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Better Than Sushi

I have a confession.  I don't like sushi.  I really want to like sushi; there's something inherently cool and hip about it.  I've tried so, so many times to eat it and tell myself I like it, but the lie falls apart pretty quickly when my mouth rebels and says, "No, that wasn't nice.  Don't do that again, please.".  Boo, mouth.  Boo.  The biggest issue is the seaweed.  Blech!  To me, seaweed tastes like sweaty shoes.  I don't actually know what a sweaty shoe tastes like, as I've cleverly avoided eating them during my time on this plane, but I imagine they taste like seaweed.  Can I say it again?  Blech!

Here's the issue, I like certain sushi fillings.  Namely, crunchy shrimp rolls.  What's not to like?  Fried shrimp, cream cheese, avocado...wait, are some of those California roll ingredients?  It doesn't matter!  The point is, the filling of a lot of sushi is scrumptious, even if it is surrounded by sweaty-sneaker-weed.  So what's a girl to do?  Make her own!

Crunchy Shrimp Spring Rolls
*All of the proportions are up to you depending on your taste and how many rolls you are making.  I have listed the amounts below based on what I did per one roll (i.e. 1/8 cup of cooked rice for one roll)

1 sheet of rice paper
1/8 cup cooked, sticky rice
4 shrimp, cooked, tails off and de-veined
Water for steaming (no more than a few teaspoons), plus more for the rice paper
1/8 slice avocado, diced
2 to 3 tsp cream cheese
2 to 3 tsp scallions
1/8 cup peanuts, chopped
A clean tea towel for rolling
Parchment paper or tinfoil for finished rolls

Dipping Sauce/Shrimp Cooking Liquid (optional)
*How much sauce you make is all dependent on how many shrimp/rolls you are making

3 parts low sodium soy sauce
1 part sesame oil
1/2 part Rice wine vinegar
Garlic powder to taste (I used more to add some heat)

Firstly, cook your shrimp all the way through.  It's up to you whether or not you want to leave your shrimp plain or cook it in the dipping sauce outlined above.  I have tried it both ways, and I personally think it's superior with the sauce.  If you do choose to make the sauce, just be sure to make enough to both flavor the shrimp and have enough leftover for dipping.  Also, if your shrimp are frozen like mine were, the water that ekes out as they thaw adds to the water used for steaming in the pot.  If they are fresh, they won't eke out as much water, so be sure to take that into account.  Put the water, shrimp, and all the dipping sauce ingredients (if using) into a pot.  Heat on medium, stirring occasionally  until the shrimp are cooked all the way through.  Remove from the heat, pick out the shrimp, and set aside on a plate.  If the dipping sauce is too watery, reduce further.  Remember, the saltiness from the soy will increase the further you reduce the sauce!  When you're satisfied with your sauce, pour it into a dipping vessel (I used a ramekin) and set aside.

While the shrimp is cooking, dice your avocado and mix with the cream cheese.  Set this aside in a dish.  Mix your scallions with the rice and set aside in another dish.  Chop your peanuts and set aside.  Fill a wide bowl or a plate with a shallow lip with lukewarm water.  Make sure to have everything at hand and prepared before you begin assembly.

Once your assembly station is set up, take a single sheet of rice paper and dunk it into the plate of water for no more than five seconds (any longer and your rice paper will be too soggy - it will continue to absorb water after the dunk).  Lay the rice paper flat out on your tea towel.  Take your rice/scallion portion, form it into a cylindrical shape with your hands, and lay it into the upper third section of the rice paper.  Place your shrimp neatly in one line on top of this mound, overlapping their edges slightly if necessary.  Form your cream cheese/avocado mixture into a line long enough to cover the shrimp end to end.  Top with your chopped peanuts, pressing them gently into the cream cheese to secure.

Then, very carefully and gently, take the edge of the rice paper and pull it up over your filling.  Fold the sides in to secure and gently press down on the filling to fill out the sides.  You want this to be a tight, long-ish package.  Once that is done, roll the wrapper over and over until you reach the end.  It will stick to the tea towel a bit, but be firm yet gentle with it, and you'll be fine.  Once the roll is complete, set aside on a sheet of either tinfoil or parchment paper.  When you place the next roll down, make sure the rolls do not touch!  They will stick to each other.  Repeat the assembly steps until all of your rolls are made.

I actually made this recipe twice in one week, as I wasn't completely happy with my results the first time - the shrimp needed more flavor, the avocado was under ripe and difficult to eat, etc.  Second time around was perfect, so my pictures below are the best from both experiences.

The setup from attempt number two, as I had all of my ingredients right.  The assembly station, however, was lacking.  Please note the tea towel in the pictures below.

When you soak your rice paper wrappers, you only need to make it pliable, so no more than a few seconds in the water.  It will continue to absorb the excess water after you pull it out.

You'll need to scooch your rice up further than what you see in this picture.  I kind of rolled and pressed my rice towards my body to make the bed.  Also, it's totally up to you which way you want to roll your rolls.  I found rolling them away from me worked best, but the opposite might work best for you.

Sorry for the shoddy camera work on this one.  My camera guy was free. ;-)

Ignore the fact that this one is not on the tea towel.  Make sure to use a tea towel; you will be glad you did!  You can see the filling getting built up and finished here.

*You may be asking, why peanuts?  That's not a traditional sushi ingredient.  No, but nuts are found in many other Asian dishes.  Shrimp and cashews, for instance.  Nuts are for the crunch because I don't think fried shrimp would work well in this application.  Have you ever had cold fried food?  No, thank you.  You can use cashews or a different type of nut if you want, but I like peanuts for this.

I'm not going to lie, the folding takes some practice.  This is the first roll I ever did.  As you can see, it's a bit fat.

This is what you want the roll to look like, minus the tear (I left this sheet in the water too long).

As I said in the recipe, make sire your resting roll are all separated!  See, no one is touching anyone else here.

So what about leftovers?  So not a problem.  Just wrap each roll individually in tinfoil and refrigerate.  You can eat them later cold (the tinfoil keeps in the moisture), or zap them in the microwave for thirty seconds to one minute covered with a wet paper towel.

So how did they turn out?  Magnificent!  I could gorge myself on these.  So many tastes and textures to experience...the tangy creaminess of the cream cheese, the buttery avocado, the salty crunch of the peanuts, the sweetness of the shrimp.  Heaven!  Dang, I gotta go make more right now.  Here I go!

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