By J.M. Hirsch, AP Food Editor
HYDE PARK, N.Y. >> As hauntingly good recipes go, anything with parsnips as the main ingredient seems an unlikely candidate. Except for this one.
During a recent meal at Pangea, a so-called “vegetable forward” student-run restaurant on the campus of The Culinary Institute of America, I was served a sushi roll made entirely from vegetables. The “salmon” was an amazing rendition made from slices of tomato. I know. I was just as dubious. Until I ate it. The rice? Made from finely chopped and seasoned raw parsnips. I know. I was just as dubious. Until I ate it.
Let me put it this way: I’m a happy carnivore and I love real — really good — sushi. But these rolls were so good, I’d gladly eat them at a legit sushi bar. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say, I’d gladly have traded the entirety of the rest of my meal for multiple orders of this sushi. So kudos to the students (and no doubt their hardworking instructors) for nailing this dish.
In the weeks following the meal, I found myself wishing I had more of that sushi. So I decided to see whether it could be reproduced at home. Because as lovely as the school’s campus is, most of us can’t get there just for the vegetable sushi.
After reading the school’s recipe for the tomatoes — a multi-day marinating process — I decided the tomato “salmon” wasn’t in the cards for most home cooks. That’s fine. I like real smoked salmon. And since I’m not vegetarian, who cares? But the rice? That was totally doable. In fact, it takes far less time to whip up a batch of the parsnip rice than it does to prepare true sushi rice.
As long as you have a food processor, the rice can be prepared in 5 to 10 minutes. It then can be combined with nori (seaweed) sheets and whatever fillings you like to make excellent sushi rolls.
SMOKED SALMON AND PARSNIP “RICE” SUSHI ROLLS
Start to finish: 20 minutes
Makes 6 maki rolls (about 8 pieces each)
1 1/2 pounds parsnips, peeled, trimmed and cut into chunks
3 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
6 sheets nori
4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into thin strips
1/3 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips
In a food processor, combine the parsnips, tahini, rice vinegar and soy sauce. Pulse for 20 to 30 seconds, or until the parsnips are finely chopped and resemble grains of rice.
One at a time, set a sheet of nori on a sushi rolling mat or a sheet of kitchen parchment. Scoop one-sixth of the parsnip mixture onto the nori. Wet your hand, then gently press and spread the parsnip mixture until it covers about 80 percent of the nori, leaving the edge furthest from you bare. On the edge closest to you, arrange strips of salmon and cucumber.
Using the mat or kitchen parchment to help, start with the edge closest to you and roll the nori up on itself to create a roll. Before completing the roll, wet your fingers and run them along the bare nori, then continue rolling. The moisture helps seal the roll. Set aside and repeat with remaining ingredients.
When all of the rolls are assembled, use a serrated knife dipped in warm water to cut each roll into 8 rounds.
Nutrition information per roll: 210 calories; 60 calories from fat (29 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 300 mg sodium; 26 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 15 g protein.