With sushi bars popping up all over the place, it's no wonder that these wonderful Japanese snacks are becoming popular takeout foods. Particularly since sushi preparation is not something the average American cook wants to tackle at home.
Not for the uninitiated, sushi making is a highly specialized culinary accomplishment. In Japan, apprentices work for years under the aegis of experts before attaining the status and title of professional sushi chef. It's an art most Westerners lack both patience and skills to perfect. Here we find it easier to let the experts make sushi and settle for buying it ready-made. Hence the big increase in the number of restaurants and delis that serve sushi both in-house and as a takeout item.
How it happens that sushi, after all these centuries, has suddenly become the current rage is anybody's guess. But it has, with the result that more and more adventurous souls in the mood to entertain are stopping by their favorite sushi bar and picking up a batch to build a party around. Once they have the sushi home, though, how to serve it and, more important, what to serve with it becomes the big question.
Westerners tend to treat sushi as fingerfood, albeit hearty fingerfood. In itself it isn't enough for a meal for most. But, because it is filling, anything served with it should be relatively light. Thus, it's easy to call those reliable menu expanders, soup and salad, into play as accompaniments. Both make excellent companions for a rich and varied array of sushi. Then just add a light fruit-based dessert and you'll have a party menu that is as much of a delight in its ease of preparation as it is in flavor.
A clear broth filled with Chinese pea pods, baby corn, shiitake mushrooms and minuscule bits of smoked ham from a ham hock goes well with these Japanese snacks. Or if you prefer something crisp, a crunchy Chinese chicken-noodle salad with a sweet-sour dressing is easy, spectacular in appearance and equally flattering to the sushi. Follow either choice with a simple chilled almond-flavored fruit mixture or some other light sweet for dessert, and everyone will be replete but happily not overstuffed. It's a wonderful way to entertain.
CLEAR HAM-VEGETABLE SOUP
2 smoked ham hocks
1 small onion, quartered
2 quarts water
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup thin shiitake strips
1 (15-ounce) can whole baby corn, drained
6 Chinese pea pods, slivered
1 green onion, finely chopped
Combine ham hocks, onion, water and chicken broth in large saucepan. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer about 1 1/2 hours or until hocks are tender. Meanwhile, quickly fry garlic in oil just until golden (do not allow to brown). Set aside. Strain ham mixture, reserve broth and dice ham meat. Bring broth to boil. Add ham. Season to taste with salt, if needed, and white pepper. Add shiitake and corn. Simmer a few minutes. Add pea pods, green onion and toasted garlic. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
GINGERY CHICKEN SOUP
1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts
6 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons grated, peeled ginger root
3 green onions, sliced diagonally
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 (8 1/2-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and diced
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 cup shredded lettuce
Combine chicken, water, salt and ginger in large saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until chicken is tender. Remove from heat. Remove chicken and cool slightly. Strain broth and return to saucepan. Skim fat, if needed. Skin and bone chicken. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Bring broth to simmer. Add chicken, green onions, mushrooms, water chestnuts and soy sauce. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in lettuce just before serving. Makes 6 servings.
HOT ASPARAGUS SOUP
3 pounds asparagus, fresh or frozen
1/4 pound butter or margarine
1 onion, chopped
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons chopped parsley or watercress
If using fresh asparagus, wash and snap off tough ends. Peel asparagus, if necessary, and slice into 2-inch pieces. If using frozen asparagus spears, peel, if necessary, and cut off tips. Dice remainder of stalks.
Heat butter in large heavy saucepan. Add onion and cook until tender. Set aside asparagus tips and add sliced asparagus stalks to onion mixture in pan. Cook 1 minute. Add broth and nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to simmer and cook until stalks are tender, about 18 minutes.
Add tips and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Spoon out and reserve some cooked tips for garnish. Puree remaining cooked asparagus and liquid in blender 2 cups at a time. Soup may be refrigerated at this point. To serve, reheat and serve hot, garnished with parsley and warmed, reserved asparagus tips. Makes 8 servings.
3 pounds chicken pieces
2 quarts water
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 large onion, quartered
1 clove garlic
1 cup cream Sherry
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon crushed tarragon leaves