A slice of cucumber on sushi rice would not excite most foodies, but there is much more plant-based bounty that can chase your taste buds in vegan sushi. The idea of vegan sushi may electrify our conventional view of the Japanese seafood and rice bun slipped decadently in one mouthful deep into our bellies filled with desire. Most sushi lovers’ knees crumble at the sushi counter just looking at a lusciously fat slice of o-toro or a shimmering morsel of Spanish mackerel on a moist rice bun. That spicy tuna on a crispy rice what an idea! But, we cannot eat fish daily. There is a limit to what the oceans can provide.
In an accelerated pace the global waters are being depleted. With more fish almost extinct, responsively, we should lower the gears of our too frequent indulgence. For the sake of sustainability and health we must limit our consumption of seafood. The alert chimes loud today and we should be concerned about the fish bodies being polluted with heavy metals like mercury.
Widen your appetite and open your taste buds to new flavours
Luckily, there are other superb and wholesome fish-free options creatively brought to perfection by Beyond Sushi in New York . Creating a truly satisfying and tasty “green roll” was a tremendous success for the founding husband and wife duo Guy and Tali Vaknin, the chef and director of Beyond Sushi with Moroccan-Israeli roots.
Leading a highly successful catering business, the team was encouraged by savvy clients to expand to a real brick business. The first Beyond Sushi branch opened in July 2012 in Manhattan.
Prior to trying their rolls and nigiris my experience with fish or seafood-free sushi lead to questions like – why bother? Some over crafted contemporary sushis with cream cheese, marinated cucumber or egg omelette, pander rather to unsophisticated palates, not to someone who has eaten at best sushi bars in Tokyo.
The Vaknins stroke the golden vein when digging into the potential of plant-based sushi, saying: “We were looking for an innovative way to incorporate a vegetarian option to our sushi station that was more ground-breaking than the standard white rice, cucumber and avocado rolls.”
Most of us foodies, who love sushi, adore the premium ingredients used in its preparation, whether atop a nigiri or rolled inside a maki roll or wrapped in a cone of crispy seaweed. Aware of these expectations, this concept stretches far “beyond sushi” – offering a variety of healthier whole-grain rice options and seasonally changing vegan toppings, fillings and sides.
Most of the ingredients are sourced locally from the Union Square farmers market and sustainable New York Growers. Tali wrote me that they look for “vendors and farmers that strive to maintain a healthy ecosystem”. The farmers produce is the focal inspiration for the recipes and the seasonal specials rotate as the veggies and mushrooms grow on the farms, in the fields and forests in the region. The Roll and the Piece of the Month are reflections of these changing clocks of nature. In March, I had cauliflower with red beet sauce nigiri, in the fall sweet potato or pumpkin grace the vegan sushi.
Tali suggests: “Try our entire menu at some point. Everyone has a different palate and therefore may enjoy a different piece.”
My taste buds revelled in the enoki, shiitake, tofu and micro arugula wrapped in a customised whole-grain rice blend in their Mighty Mushroom Roll. They recommend their six grain rice for it. The colourful blend of red, short grain brown and black rice, nutritionally enhanced with rye berries and pearl barley is high in fiber and protein along with iron and a rainbow of B-Vitamins. These rolls are more nutritionally dense than the typical Japanese sushi. Their other rice option – the Forbidden black rice contains 18 amino acids, is loaded with anthocyanins, antioxidants, zinc, iron and carotene. The flavours mesmerise with freshness and deep forest richness of the side sauce of creamy teriyaki shiitake served with the Mighty Mushroom Roll.
The Spicy Mango Roll has been a best seller ever since the launch. As I munched through it I realised how the roll perfectly balances the sweet, savoury, zingy and spicy flavours in one bite. The avocado adds creamy texture, mango sweetness, cucumber juiciness and freshness and the spicy chopped veggies atop the roll zesty fire. If you want more heat, add the toasted cayenne sauce served on the side and I bet your mouth will be on a fire roll.
Another popular order is the Nutty Buddy Rice Paper Wrap and the wild assemble of the Spicy Shroom with buckwheat noodles, enoki, teriyaki braised shiitake, grilled portobello mushrooms, romaine lettuce, pickled ginger and cashews in a spicy sauce. Again served with a side of the luscious shiitake teriyaki sauce. The rice paper wraps can be served in two sizes – either as a small snack or a bigger main course.
The Rice Bed salads – Citrus, Zen and Verde, supplemented with chili, mango and carrot ginger sauces – are the most substantial orders at Beyond Sushi.
Sides and a home-made Miso soup complement the overwhelmingly rice-based vegan sushi menu. I like the house kimchi that is just spicy enough, but doesn’t burn your gut.
To drink, the freshly made juices like Strawberry Kiwi Yuzu quench the thirst while supplementing vitamins, lemonades cool you off during summer and tea warms you during the New York winter blizzards.
So far there are three locations across Manhattan, but expanding to the West Coast of the US is being considered. Beyond America, we will have to wait for some culinary sage being inspired by their health and environmentally sound business model as well as insanely tasty recipes for vegan sushi.
Locations: Union Square, Chelsea Market, Midtown West