Sushi Made Simple: Homemade California Rolls

October 2021

article & photos by renata haidle

Rolling your own sushi can be slightly intimidating, yet if you give it a try, you will find that the process is quite enjoyable and not all that difficult. All you need is patience and a light hand. The ingredients listed below are traditionally used in a California roll. However, feel free to improvise and create original rolls using your favorite toppings, or try recreating your favorite rolls from a sushi restaurant. While sushi-grade raw fish needs to be extremely fresh and is better left to the sushi chefs for proper preparation, you can substitute ingredients like cooked shrimp, imitation crab, smoked salmon, Tamago (sweet Japanese omelet), cream cheese, and a variety of fruit and vegetables like mango, cucumber, avocado, scallions, cooked asparagus, or roasted sweet potato.    


  • 1 Cup short-grain rice, cooked  
  • 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar 
  • ½ teaspoon sugar 
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice 
  • 3 nori sheets 
  • ½ avocado, thinly sliced 
  • 1 small cucumber, cut into thin strips (matchsticks) 
  • ½ Cup imitation crab 
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, optional  

Makes 3 rolls. 


  • In a small saucepan, heat the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt, and whisk until the sugar dissolves. Place the rice (cooled at room temperature) in a medium bowl, and add the rice vinegar mixture. Gently fold the rice to season it evenly. 
  • On a sushi mat covered in plastic wrap, place a nori sheet (shiny side down). Spread a thin layer of rice on the seaweed sheet, taking care not to squash the rice. Leave about an inch of the nori uncovered. Add one-third of the sliced avocado, cucumber matchsticks, and imitation crab sticks, enough to cover the lower part of the nori.  
  • Start rolling everything tightly, using the sushi mat for support. Be firm, but do not squeeze the roll too much, or your ingredients will get pushed out. Apply only enough pressure to create a uniform roll. Moisten the top part of the nori with a bit of water and seal the roll.  
  • Repeat the entire process two more times.  
  • Next, move the rolls onto a cutting board. Then, using a very sharp knife, carefully slice each roll into 6-8 pieces. Serve immediately, as sushi is at its best right after it is prepared. 

Alternatively, you can make inside-out California rolls (this type of roll is called uramaki). Place the rice on the sushi mat first, sprinkle a pinch of sesame seeds if using, then lay the nori sheet on top and fill with the other ingredients. Roll as above.  

Originally printed in the October  2021 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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