and add two tablespoons of caster sugar and two teaspoons of salt, stirring until dissolved. As soon as the rice is cooked, stir the seasoning through quickly with a wooden spoon.

Spread the rice out thinly so it cools quickly. I use a large chopping board or cover the surface with tin foil, and open the window to create a breeze.




Nori sheets
Sushi rice, cooked and seasoned
Raw, very fresh salmon fillet, cut into 1cm wide strips (about the size of chocolate fingers)
Raw cucumber or red pepper (optional)
Soy sauce
Wasabi paste

You will also need a sharp knife and a bamboo sushi mat (often found next to the sushi rice in the shop), plus a bowl of water and a clean, dry tea towel. Damp hands are essential for handling the rice but will spoil the nori, so you will find you need to wet and dry your hands often.

Lay the nori rough side up on the sushi mat. With damp hands, pick up a small handful of rice (seasoned as described above) and spread gently across the nori, leaving a few centimetres uncovered at the top for sealing the roll later. Lay the salmon strip at the bottom of the rice-covered seaweed sheet. If it isn't long enough, you might need a second piece. Add some vegetables if you like.

Picking up the mat, fold the bottom edge over the filling and roll slowly and tightly until you reach the top. Dampen the nori tab at the top with a damp finger and press gently down to stick. Wet your sharp knife and slice the roll into 6-8 pieces. Serve with soy sauce and wasabi paste.

Cooking by Freddie Bates.
Photos by Sara Hill.


Next article in issue 60

Collated by Helen Mort.

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