Tired of the same old holiday fare? Liven up this year's celebrations with a Japanese-themed party that stars do-it-yourself sushi, sake and steaming miso soup.
Your guests might secretly thank you for a refreshing alternative.
Even picky eaters will be happy - they can choose what goes in their own sushi rolls.
Add easy miso soup (the soup base can be found in the Asian food section of most grocery stores) dolled up with cubes of tofu and sliced scallions; set out bowls of rice crackers, wasabi peas and other snacks; and serve cold sake or green tea. For dessert, offer mochi ice cream.
Decorating also is simple, with affordable paper lanterns and fans at discount variety stores or Asian specialty grocery stores.
Turn sake bottles into bud vases, and hang fans on walls or umbrellas from the ceiling. Try a different kind of mood lighting by tucking votives into sake cups. Pick up thin cushions for people to sit on by the coffee table.
To get your party rolling properly, try these tips from sushi chef Hajime Sato, of Mashiko Japanese Restaurant in Seattle.
Cone-shaped hand rolls are an easy option for individual portions, Sato said, but those who want to imitate what they eat in restaurants might be more willing to try uramaki, or inside-out rolls. (California rolls come in this style.)
Another type of roll, known as makizushi, comes with rice and ingredients rolled inside seaweed.
Keep the ingredients simple with California-roll standards like crab, avocado and cucumber; mix it up with pickled daikon (turnip), carrots or cooked shrimp; or go more adventurous with sashimi-grade tuna.
Caution: If you serve raw fish, be sure not to leave it out too long. And buy from a grocer experienced in selling fish consumed raw.
Start with the rice
Here's Sato's recipe for the rice that's specific to sushi. A rice cooker is helpful, but you can also make rice, according to the package, in a pot on the stove. You need:
4 cups Calrose rice
4 cups water
1 teaspoon cooking sake
1 cup rice vinegar
2 ounces sugar
1 ounce salt
Rinse rice in cold water three times, stirring gently. Add 4 cups of water, rice and cooking sake in pot. Cook according to package directions. Combine rice vinegar, sugar and salt in separate container until dissolved. Put cooked rice in a large bowl with room to cool. Spread the rice out, and evenly pour the vinegar mixture over it. Mix by cutting and folding to prevent rice from clumping. Wait 2 to 3 minutes, then flip and cut the rice again. Do this three to four times, until rice is about body temperature. Place in a small, insulated container to keep it at the same temperature.