Delicata Squash Sushi

I enjoy the challenge of reinventing foods in unexpected ways. Take sushi for example; it's something many of us know and love. But I think it's time for a sushi makeover. In particular, I just don't find the white rice terribly exciting. Let's find something with more flavor and more color!

Making sushi without the white rice has been a bit of a quest for me. There are a lot of really good, creative ideas on the web that I've had fun experimenting with. Brown rice and quinoa both hold promise, but they're not terribly exciting either. I've tried carrot pulp and other veggie pulp which have been flavorful, but a little too soft. Same goes for edamame hummus.

But finally I had an epiphany: a delicata squash is essentially the same shape as a sushi roll. It's a match made in heaven! If you haven't tried delicata squash then you're really missing out. They're beautiful, elongate, brightly-colored, striped winter squash with edible skin. You can cut them in half (lengthwise), scoop out the seeds, and stuff them like cute boats. You can slice them into half circles and roast them, or even grill them since they cook quickly. The delicata is a really delightful and versatile little squash.

But making delicata into sushi?? Perhaps crazy, but totally awesome! It's delicious. The sushi pieces are beautiful. The squash has the same toothsome feel as rice, yet contains much more flavor. And the color contrast between the dark nori, the bright yellow squash, and the multi-colored filling is eye-catching. Making these was a bit of a process to be honest, but not any more of a commitment than regular sushi, and whipping out a platter of these would be a stellar party trick.

Here's how to do it:

Step #1: Prep the squash
Pick out one or a few delicata that are relatively small, narrow, and most importantly straight (sometimes they can get curvy, which will be challenging when it comes to rolling them in the nori). Life will be much easier if you can fit a single nori sheet around your squash, so try to pick one with a small diameter, maybe an inch and a half.

Cut the ends off the squash and then roast them (seeds and all) at 425 for about 20-30 minutes. Check them frequently towards the end because the baking time will depend on the size and thickness of the squash. You want the squash to be cooked through, but no more. If the squash gets too soft, it will crack when you stuff it.

Only after the squash is cooked should you try to remove the seeds; I promise it will be much easier than trying to do it raw. Working from both ends, use a small paring knife to cut around the seeds, then a miniature spoon to scoop them out. You're aiming to create even, hollow cylinders.

Now you need to exercise some patience and chill the squash. I like to prepare mine the day before, keep them in the fridge overnight, and make the sushi the next day. Working with warm squash would make a mess of the nori.

Step #2: Prep your filling
Go for a filling that involves finely shredded or sliced items that you can stuff down into the squash. Here, I used shaved carrots, really finely sliced red cabbage, and slivers of sugar snap peas. Use a variety of bright colors (orange! purple! green!), a good range of flavors, and some different textures. Pretty much anything will work, as long as you can make it small. I don't eat fish, but your fish of choice would certainly work if you dice it up.
Mix up your filling and season it if you desire. A dash of rice wine vinegar, some salt, and some black pepper will make the flavors pop without taking away from the freshness of the ingredients.

Step #3: Stuff the squash
Stand your squash upright and stuff the filling down into it. The key here is to really pack it in; otherwise, the filling won't hold together and will fall out of the squash when you cut it. Put some filling in and pack it down; then put some more filling in and pack it down. Work incrementally to make sure the entire squash is stuffed to near bursting (this is exactly why you can't overcook the squash; if it's too soft, it will crack as you cram all the tasty goodness inside).

Step #4: Roll the nori
Once you're confident about the inside of the roll, lay a sheet of nori on a cutting board and place the squash on top of it. If needed, trim the nori edges (scissors work well) so that it is the same width as the squash.

This is the trickiest part. Working carefully to not crack the nori, roll it around the squash. I find this is easier if I dampen the nori very slightly (mimicking the fact that rice usually provides a little bit of moisture). When you get to the point where the nori edges meet, gently seal them together with a little bit of water on your fingertip. Let the roll sit for a few minutes to make sure the nori has properly adhered together at the seam.

Step #5: Slice
Lay your roll on a cutting board and get a very sharp serrated knife. Cut down through your roll gently, making uniform slices about half an inch thick. If needed, use a few fingers to help the filling stay put as you slice. If you've packed the filling in tightly, it should yield a nice, coherent slice that will stay together even if picked up with chop sticks.

Have fun with these! They're beautiful, tasty little sushi rolls that would be perfect for a stay at home date night or get-together with friends. If you prep a bunch of squashes in advance, this could even work as a make-your-own sushi party with various options for fillings and garnishes. I believe strongly that food should be fun, and sushi is a great example of that; it's whimsical and colorful, and the creation of the rolls can be just as satisfying as the eating of the rolls.

Please share your creation so I can see how you've interpreted the concept! Tag "The Rogue Brussel Sprout" on Facebook or hashtag #theroguebrusselsprout on Instagram.

Love the idea of reinventing classics using squash? Check out my Kabocha Squash Soup Bowls, which are way more fun than soup in a bread bowl.


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