Craving crunchy shrimp or California rolls? Have a taste for spicy tuna? Make your own with help from sushi experts like Tai Ha.

“Simplicity is key,” said the sous chef for Vetri Family/Urban Outfitters in Philadelphia. “I can’t overemphasize, and this ties into the philosophy of Japanese cuisine.”

Fight the urge to overstuff or “the rolls are going to bust and break open, and your sushi is ruined,” noted Ha, who started as a dishwasher at a sushi bar while studying fine art and painting in college.

When learning the art of sushi, “it’s better to have a roll that’s avocado only, a roll that’s crab and one that’s just tuna rather than an avocado, crab and tuna roll,” he explained. “Better to have three rolls that stay together than one that falls apart.”

“It doesn’t have to be perfect,” agreed Robin Dillman of Really Cooking with Robin in East Norriton. “I even teach it to 7-year-old kids in my summer camp. They get a big kick out of it, that they can make it.”

Rolling sushi is “more of a flow than an actual pressing,” she said. “It’s a very gentle guiding thing with the bamboo mat.”

Too sticky? “One drop of vegetable oil on your sushi mat will make it stick a little less,” Ha suggested.

“I think the trick is to make sure you keep your fingers wet,” Dillman said. “Keep your knife clean, and have a really sharp knife when you cut your roll.”

Her students sample several recipes, including a Philadelphia roll, which she makes with smoked salmon, cream cheese, sweet onion, jalapeño and cucumber.

“I’ve taught the class a couple hundred times, and everyone goes crazy over that one,” Dillman described. “The Philadelphia is actually cucumber that you peel. Sushi masters take years to learn it.”

For a “cheat-sheet version,” she slices the cucumber into bite-sized pieces.

Ha’s favorite sushi: “a doctored up California roll” with cucumber, avocado, crab, “a nice spread of fresh wasabi and a Japanese mint called shiso leaf.”

“I like to add a little cream cheese in my California roll. Don’t judge me,” he said with a laugh.

And when it comes to making sushi at home, “never give up.”

Japanese Spicy AioliUse this sauce to make spicy tuna.

Ingredients1 cup mayonnaise1 to 2 tablespoons sriracha

½ tablespoon soy sauce¼ teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon sugar1 tablespoon togarashi (optional)

InstructionsCombine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and mix until evenly blended.


California RollIngredients1 cup sushi rice

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds (toasted)

1 sheet nori (half size)1 ounce cucumber (batton cut)

1 ounce avocado (wedge cut)1 ounce kani stick (imitation crab stick)

InstructionsEvenly spread sushi rice over nori and sprinkle sesame seeds on top of rice. Place your sushi rice and nori rice-side-down onto a plastic-covered sushi rolling mat. Place cucumber batton, avocado wedges and kani sticks across the center of the wrap evenly. With the assistance of the sushi mat, gently fold over and tightly tuck sushi rice under the filling. Roll sushi rice and filling completely over with the mat. Place sushi mat over roll; with your thumb, pointer and middle finger gently squeeze together with equal pressure to fold the California roll. Cut and serve. Enjoy with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.


Phila Roll Cucumber BiteEnjoy this simple appetizer version of a Philadelphia roll.

Ingredients1 cucumber, sliced ¼- to ½-inch thick

1½ ounces smoked salmon2 tablespoons cream cheese, room temperature

4 to 5 thin slices of sweet onion

4 to 5 thin slices of jalapeño pepper

1 lemon wedge, for servingSprinkle of sea salt

InstructionsSlice cucumber into ¼- to ½-inch slices. Remove seeds: Press apple corer in center of each slice to remove seeds, or cut out with knife. Pat the cucumber slices dry with a paper towel. Mix the cream cheese up to soften. Spread 1 teaspoon of the cream cheese on top of each cucumber slice, fill the hole. Place one small piece of smoked salmon on top the cream cheese and gently press down, so it adheres to the cream cheese. Place slices of thin onion on top of salmon. Place one thinly sliced jalapeno on top of onion. Just before serving, squeeze fresh lemon and a pinch of sea salt over each Phila roll.


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