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After the feasts of the holidays, a meal of fresh salad is always welcome. The deconstructed California roll salad above, featuring Maine crab, is refreshing and delicious. Make it with whatever protein you like, raw or cooked, or keep it vegetarian and dress it up with anything you like.

Food and Drink

Sushi without all the fuss

This deconstructed salad is even better with the help of locally grown ginger

Dorothy Read and her family run the Readmore Inn in Bellows Falls, where she has made these recipes for her guests.

BELLOWS FALLS—One might not immediately associate Vermont with the growing of ginger, and yet in the past few years these exotic tropical nuggets are making a name as an up-and-coming crop.

Ginger — along with its cousin, turmeric — found its way to Windham County farms not because of global warming, but rather from the determination of local dedicated farmers who like to push the limits of what we can grow in our short season.

“It’s interesting to have new challenges,” said Jack Manix, who owns Walker Farm in Dummerston with his wife, Karen. They started growing ginger and turmeric about five years ago, and it has been quite a popular venture, he said.

Ginger is indeed a tropical plant and is not hardy to our climate. Manix orders organic rhizomes from Hawaii annually, and he plants a new crop each year. He recently completed this year’s order for shipment in March.

Once the plants are received, they will be sprouted in peat moss in a cozy warm spot, 80 degrees, for two to three weeks.

And these delicate babies will continue to live the pampered life once planted, spending their growing season in greenhouses throughout the summer.

“Ginger loves the heat,” Manix said.

Harvest begins in late September, and is done in stages. The ginger grown here gets to be a nice size, Manix explained. It is bigger than his hand, and is thinner skinned than what you find in the supermarket: whiter, with a pretty pinkish/purplish tint.

“It’s really fragrant, too,” he said, adding that he places it near the cash register and folks cannot resist the intoxicating aroma, a Vermont farmer’s “impulse buying” lure.

“We don’t put potato chips there,” he joked.

And what will the next challenge be? Manix said Vermont farmers have already started experimenting with figs, so who knows what else will find its way to our greenhouses.

“Bananas and oranges may not be far behind,” he said.

Ginger and turmeric freeze well, so when you spot them grown locally, don’t be afraid to stock up and tuck them away in the freezer for use all winter. They are actually easier to grate when frozen.

Sushi salad with pickled ginger

The holidays are over, and we’ve eaten lots of rich foods and desserts. Our bodies are asking us for salad and green vegetables! Yes, they are.

This is always a good time to turn to dishes with a Japanese influence; they do not include dairy, much wheat, or gobs of butter and chocolate, so that’s a good place to start for the New Year.

We love sushi and sashimi. We make it at home. It is messy. It also requires a bit of a learning curve to roll it right.

Enter a salad with all the flavor of the traditional California roll, with most of the fuss removed! This recipe is great when made with sushi-grade raw tuna or salmon, sliced paper thin, or with small cubes of pressed tofu that you have marinated in a half-and-half mixture of mirin and rice vinegar.

Local fish markets carry Maine or New England crab meat, even if tucked into a freezer when it is not readily available. If you don’t see it, ask for it, or for another U.S. or Canadian product.

Avoid the canned crab that is processed from Indonesia, Thailand, and other Asian countries. These products are not usually sustainably raised, they contain preservatives, and they have an unpleasant after taste.

Local co-ops also have an abundance of wild Atlantic seaweed, so experiment with the different varieties. Since you are not making rolls, the sheets are not necessary.

The sushi rice is widely available at co-ops and some supermarkets, as are the rice vinegar and mirin. If you cannot find the mirin, substitute dry sherry.

Double this recipe for a great salad to bring to a party or a potluck.

¶3 or 4 sheets dried seaweed (nori), or a ±2 cups of crumbled

¶1{1/2} cups sushi rice

¶2 cups fish or vegetable stock or water

¶3 Tbsp. rice vinegar

¶3 Tbsp. mirin

¶3 Tbsp. sugar

¶2 tsp. salt

¶8 oz. Maine crabmeat

¶1 Haas avocado, sliced

¶Pickled ginger (see recipe)

¶2 scallions, sliced thinly, diagonally

¶{1/2} small carrot, fine julienne

¶1 Tbsp. black sesame seeds and parsley to garnish, optional

¶2 Tbsp. Wasabi powder

Toast the seaweed over a gas flame or under the broiler. It only takes a few moments, so keep your eye on it. Crumble, and set aside.

The washing of the rice for sushi of any type is important — it is almost a ritual. Place your rice in a bowl and cover with water. Swish it around for a little bit, then put it in a wire mesh strainer. Rinse under the water for a couple of minutes, until the water runs clear, indicating you have removed enough of the surface starch. This is a step you don’t want to skip.

Place the rice and stock in a pan and bring to a boil. Cover, and reduce heat to the lowest temperature and cook for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, and keep covered for 20 minutes. Then fluff the rice gently with a fork. Turn it out onto a baking sheet to cool.

When the rice has almost finished cooling, whisk the vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt. Pour the mixture over the rice, and mix it up. I use a fork in each hand, like I’m tossing a salad.

This will already start to smell like sushi. Cover with a damp towel, and let cool.

While the rice cools, prep the rest of your dish: slice scallions and the avocados, drain a little of the brine from your pickled ginger over the avocados so they won’t discolor, and cut your carrot into thin matchsticks.

Find your sesame seeds, if using, and prepare your wasabi sauce by mixing the powder with a bit of water to make a paste the thickness you like.

When ready to assemble, chop up the toasted nori sheets and place them around the edges on the bottom of your serving platter, reserving a few for garnish. Tumble out your rice evenly over the middle of the plate.

Then you get to be creative.

Add your protein. If I am using crab, I mound it in the center. Arrange your avocados, carrots, perhaps some cucumber, pickled ginger, scallions, sesame seeds, and chopped parsley.

Serve with soy sauce, wasabi paste, and the beautiful pickled ginger. If you are a ginger fanatic, feel free to heap lots of extra on the salad.

Pickled ginger

It is not easy to find pickled ginger for homemade sushi in rural Vermont. The grocery-store varieties are never what I want, so I make my own. It is fresher, and easier than begging at the Japanese restaurant!

We can always find fresh ginger, so that is the way to go, and local is always best.

¶{1/2} lb. peeled fresh ginger

¶1 cup of rice wine vinegar

¶{1/4} cup water

¶{1/4} cup sugar

¶2 tsp. salt

Peel the ginger whatever way works best for you. You can use a traditional peeler, a teaspoon, or — my favorite — a sharp melon baller I scrape along the length.

Once prepped, use a vegetable peeler to slice the ginger as thin as possible. Pack the slices into a hot, well-scrubbed canning jar.

In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, water, and salt. Bring this to a boil, and remove from heat, stirring to ensure all the sugar is dissolved. Pour over the ginger, cover, and shake well to remove any air pockets. Let cool, and refrigerate.

This is best made a couple of days before, but you can also use it after a few hours; the ginger will be a little sharper.

The local ginger will naturally have a slight pink tint. If you are using market ginger, you can add a little purple onion, not only to add some visual interest but flavor as well. I’ve also tossed in a few bruised cranberries for a little color.

This can be refrigerated for up to two months. I think so, anyway, since it never lasts long enough at my house to know for sure!

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Originally published in The Commons issue #441 (Wednesday, January 10, 2018). This story appeared on page C4.

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