Craveable Spicy California Rolls

spicy california rolls by Linda Shiue

When you’re pregnant, your body no longer belongs to you.  Everything you do affects the baby, starting with what you eat and drink. Everything you think and feel seems to come from a part of your body you don’t normally think about otherwise, what you could call the Control Womb.  The earliest signs of pregnancy all relate to eating. There’s the unbelievable hunger, which is far more insatiable than necessary for the only 300 extra calories a developing baby needs.  (I know, only 300 calories?) There’s morning sickness, which might exist simply to stop you from eating 24-7.  And there are cravings, one of the most powerful forces of all.

During my pregnancies, my cravings overwhelmed me, and led to both food aversions and preferences.  All were surprising.  It was simply unfair that chocolate, of all things, tasted like metallic cardboard to me. And the things I craved, while tasty, were far from my usual fare. I normally like to eat healthy food, prepared either in the simple and fresh style of California cuisine, or from a wide variety of ethnic flavors.  But when I was pregnant,  I wanted, needed, and could not stop thinking about foods like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pizza, cheeseburgers and milkshakes.  I also had some dangerous cravings, for things that are off limits to pregnant women because of the danger of infection.  This included tuna, brie, and worst of all, raw fish.  I always liked sushi.  Now I felt like I needed it, but couldn’t have it.  It seems obvious that raw fish might not be the safest choice for a pregnant woman, with the possibility, though slim, of harboring parasites, as well as the usual bacteria.  So I didn’t succumb to my true desire for sake (salmon), hamachi(yellowtail), and maguro (tuna), especially spicy tuna rolls.  Instead I stuck with the cooked choices, all safe to eat: unagi (eel), tamago (egg), and California rolls.

Two favorites at any sushi bar are spicy tuna rolls and California rolls. What these two have in common, besides being fusion sushi, is that they both make use of a surprising ingredient: mayonnaise.  You can use any mayonnaise for these rolls (note to the pregnant: homemade mayonnaise carries the risk of salmonella and is off limits), but if you can, Japanese mayonnaise is the way to go.  The most famous brand is Kewpie, which comes in a familiar plastic squeeze bottle with a red top and a sketch of that adorable Kewpie doll.  It’s available at Japanese groceries and even online. It tastes a bit sweeter than standard mayonnaise, and includes a couple of different ingredients.  Unlike regular mayonnaise, Japanese mayonnaise contains rice vinegar and (gasp!) MSG. Don’t shake your head at the MSG: it provides the umami which makes Kewpie the runaway choice for Japanese food.  And its sweetness is a nice foil to the flavors of sushi: the briny taste of raw fish, the strident saltiness of soy sauce, and the sharp heat of pickled ginger and wasabi.


So here’s a recipe that I wish I had thought of when I was pregnant: Spicy California Rolls.  Without any raw fish, they’re safe even during pregnancy (use frozen, not refrigerated, crab sticks to avoid the small chance of contamination with the bacteria Listeria, as found also with deli meats, and please check with your doctor to be extra safe), but with a spicy kick that could have fooled me into thinking I was eating a forbidden spicy tuna roll.  This is a great way to enjoy the magic of Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise. Umami!

*     *     *

Spicy California Rolls


4 cups prepared sushi rice (see below)

2 ripe avocado, cut into strips

16 frozen crab sticks (imitation crab meat), thawed in refrigerator just before preparation

2 seedless cucumbers, cut into matchstick sized pieces

4 sheets nori (dried seaweed)

8 tablespoons Kewpie mayonnaise

8 tablespoons white sesame seeds

Spicy Sauce (see below)


1.  Unroll a bamboo sushi mat and cover with plastic wrap.

2.  Place a sheet of nori on top of the mat.  Spread the sushi rice over the sheet of nori, press firmly, and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the surface.  Turn the sushi layer over so that the nori is on top.  (If you don’t have a bamboo rolling mat, place a sheet of plastic wrap on the worktop, and turn the layer of seaweed and sushi rice upside down flat on the the plastic wrap so that the seaweed ends up on top.)

2.  Place the avocado, cucumber and crab sticks lengthwise down the center, and coat the filling with mayonnaise.

3.  Roll the mat forward, pressing firmly into a cylinder.

4.  Remove sushi roll from the mat.

5.  Cut sushi roll in to eight pieces.

6.  Squirt a dab (or more) of Spicy Sauce  on the cut sushi.

Accompaniments: soy sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger, some extra Spicy Sauce.

Makes 4 rolls, or 32 pieces.

Sushi Rice 

Expert tip #1: To cook sushi rice, it is important to remember that the rice should be cooked with less water than usual, and vinegar added to it while hot. Here is how to cook the perfect sushi rice.


2 cups  Japanese rice, such as Nishiki brand

2¾ cups water

1/2 cup rice vinegar (unflavored)

2½ tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt


1. Wash the rice and cook in water  in a rice cooker or on the stove.

2. Make the vinegar solution. Put the pan on low heat and heat until the sugar dissolves. Cool the vinegar mixture.

3. When cooked, mix the vinegar mixture with the hot rice.  Be careful to mix lightly so you don’t mash the rice.  Gently turn the spatula as if scooping the rice rather than blending it.

Expert tip #2:  While folding vinegar into the rice, cool the rice using a hand fan.  Fanning the rice prevents it from becoming overly sticky, and also adds luster.

4. Use sushi rice immediately—don’t store it in the refrigerator. Cover it with a damp cloth if you won’t be using it for 10 minutes or more, to prevent it from drying out.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Spicy Sauce

spicy sushi sauce by Linda Shiue


8 Tbsp Kewpie mayonnaise

8 tsp Sriracha or other hot sauce, more to taste


1. Put mayonnaise and hot sauce into a bowl, and combine with a whisk until well blended.

2. Store in a squirt bottle for easiest use.

Makes 1 cup of spicy sauce.

© 2010-2011 Linda Shiue

3 responses

  1. Pingback: Going Japanese | between the moon and Davao City

  2. I’ve got to confess, I was a very bad ‘pregnant mummy’ (i’ve had 5!) I’m afraid that I gave in to my cravings and desires and ate anything and everything that I wanted. You are right, sometimes those cravings and desires are for things that you might not normally eat. For some strange reason I used to crave liver! yes, i know it sounds mad but it’s true and oranges, that was another one. Living out in the boonies as I was at the time, sushi wasn’t an option but I can bet your bottom dollar, I would have devoured that too if I’d had half the chance 😀 Peanut butter is ALWAYS good!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s