Ghetto Sushi: Delicious, Affordable, and Fun!

Posted: November 5, 2010 in Recipes
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I live in a house out in NE Portland, with three other people, and we all have such insane schedules, that even though we were friends before moving in together, we hardly come across each other’s paths. Everyone has work or school, a very active social life, and THEY all have a significant other to tend to. Now, bills get paid and chores get done(I’m lucky, I know!), but to make a house a home, the people living in it should be like family. In accordance with that idea, Katie(the other one, I’m not talking in the third person), Ka’ala, TJ, and myself try to have a semi-regular sushi night approximately once a month, although I think we’re a little behind schedule right now. When this happens, about once a month or so, we blare music, prep the food together, and roll sushi around the dinner table, laughing and reminding each other of why, among all of our collective friends, this dynamic works. Why, maybe, when one of us is being woken up at three A.M. with an early obligation the next day, we don’t attack the decibel-offenders with a rusty hatchet. So when DJ of Absent Minds talked about one of his favorite foods being cheap sushi, I thought sharing with you how my roommates and I make it affordable and delicious would be perfect for my first shared recipe.

What makes this “Ghetto Sushi” is the kind of fish we use at home. You could easily up the ante by buying more expensive flash-frozen sushi-grade fish, or even buying fresh fish if you wanted to impress a guest with your culinary prowess.  We use the cheap stuff because we are all in our mid-to-late twenties and struggling financially like the rest of PDX, and spend most of the “extra” money on the little extras like avocado, pickled daikon, etc. We like to have a couple of things to choose from, so there is always a kind of salad made with imitation krab meat, which is actually white fish that is dyed to look like crab, and a  salmon salad. On a side-note, if you do choose to spend the extra money, please do so in a conscientious manner. You can check to see what the most eco-friendly/humane fish choices are at, and don’t hesitate to ask them for a Seafood Watch guide, which folds up to the size of a business card for easy storage in your wallet.

This is a variation on the California roll, which are the same kinds of rolls that are good for first-time sushi eaters to try, because they generally have Crab or imitation crab instead of raw fish.You can take out or add any fish or produce you want. If you choose to, you could make this a vegan or vegetarian meal, or if you are not a fish person, you could always cook some other kind of meat to go in there instead. In Hawaii, it’s not uncommon to walk into a 7-11 and see sushi with spam at the counter! For a few of these things you may have to go to an Asian Market. My roommates and I go to Hong Phat  Market market because it’s so close to home at 9819 NE Prescott St., but there are a ton of other businesses that you can have a grocery shopping adventure in, for example Fubonn Supermarket on the East side or Uwajimaya out towards Beaverton. So here is your supply/grocery list:

(Please read the entire recipe first!)

For the Rice

  • 2 cups of short grain rice
  • A large bowl to wash your rice
  • A heavy medium-sized pot with a tight-fitting lid
  • 1/4 cup of Japanese rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • Wooden sushi bowl (moistened with a damp towel)if you wanna be fancy, but any large bowl will work just fine
  • Wooden spatula/spoon
  • Small whisk
  • Small sauce panhow to roll sushi


  • Bamboo sushi rolling mat
  • Plastic wrap
  • Seaweed papers (a.k.a. nori)
  • 1 Sharp knife
  • 1 Package imitation krab (yeah, it’s spelled with a “k” on most packages too!)
  • 1 Fillet salmon (you can use it raw, cook it yourself, or buy it smoked if you want extra flavor)
  • mayonnaise or sour cream
  • Cream cheese chilled and firm
  • Warm butter knife
  • 1-2 Avocados (just like bacon, this gets eaten before it ever makes it to the table so get extra!)
  • Pickled daikon (it’s practically neon yellow, but it’s delicious I promise! Try something new!)
  • One cucumber
  • Wasabi
  • Sriracha sauce
  • Soy sauce or Ponzu(citrus soy sauce)
  • Kimchi (pickled ginger)

Once you’ve gathered your “mise en place”(French for everything in its place), your ready to get your rice going.

The first thing you need to do is wash the rice. This is an important step not to be neglected because you have to remove the extra starches and talc so it has the proper texture and stickiness.

  1. Measure 2 cups of raw short grain rice. This will yield approximately 5 cups of cooked rice. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT use instant rice of any kind! First of all, that is just gross, and secondly it won’t work with you properly when you are trying to roll it up later.
  2. Wash the rice in a large bowl of cold water. Gently rub the grains together with your fingers. The water in your bowl will quickly turn a milky color. Yes, that is all the extra stuff you don’t need or want in your sushi.
  3. Tip your bowl to drain off the cloudy water.
  4. Fill your bowl with fresh water and repeat the process above until the water is almost clear.
  5. Place the rice in a sieve and let it drain for about an hour.

We are fortunate enough to have a rice cooker so we insert rice and water, push down the start lever, and wait. But, for those of you that don’t live with islanders that have rice at every meal, you’ll actually have to cook it on the stove.

  1. Place 2 cups of washed rice into a heavy saucepan
  2. Add 2 cups of water
  3. Make sure to put on a tight-fitting lid and bring to a boil on high. NEVER TAKE OFF THE LID!
  4. Turn heat to low and let your rice simmer for 15 minutes
  5. Remove pot from heat.
  6. Lift the lid, fluff the rice with a fork, then replace the lid and let the rice finish steaming for another 15 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, if you feel comfortable multi-tasking, is a good time to prepare the krab and salmon salads so they can chill. This is super easy and to your own discretion.  TJ usually just mixes the krab with a little mayonnaise (or sour cream if you don’t like mayo) and Sriracha, but not too much! You want it to be a stiff mixture so it doesn’t squeeze out the ends while you’re rolling. Sometimes we add celery and green onion, or whatever else we think might be tasty that we need to use before it goes bad. Follow the same directions with the salmon, only don’t add the Sriracha, because salmon tastes delicious, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on that flavor.

It’s now time to flavor the rice. Once the rice is flavored its known as su-meshi.

  1. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small sauce pan. Dissolve over medium heat using a small whisk. Don’t allow the mixture to reach a boil.
  2. Allow the vinegar solution to cool. (This mixture is called sushi-zu, and the recipe varies from person to person.)
  3. Transfer your cooked rice to a wooden sushi tub (or bowl of some other kind) that has been moistened with a wet tea-towel. (If you are not using a wooden bowl or tub, don’t worry about moistening it.)
  4. Using a wooden spatula spread the rice evenly across the tub(or around the bowl).
  5. Sprinkle vinegar mixture evenly over the rice and fold it into the rice with the spatula. Don’t stir as this will break the grains.
  6. Continue folding the rice until it cools. You can assist the process with a small fan if you’re in a rush, or your arm is getting tired(wussy!) This might take about 10-15 minutes.

Now that your rice is all finished, cut the remainder of your fillings (avocado, daikon, cucumber)into narrow strips. The cream cheese should be firm, and you’re going to do your best to cut that into strips also. Don’t worry about how it looks because it’ll be inside the nori, and you won’t be able to see it. Plus, it’s fun to get all messy anyways! Now you are ready my friend! Gather around the table and get rolling!

  1. Cover your bamboo rolling mat with the plastic wrap so that way anything that leeches through the seaweed paper won’t stain or contaminate it.
  2. Place the nori on top of the plastic wrap, and then add a thin layer of rice, starting at one edge, and spreading evenly until you have about 3/4ths of an inch to an inch of seaweed uncovered.
  3. Now add the remaining ingredients, keeping them in the middle of the rice. Don’t add too much, or it will be hard to get a tight roll, and you will either break the nori, or have stuff coming out of the ends of your roll.
  4. When the 3/4ths of an inch to an inch of bare seaweed paper is flush with itself, gently moisten it with a little water on the tip of your finger, and press it against the roll. The nori adheres to itself.
  5. Be patient! Your first roll, probably won’t look that great to be honest, but just like any other great thing in life, for most people, it takes practice.
  6. Once that has had a moment to dry, you can cut it into slices. And voila! Sushi!

Two kinds of sushi displayed here: Nori on the outside and rice on the outside...I would try it with the nori on the outside first! It's easier.

If you want rice on the outside of your roll, soak the bamboo mat while you’re cooking your rice, and allow it to drain while preparing the vegetables. Then follow these directions:

  1. Cut your nori in half. Place the cooked rice on the seaweed paper. Cover the paper carefully, and don’t squish the rice.
  2. Once the paper is covered, flip it over. The rice should stick to the nori, and will now be on the bottom. Put the other ingredients you have chosen on the side of the seaweed paper that is facing up. As with the other form of sushi, don’t add too many ingredients or it will be difficult for you to get a tight roll. Keep the ingredients down the center of the nori.
  3. Place the seaweed paper, with rice and other ingredients, on a moist rolling mat. (Some prefer to assemble the nori, rice and other ingredients on the on the mat to avoid moving the sushi as it is being assembled).
  4. Pressing gently, roll the mat with nori and other ingredients inside. Press your fingertips over the mat to form a square shape. Press all sides as well as in the middle. Do this once more on the outer edges and in the middle.
  5. Remove the paper from the rolling mat.

Enjoy this tasty, affordable, and fun treat with some wasabi, soy sauce or Ponzu, and kimchi, and do it with the ones you love! It’s amazing how watching the people you care about squirm around in spicy discomfort after eating too much wasabi can really bring a smile to your face, and bring you closer together as a family. Till next time, friends!


  1. Hannah says:

    Can’t wait to try the ghetto sushi recipe! YUMMMM!!!

  2. Captain says:

    Hey I love the way you tell the sushi story ;)……… the same time it reminds me we still need katie time…….I think we should have it this sat with tiff while the boys do boy stuff for a few hours……… love ya!

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