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Carb Solutions: No Rice Sushi

Image of No Rice Sushi
By Dennis Linden

Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].

Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.

A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
  • The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
  • The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Most varieties of white rice have off the chart glycemic scores, averaging 89 (GI) and 43 (GL), putting this grain on the No Fly List for all diabetics and anyone watching their daily intake of carbs. Rice was an important culinary staple for me before I won the Diabetes-2 door prize. However, the transition was made easier by simply subbing more glycemicly-friendly grains into my cooking -- like barley, quinoa and buckwheat. For most casseroles and side dishes these “good” grains did the trick and even added new flavors to some admittedly tired recipes that needed a little make-over anyway. So my rice days ended almost without skipping a beat and I really have never looked back since.

Well, hardly ever. The exception being a weakness for Sushi. I do admit missing the taste and texture of sticky-rice wrapped in roasted, sea-salty nori seaweed and dipped in wasabi sauce. Unfortunately, the higher the “sticky” factor of a rice the higher the starch content a.k.a. a very high carb food. While there are rice varieties in the marketplace that tout being lower in GI than most, that “lower” is a borderline high 67 GI and 28 GL. Even brown rice has a GI score of 50 and GL of 16. Culinary speaking, these slightly lower Index scores also come with varieties of rice that are dry, versus sticky, in texture, which for my palate takes all the fun out of this Japanese delicacy. And, while recipes for quinoa-stuffed sushi abound on the ‘net, sorry -- I simply refuse to go there! Seems akin to a hamburger-flavored tofu burger, if you ask me. Who’s kidding who?

So, rather than settling for less with an inferior rice or rice substitute, I decided to cut the grain out altogether. Besides, the reason for the rice wrap in the first place was as a way the Japanese preserved fish before refrigeration was invented. Plus, I am of the notion that the key to following a low-carb diet is developing new taste preferences rather than trying to almost-but-not-quite replicating foods that I cannot eat anymore anyway. In other words, get used to it and, in fact, go in different flavor directions. At least that’s my glycemic justification for these two completely rice-less versions of the popular California Roll sushi menu item. Never made sushi? It is as simple to do as the small bamboo rolling mat that you will need to add to the ingredient list for this recipe. Surprisingly, I even found these mats in my local, privately-owned, rural supermarket!

Rolling is the fun part, which you will soon get the hang of after the first roll and cutting the roll into small sections that are miniature works of unique and edible art. Knife tip: the secret to a clean sushi cut is a very sharp, wet blade. The two recipes use some quality salmon and shrimp paired with a specific taste combination of seasonal fruit and veggies, paying attention to the color of each component to achieve an interesting visual appeal. These ingredient combinations are meant to be played with, depending on personal preference and imagination! The formula is simple, rely on the flavors of fresh ingredients to create rice-free, carb-free sushi rolls…without skipping a beat! Enjoy.

No-Carb California Rolls
Makes 4 rolls
Image of ingredients (fruit & veggies)

1 medium Avocado, peeled, halved and sliced lengthwise into thin slivers
½ medium Mango, peeled, pitted, sliced in thin strips lengthwise
1 medium Red Bell Pepper, trim stem and interior ribs, slice into thin strips lengthwise
3 Scallions, green tops only, slit in half lengthwise, then cut in half crosswise
1 medium Zucchini, cut into small match sticks
½ Jicama, peeled and cut into small match sticks
4 ounces sustainably-caught Salad Shrimp, steamed and chilled
4 ounces sustainably-caught Smoked Salmon, sliced thin
4 sheets Nori
1 Sushi Rolling Mat
Wasabi Paste, for dipping (optional)

Image of prepared ingredients
Prepare all the ingredients, then lay out for assembly-line construction of each roll.
Image of nori sheet
Prep the Nori: Lay a sheet of nori, shiny side down, on a cutting board. With about a quarter of the avocado slices, use the back of a spoon to spread the avocado across the surface of the nori. Leave a bare 1-inch strip on the side closest to you. The avocado does not need to cover the nori sheet completely—just enough to help seal the roll and soften the nori. Repeat with all four nori sheets.
Image of assembling rolls
For Mango-Shrimp Rolls: Place one of the sheets of avocado on a rolling mat with bare strip side closest to you. Place half the shrimp on the bare strip and top them with a few of the scallion greens. Put a parallel strip of mango slices on the far side front of the shrimp and then top the fruit with a few strips of red pepper.

For Avocado-Salmon Rolls: Place half the salmon on the bare strip of nori closest to you and top it with a few of the scallions. Place a parallel strip of jicama in front of the salmon, and add a few matchsticks of zucchini on top of the jicama.
Image of sushi rolls
Slide one of the nori sheets onto the rolling mat. Starting at the end closest to you, roll the sushi, using the mat to help you tuck the ingredients into the roll. When you get to the end, give it a gentle squeeze to insure the avocado seals the roll. Repeat with all three nori sheets. Slice the roll crosswise into rounds about 1-inch thick and arrange on a plate.
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