With the help of nothing more than a large whole-wheat tortilla, I can turn just about anything into lunch box-friendly sushi.
Well, perhaps “sushi” overstates it a bit. But I can create sushi-like bites that are easy to pack, fun and nutritious. And so can you. And the best part — no raw seafood needed.
The first time I tried this was with a banana. I’d planned to make my son a peanut butter and banana wrap for lunch. So I smeared peanut butter over one side of a tortilla, popped a banana onto it and rolled it up.
Trouble was, it didn’t fit in the containers I usually pack his lunch in. So I cut it in half. When I looked at the cross-section, I realized that if I kept cutting I’d create maki sushi-style pieces.
Since then, I’ve done the same trick with cold cuts, leftover steak, cheese and leafy greens, you name it.
But there are a few tips I can pass along that will make this easier.
First, be sure to use large flour tortillas. Anything smaller than an 8- or 9-inch tortilla won’t roll well once it has fillings added to it.
Second, your fillings should be firm, but pliable. A banana is a great example. Meats also work well. Veggies are fine, but avoid anything finely chopped or in very small pieces (the slices won’t hold together). The fillings also should be on the drier side.
Third, glue everything together. I always start by spreading a thin layer of some sort of condiment, soft cheese or nut butter over one side of the tortilla (go all the way to the edges). This helps keep the fillings in place, as well as seals it shut when you roll it up. An ideal food glue should be thick. Mayonnaise or mustard are good, as is cream cheese and peanut butter (or it’s various nut-free relatives). But most salad dressings are too watery. And don’t be tempted by honey. I tried it. It drips. What a mess.
Fourth, don’t be afraid to manhandle the ingredients while rolling them. Grip the roll firmly as you roll it up. You want it tightly wrapped, as this holds it together when you slice it.
Fifth, as you finish rolling it, you might need smear a bit more of your “glue” on the final edge, just to make sure everything stays rolled up.
Finally, when slicing start by trimming off the floppy bits at each end (the cook gets to eat these). Then cut the roll into 1-inch slices and pack them standing cut-side up.
Now get creative. You could make pizza “sushi.” Just spread tomato paste (season it if you like) as your glue over a tortilla. Now layer sliced cheese and thinly pepperoni. Roll it up, slice it and accompany it with a thermos of warm marinara as a dipping sauce.
My son’s favorite is a carnivore’s delight. I start by spreading a bit of cream cheese over a tortilla, then topping it with sliced turkey breast, ham and bacon. Meat lover’s sushi!
Would love to hear what creative “sushi” you create.
J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs about the trials and tribulations of his son’s lunches at LunchBoxBlues.com. His upcoming cookbook, Beating the Lunch Box Blues, will be the first to be released by Rachael’s new publishing venture, Rachael Ray Books. Hirsch’s previous books include High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking and Venturesome Vegan Cooking. He lives in New Hampshire with his son, wife, and too many cats.