I really struggled with what to call this. It's SO good that I didn't want to scare anyone off with the name, but I also wanted to describe it as accurately as I could because you can't taste things through a computer screen.
Here were the other contenders:
vegan crunchy rolls
plant-based tempura rolls
fried plantain sushi
I know. I should have gone with that last one. What was I thinking?!
So, the truth is I'm not a big sushi lover. Trey (my husband, in case you're new around here) is though, so we end up eating it fairly often, as I certainly don't MIND eating sushi or just getting to eat out now and again. But then I had this AMAZING shrimp tempura roll while we were in Big Sur. Now I know what you're thinking, "Man, she must really not like sushi if she thinks a shrimp tempura roll can be anything but bland and mildly crunchy." I know, it's a boring thing to order. BUT, this one was amazing. Chef Yancy Knapp truly inspired me. You could tell he was so passionate about what he does (making the best sushi ever). And although I have no idea what he put in that shrimp tempura roll I had, there was one ingredient I tasted and immediately loved: granny smith apple.
Whoa! Why had I never thought to use granny smith apples in place of cucumbers in a sushi roll before? I don't really make sushi often at home. In fact, this is the first time I've been inspired to do so for quite a few years. But man, my mind was blown. Don't get me wrong, I love cucumbers in lots of things. They are crunchy and refreshing. But a slightly tart and crunchy apple slice in a sushi roll just worked so well, or at least that's my (apparently strong) opinion.
I eat shrimp now and again, but most of the time I stick to a vegetarian diet. I just feel better when I'm eating mostly plants. So, I was curious to replace the shrimp with something else that might add a little flavor as well as some crunch from the tempura treatment. I've been playing around with plantains in some other recipes I've been working on, and sometime last week it dawned on me: why not use plantains as the base for the "shrimp" tempura? Hmm.
Now you might be thinking, "Plantains?! You mean those big bruised looking bananas?" Yes, yes I do. Plantains are actually a really cool ingredient I've fallen for recently. They are less sweet and quite a bit more starchy than their cousins, bananas. They hold up well in cooking and deliver just a subtle amount of flavor.
So, I gave it a try. The result: my new favorite at-home sushi rolls. I mean, whoa, if you like sushi, you've got to make these. They are simple but absolutely packed with flavor. Plus we're gonna make a savory, creamy black sesame sauce to go with them. Let's do this.
1 cup (uncooked) sushi rice
1 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or rice vinegar)
1 large plantain, mine was 9.5 oz before peeling
1/3 cup panko flakes
enough oil to fry in (so it's 1/2 inch or a little more deep in your pot)
1 granny smith apple (the green sour ones)
5-6 soy sushi wraps or nori sheets
For the sauce:
1/4 cup Vegenaise (or mayo if you don't care about keeping this 100% vegan)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon brown sugar or maple syrup
I basically think of this as a meal you make in four steps:
1. Make the rice.
2. Make the tempura.
3. Make the sauce.
4. Put together the sushi rolls.
You can technically do the first two steps at roughly the same time once you get the rice going. But let's talk about each of these a little more.
To make the rice, just follow the package directions. Generally this involves rinsing the rice, adding it to a pot with the water, bringing to a boil, then reducing the heat to simmer for 18-20 minutes. Once the rice is cooked through, remove to a large bowl and stir in the apple cider vinegar.
While the rice is cooking, peel and cut the plantain into small strips. I cut my plantain into 16 strips by first cutting it in half widthwise, and then cutting eight pieces lengthwise. Check the photo above, as I think it helps to illustrate the process. Then sprinkle these with a little salt and pepper, coat in panko, and fry for 30-45 seconds until a deep golden color. Then remove to a plate lined with paper towels to soak up any excess oil.
To assemble the rolls, lay out a soy sheet, add rice and press into place. Then add plantain tempura, thinly sliced apple, and thinly sliced avocado to the center, lengthwise. Roll up and gently press so it holds together. A sushi mat works well here. Then slice into bite size pieces. I'm not a sushi rolling expert at all, but I felt that after my first one, I sort of had the hang of it, at least enough for me to enjoy it. I don't think I'll be hired as a sushi chef anytime soon though. 🙂 One thing that helped is I would lightly oil my (clean) hands and work with the rice mostly by hand. I thought this worked better than using a spoon or wooden spatula to spread the rice. But, that's just me.
Serve alongside the sauce… and maybe some sake too. 😉
You guys gotta make this some weekend. It's certainly more labor intensive than my usual dinner routine, but such a fun and delicious meal to prepare if you have a little more time. Also, if you'd like to add a little more nutrition to this, try swapping out the sushi rice for brown rice. Dana did this in a post here, and I thought it was pure genius. 🙂 xx. Emma
Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.