I have long enjoyed a lesser-known kind of sushi called battera, it is rarely seen in the States, even at the most traditional of sushi restaurants. This sushi is comprised of sushi rice, densely pressed into a square wooden form. A layer of rice is pressed down, and then a layer of Japanese mint leaves are placed on top. This is followed with a second layer of rice, pressed, then a layer of salty mackerel and finally topped with sweet pickled kelp. The whole lot is pressed one last time and then cut into rectangular pieces, approximately one inch wide by three inches long. This sushi is to be eaten in two bites, unlike most maki or nigiri. Each bite of battera fills ones mouth with sweet sticky rice, expanding as one chews. The salty mackerel dances in a sea of rice, perfectly complimented by the sharp mint. I’ve used this experience as an inspiration for the following recipe, featuring soy-glazed shiitake and blanched kale.
Kale has become one of the hot healthy foods of the moment, filled with plenty of antioxidants and fiber. Every party I attend eventually eventually rounds conversation to recommendations on kale recipes. The conversation often falls to the conclusion that everyone wants to eat more kale in their diet although there seems to be so few recipes that feature this magic health food. Kale has reached that perfect combination of high demand yet low supply of home recipes.
A common complaint that I hear regarding kale is a lack of ideas for flavor profiles that pair well with kale. This is what made me think of the previously mentioned battera. Battera features raw mackerel, a particularly “fishy” fish, which can be unfriendly to popular tastes, resulting in a similar confusion as to how it might be served. Battera solves the problem of the strong fishy flavor of the mackerel by pairing it with potent mint and drowning them both in sweet sticky rice. The same technique, with slightly different flavors could also compliment the strong green flavor of kale.
Hearty greens like kale, mustard, or radish work great as a counterpoint to earthy flavors. In this recipe, I’ve used dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and then glazed with soy to compliment the strong bitter notes of the blanched kale. These are layered on top of sushi rice, which has been pressed into the bottom of a loaf pan. They are then sprinkled with toasted sesame and cut to size. They make an impressive appetizer at a dinner party, or a great healthy vegetarian meal for two. Another bonus, this can always be prepared a few days in advance, as it keeps great in the fridge. Enjoy!
Soy glazed Shiitake Mushrooms
1-2 quarts boiling water
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup soy sauce (lower sodium is preferred)
In a large bowl, place dried shitakes and fill with enough hot water to cover the mushrooms. The mushrooms tend to float, so cover them with a clean paper towel to soak the water over the top of the mushrooms. Allow the mushrooms to soak for about 30-45 minutes. When soft, strain out the mushrooms, reserving the soaking water, then cut off the mushrooms’ stems. In a medium pot, fill with the soaking water and mushroom caps. Bring to a simmer and add the sugar and soy. cook the mushrooms until the liquid has been reduced to a thick glaze, approximately 20 mins.
Kale Battera Sushi with soy-glazed Shiitake Mushrooms
16 oz fresh kale, blanched
8 oz soy glazed shiitake mushrooms
3 cups prepared and seasoned sushi rice
toasted sesame seeds to garnish
Place a layer of plastic wrap at the bottom of a standard loaf pan. Fill with sushi rice and press down to compact, the back of a large spoon works well for this. Place glazed shiitake mushrooms on top of the pressed rice in a single layer follow with the blanched kale. Place another layer of plastic wrap on top of the kale and press down into the pan with a strong uniform pressure. Once well compacted, flip the loaf pan onto a cutting board and tap the top to remove the sushi. Flip the compacted sushi and remove the plastic wrap. With a very sharp knife, cut into 1 inch by 3 inch rectangles and sprinkle with sesame. Enjoy!