Just over a decade ago, I used the California Roll as a means to dip my toes into the sushi waters before diving head first into the good stuff — like ikura and toro.
These days, I take a hard pass when it comes to this Americanized rendition of sushi — one that chefs from L.A. and Vancouver dispute over for credit. But there’s no denying that the flavor profile is enticing and refreshing, and it’s one that I like to appreciate in its own way.
Away from the sushi menu.
When you bring crisp spiralized cucumber to a bowl with chilled vermicelli noodles, creamy avocado, nori strips, and imitation crab, you end up with a refreshing noodle salad that is summer lunch perfection.
And let’s face it: if there’s ever a reason to use imitation crab, it’s in a California Roll-inspired dish. Most sushi joints use imitation crab in their California Rolls because it’s cost efficient. This is why the California Roll is a fraction of the price of a quality salmon, tuna, and scallop rolls. So, for the sake of being true to something that is untrue…
Don’t let the word “imitation” irk you. In a quality crab dish, you obviously want to bypass the fake stuff — but in a California Roll, the phony stuff is the right stuff. Plus, imitation crab is still a product of fish; it’s a concoction of fish paste, also known as surimi, and about half of the surimi produced is from Alaskan Pollock. The other ingredients added to the mix vary from Pollock to hake, sardines, mackerel, barracuda, and cod to name a few.
Because of the wide variety of possibilities, it’s difficult to pinpoint sustainability and the practcies of the fisheries involved. As usual, the best advice is to read labels, pay attention to the ingredients, and use Seafood Watch or SeaChoice (Canada) for recommendations.
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California Roll Noodle Bowl
This noodle bowl tosses vermicelli with all of the refreshing elements of a California Roll, making it a perfect lunch or light dinner option.
- 5 oz spiralized cucumber
- 2 oz cooked vermicelli noodles
- 2 oz imitation crab, roughly chopped
- 1/2 large avocado, sliced or cut into chunks
- 1/4-1/2 sheet of nori, cut into strips and halved
- 1 TBSP toasted sesame seeds toasting creates a nuttier flavor, but if you don't have time to toast them, you can skip the toasting.
- 2 TBSP low-sodium soy sauce I always use Kikkoman.
- 2 tsp rice vinegar
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- a dab of wasabi paste (optional)
In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients from the soy sauce to sesame oil together until well blended. Add a wee bit of wasabi, mix, and taste. Adjust to your liking, but remember that it's always best to add less and add more if needed.
Toasted Sesame Seeds
Heat a small pan over medium-low heat. Add the sesame seeds to the pan and, stirring frequently, toast until lightly golden if they're white. If you're using black sesame seeds, go by smell. Once the seeds are aromatic, remove from heat. This should only take about 3-4 minutes, so keep a close eye on them.
Spiralize your cucumber and put it in a medium-sized bowl.
Cook your noodles as per the package instructions. Vermicelli noodles usually only take about 2 minutes to cook, so keep a close eye on them. When done, drain them and rinse them under cold water to cool them down. Shake off any excess water, and add to the bowl with the cucumber.
Drizzle the dressing into the bowl and toss the noodles and cucumbers to coat. Taste, and if you feel you need more, simply splash a bit of extra soy sauce in there.
Add the crab, avocado, nori, and toasted sesame seeds to the bowl. Gently toss to mix.