SUSHI and Soup, Salads, Desserts

Times Food Editor

With sushi bars popping up all over the place, it's no wonder that these wonderful Japanese snacks are becoming popular takeout foods. Particularly since sushi preparation is not something the average American cook wants to tackle at home.

Not for the uninitiated, sushi making is a highly specialized culinary accomplishment. In Japan, apprentices work for years under the aegis of experts before attaining the status and title of professional sushi chef. It's an art most Westerners lack both patience and skills to perfect. Here we find it easier to let the experts make sushi and settle for buying it ready-made. Hence the big increase in the number of restaurants and delis that serve sushi both in-house and as a takeout item.

How it happens that sushi, after all these centuries, has suddenly become the current rage is anybody's guess. But it has, with the result that more and more adventurous souls in the mood to entertain are stopping by their favorite sushi bar and picking up a batch to build a party around. Once they have the sushi home, though, how to serve it and, more important, what to serve with it becomes the big question.

Westerners tend to treat sushi as fingerfood, albeit hearty fingerfood. In itself it isn't enough for a meal for most. But, because it is filling, anything served with it should be relatively light. Thus, it's easy to call those reliable menu expanders, soup and salad, into play as accompaniments. Both make excellent companions for a rich and varied array of sushi. Then just add a light fruit-based dessert and you'll have a party menu that is as much of a delight in its ease of preparation as it is in flavor.

A clear broth filled with Chinese pea pods, baby corn, shiitake mushrooms and minuscule bits of smoked ham from a ham hock goes well with these Japanese snacks. Or if you prefer something crisp, a crunchy Chinese chicken-noodle salad with a sweet-sour dressing is easy, spectacular in appearance and equally flattering to the sushi. Follow either choice with a simple chilled almond-flavored fruit mixture or some other light sweet for dessert, and everyone will be replete but happily not overstuffed. It's a wonderful way to entertain.

CLEAR HAM-VEGETABLE SOUP

2 smoked ham hocks

1 small onion, quartered

2 quarts water

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans chicken broth

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon oil

Salt

White pepper

1 cup thin shiitake strips

1 (15-ounce) can whole baby corn, drained

6 Chinese pea pods, slivered

1 green onion, finely chopped

Combine ham hocks, onion, water and chicken broth in large saucepan. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer about 1 1/2 hours or until hocks are tender. Meanwhile, quickly fry garlic in oil just until golden (do not allow to brown). Set aside. Strain ham mixture, reserve broth and dice ham meat. Bring broth to boil. Add ham. Season to taste with salt, if needed, and white pepper. Add shiitake and corn. Simmer a few minutes. Add pea pods, green onion and toasted garlic. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

GINGERY CHICKEN SOUP

1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts

6 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons grated, peeled ginger root

3 green onions, sliced diagonally

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 (8 1/2-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and diced

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 cup shredded lettuce

Combine chicken, water, salt and ginger in large saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until chicken is tender. Remove from heat. Remove chicken and cool slightly. Strain broth and return to saucepan. Skim fat, if needed. Skin and bone chicken. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Bring broth to simmer. Add chicken, green onions, mushrooms, water chestnuts and soy sauce. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in lettuce just before serving. Makes 6 servings.

HOT ASPARAGUS SOUP

3 pounds asparagus, fresh or frozen

1/4 pound butter or margarine

1 onion, chopped

6 cups chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Salt, pepper

2 tablespoons chopped parsley or watercress

If using fresh asparagus, wash and snap off tough ends. Peel asparagus, if necessary, and slice into 2-inch pieces. If using frozen asparagus spears, peel, if necessary, and cut off tips. Dice remainder of stalks.

Heat butter in large heavy saucepan. Add onion and cook until tender. Set aside asparagus tips and add sliced asparagus stalks to onion mixture in pan. Cook 1 minute. Add broth and nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to simmer and cook until stalks are tender, about 18 minutes.

Add tips and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Spoon out and reserve some cooked tips for garnish. Puree remaining cooked asparagus and liquid in blender 2 cups at a time. Soup may be refrigerated at this point. To serve, reheat and serve hot, garnished with parsley and warmed, reserved asparagus tips. Makes 8 servings.

SHERRY-CHICKEN SOUP

3 pounds chicken pieces

2 quarts water

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 large onion, quartered

1 clove garlic

1 cup cream Sherry

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon crushed tarragon leaves

Salt

Place chicken, water, bay leaf, pepper, onion and garlic in large kettle. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until chicken is tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove chicken from broth. Skin and bone chicken and cut into chunks. Add chicken meat, Sherry, lemon juice and tarragon to broth and simmer about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Makes 6 servings.

ORIENTAL CHICKEN SALAD

Oil for deep-frying

1/2 (7.75-ounce) package rice sticks

4 chicken breast halves, cooked and cut julienne

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced

1 tablespoon slivered pickled ginger

1/4 cup sliced green onions

1/3 cup rice vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar

Dash sesame oil

Salt

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 bunch leaf lettuce, shredded

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Heat oil to 375 degrees. Crumble rice sticks and add handful to hot oil. Fry few seconds until puffed and white, pressing down into oil. (Do not allow to brown.) Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining rice noodles. Set aside.

Combine chicken, cucumber, pickled ginger and green onions. Stir together vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and salt to taste. Toss dressing with chicken mixture. Just before serving gently toss in cilantro, lettuce and sesame seeds. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CITRUS-AVOCADO SALAD

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon paprika

6 tablespoons oil

1 grapefruit

2 oranges

1 avocado

Crisp greens

Combine lemon and orange juices, honey, salt, paprika and oil and beat together or shake in tightly covered jar until well blended. Just before serving, peel and section grapefruit and oranges. Halve avocado, remove seed, peel and slice. Arrange avocado slices, grapefruit and orange sections on greens on salad plates. Shake or beat dressing again and pour over fruits. Makes 6 servings.

MARINATED MUSHROOM SALAD

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

1 cup olive oil

Dash tarragon

Dash oregano

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Salt, pepper

3 to 4 cups sliced mushrooms

Crisp greens

Combine mustard, vinegar and oil. Add tarragon, oregano, garlic and sugar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add mushrooms, toss, cover and marinate 1 to 3 hours in refrigerator. Drain and serve on greens. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

SWEET-AND-SOUR SPINACH SALAD 2 pounds spinach

1/2 pound bean sprouts

1 (5-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and sliced

2/3 cup oil

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup catsup

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1/3 cup finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon soy sauce

5 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled

Salt, pepper

Wash spinach well and pat dry. Break leaves into bite-size pieces, discarding tough stems. Combine spinach, bean sprouts and water chestnuts in large salad bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

Combine oil, sugar, catsup, vinegar, onion and soy sauce. Shake to blend, cover and chill. At serving time, toss bacon with spinach mixture. Add dressing to taste, tossing gently until mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Any extra dressing may be served on side. Makes 8 servings.

ALMOND JELLY AND FRUIT

3 cups water

3/4 cup sugar

Few drops almond extract

1 (1-pound) can lychees

Ice cubes

Almond Jelly

2 mangoes, peeled, seeded and diced

2 kiwis, peeled and sliced

2 oranges, peeled and cut in segments or 1 (8-ounce) can mandarin orange sections

Maraschino cherries, drained

Boil water and sugar in saucepan. Stir in almond extract and juice of drained can of lychees. Cool with ice cubes. Arrange Almond Jelly cubes, lychees, mangoes, kiwis and oranges in small serving bowls. Ladle in syrup. Garnish with maraschino cherries, if desired. Makes about 8 servings.

Almond Jelly

1 (5.3-ounce) can evaporated milk

Water

3 envelopes unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup sugar

2 to 3 teaspoons almond extract

In saucepan, combine evaporated milk with enough water to make 4 cups. Stir in gelatin. Heat over low heat until gelatin dissolves. Stir in sugar and almond extract. Pour into 12x7-inch glass dish. Chill to set. Cut into small cubes or diamond shapes.

MAI TAI ICE

1/4 ripe pineapple

2 cups commercial Mai Tai mix

1/4 cup rum

Strawberries or raspberries

Mint sprigs

Peel and core pineapple, then cut fruit into pieces. Process fruit in blender or food processor until finely chopped. Pour into medium bowl. Stir in Mai Tai mix and rum. Pour into 9x5-inch loaf pan or several undivided ice trays. Cover with foil or plastic wrap. Place in freezer and freeze until firm, 3 to 6 hours.

For slightly icy texture, scrape frozen mixture with fork until pieces resemble finely crushed ice. For smoother texture, freeze until firm, then break into small pieces. Spoon pieces into chilled food processor bowl. Process with metal blade until light and fluffy but not thawed. Serve immediately or return beaten mixture to pan and freeze until firm, 1 to 3 hours.

To serve, spoon or scoop into sherbet glasses or pineapple shell. Decorate with strawberries and mint, if desired. Makes 4 to 5 servings or about 3 1/2 cups.

LEMON SNOW WITH CUSTARD SAUCE

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup boiling water

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

3 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Custard Sauce

Combine gelatin with 1/2 cup sugar and salt. Add boiling water and stir until gelatin is completely dissolved. Mix in lemon juice and peel. Chill, stirring occasionally, until thickened.

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed of mixer until foamy. Gradually beat in 6 tablespoons sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Add thickened gelatin and beat until mixture begins to hold its shape, about 5 minutes. (If kitchen is very warm, beat over ice water.) Turn into 6-cup mold and chill until firm. Unmold and serve with Custard Sauce. Makes about 8 servings.

Custard Sauce

2 cups milk

3 egg yolks

1 whole egg

1/4 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

Scald milk in top of double boiler. Beat yolks and egg with sugar and salt. Gradually add small amount of hot milk, stirring constantly. Return mixture to double boiler and cook, stirring, over hot, not boiling, water until slightly thickened and mixture coats spoon. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Chill.

TANGY LIME SOUFFLE

3 limes

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

1/4 cup cold water

4 eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup orange-flavored liqueur

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

Grate peel from limes, then juice them. In small bowl, mix peel, juice and cornstarch. Set aside. In another saucepan, soften gelatin in cold water, then dissolve over low heat. Stir into lime mixture.

Beat egg yolks and sugar in top of double boiler until light colored. Stir lime juice-gelatin mixture into egg yolk mixture. Set pan over hot water. Cook, stirring, until thickened. Add 2 tablespoons liqueur and cook 1 minute longer. Chill until mixture is almost set, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, beat cream with remaining 2 tablespoons liqueur and powdered sugar. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold cream and egg whites into lime mixture. Spoon into 2-quart souffle dish, or for prettier effect into smaller dish lined with greased foil collar extending above rim. Chill until firm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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