Best Bets: Try the simpler side of sushi

The tuna roll at Sekisui Humphreys Center comes without a lot of fuss: just tuna wrapped in rice and seaweed, served with soy sauce on the side.

Photo by Michael Donahue // Buy this photo

The tuna roll at Sekisui Humphreys Center comes without a lot of fuss: just tuna wrapped in rice and seaweed, served with soy sauce on the side.

The 12th day of Christmas was Tuesday, so it's time to start thinking about how you want to look in a bathing suit a few months from now. That means switching from heavy ham, chocolate fudge and eggnog to light and healthful fare. Like sushi. But think Tuna Roll instead of Tornado.

A Tuna Roll is made of tuna and rice, explained Hiro Nakajima, head chef at Sekisui Humphreys Center. The Tornado is made with salmon, but also is filled with cream cheese and sweet and salty sauce. And it's deep fried.

Hiro Nakajima, chef at Sekisui Humphreys Center, shows an American-style deep-fried California roll.

Photo by Michael Donahue

Hiro Nakajima, chef at Sekisui Humphreys Center, shows an American-style deep-fried California roll.

Self-described 'health freak' J.J. Lee sells a non-deep-fried California roll at Lee's Fresh Sushi.

Photo by Michael Donahue

Self-described "health freak" J.J. Lee sells a non-deep-fried California roll at Lee's Fresh Sushi.

Takeo Higashi demonstrates the pot-cooked shabushabu dish at Edo Japanese Restaurant.

Takeo Higashi demonstrates the pot-cooked shabushabu dish at Edo Japanese Restaurant.

"People misunderstand sushi," Nakajima told me on a recent visit to the restaurant. "Deep-fried, crunchy or sauce, that kind of sushi is American style, European or other countries. Not Japan."

Japanese like "light-tasting stuff." American people typically like their food stronger -- "anything salty, spicy, fatty, greasy."

The light-tasting sushi preferred by the Japanese includes yellowtail and scallions, fresh salmon and scallions and natto roll, which is made with fermented soy beans and scallions. These are for people who "enjoy the plain taste of fish."

Their deep-fried California roll is an example of a sushi popular with Americans, Nakajima said. It includes avocado and crab sticks (imitation crab meat) topped with dollops of a combination of mayonnaise and a hot sauce made with ketchup, cayenne pepper and Vietnamese spicy sauce.

Americans typically use more soy sauce, Nakajima said. They basically fill to the top the little bowl that comes with the sushi. Then they take wasabi and mix it up to make a soup. They use up the soy sauce after dipping one or two sushi in the bowl. The Japanese don't even cover the bottom of the bowl with soy sauce. Three to six people can dip sushi in the same bowl and still not have to re-fill it.

Also, Japanese don't mix wasabi with the soy sauce. They don't even serve wasabi on the plate with the sushi.

Nakajima's favorite treat, which isn't on the menu, is the "Hiro Special" -- a combination Japanese-American creation made of cucumber, avocado, radish and Japanese basil rolled in a sheet of dry seaweed and topped with a bit of spicy mayonnaise. "It's not so heavy, but not too light."

And Nakajima confessed, "I love mayonnaise, too."

J.J. Lee, owner of Lee's Fresh Sushi, works out six days a week. He bench presses 375 pounds. "I'm a health freak, so I'm always into the healthy stuff," he said. "Right after a workout, any type of sushi is good for you because it has fast-digesting carbs. White carbs. It prevents your body from going into catabolic stress -- when your body eats muscle for food."

Lee sells already-packaged sushi to go. A box of 12 sells for $5.99. His healthful sushi includes Nigiri, a filet of raw fish on top of a ball of rice. "It's usually very lean meat. High protein. Low carb ratio."

Seaweed salad is "high in omega 3 fat" and is good for hair, skin and joints.

His favorite after-workout sushi is his California roll, which isn't deep fried. The avocado provides the protein, the rice provides the carbohydrates, and it's got a "very refreshing taste."

His "crispy tempura shrimp over fried rice" sushi is the "only one we fry," he said. And, he added with a laugh, "It's one of our most popular ones."

Edo Japanese Restaurant sells healthful sushi, but the restaurant's owner, Takeo Higashi, suggested I try some sushi alternatives during the winter months.

Most people are familiar with sukiaki, a soup made of sliced beef, vegetables, tofu and noodles and "a little bit of sweet soy sauce."

They are less familiar with chicken mizutaki, another soup. It's made of chicken, mixed vegetables, tofu and noodles.

I tried the shabushabu, which is sliced beef, tofu and a mixture of vegetables in a clear soup. This sells for $30 for two people. "This will really warm you up," Higashi said.

He brought to the table an electric wok filled with the vegetables, tofu and soup. We waited for it to come to a boil. The thinly sliced beef was in a separate plate. Using my chopsticks, I dipped a piece of meat in after the soup came to a boil. In one or two seconds, it was done. I knew because it changed from red to tan. I then dipped it in a bowl of soy sauce and lemony ponzu. I also dipped the meat in a bowl of miso and vinegar.

Shabushabu is one of the most delicious dishes I've ever eaten.

"Of course sushi is healthy compared to steak," Higashi said. "This type of nabemono -- pot cooking -- is a very healthy way to eat."

Sekisui Humphreys Center is at 50 Humphreys Center, Suite 14; call 747-0001.

Lee's Fresh Sushi is at 6121 Poplar at Ridgeway in the BP gas station; 681-0111.

Edo Japanese Restaurant is at 4792 Summer; 767-7096.

-- Michael Donahue: 529-2797

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