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Sabbath at the Spectrum Café: How to Roll with Food Allergies


Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson in California sets the table for this week’s Sabbath at the Spectrum Café. The column features fresh perspectives on food, community and unique stories surrounding vegetarian cuisine.

My childhood memories of Sabbath breakfast are of typical Adventist fare: my mother’s dense whole-wheat bread baked earlier in the week in tall round cans and spread with peanut butter and honey, slices of canned pineapple with a mound of cottage cheese in the center, and interminable bowls of bland oatmeal with raisins and cashews.

I remember Sabbath potluck lunch, though, at the Japanese church in Loma Linda, Calif., and English church in Yokohama, Japan, as a distinct and mouthwatering mingling of Japanese and American Adventist dishes: yes, vegetarian stroganoff, green bean casserole, garlic bread and egg salad, but also sweet tofu pockets filled with vinegary rice, hand-kneaded gluten marinated overnight in soy sauce and ginger and then floured and fried, soba noodles topped with grated vegetables and drizzled with a citrus-sesame dressing, azuki beans cooked into sticky rice, and fat rolls of homemade sushi stuffed with a colorful center of sweet egg, steamed carrot, pickled gourd, burdock root and sautéed spinach.

The way I eat now, with my husband and first child, is decidedly simpler and purer. After my immune system suddenly went haywire a decade or so ago, I had to give up much of the food in those childhood memories, including the whole wheat, the pineapple, the peanuts, the dairy, the nuts, the soy, the gluten, the sesame and on and on. It’s no longer a simple matter to attend a potluck or accept a dinner invitation or participate in communion or eat at a restaurant, but my body’s sometimes frightening distress signals when I “cheat” or accidently slip up make it an easy choice for me to stick to an allergen-free diet.

Our family’s present diet is plant-based, free of genetically modified foods, 90 percent organic and rather basic. It’s partly the way we cope with my food allergies and partly a choice to be kind to our bodies and equip them for long lives. I’ve seen this Dr. Ann Wigmore quote floating around social media lately: “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” An added bonus of maintaining this almost-Edenic allergen-free diet has been improved health for all of us.

These days, Sabbath lunches aren’t the sumptuous potlucks of my childhood, but we’ve started a new tradition in our family: wrap-your-own sushi. On Friday, we prep a communal platter of sushi fillings, such as thin strips of raw cucumber, steamed carrots, roasted red bell pepper, egg and avocado. On Sabbath morning, we set the rice cooker to cook, and when we get home from church, we mix a lemon-salt mix into the steaming rice and let it cool. As we sit around the table talking and passing the platter of fillings around, we roll lemon-tangy rice and our choice of fresh fillings in half sheets of nori seaweed.

These aren’t the tightly packed, bite-size sushi that you find in restaurants; they’re more like smallish, messy Japanese burritos, and lighter and fresher than restaurant sushi. You don’t have to be a sushi chef to roll or enjoy these. You can be 4 years old, like our son, with rice kernels stuck to your cheeks and specks of nori on your fingers, or you can roll like my husband, whose thick sushi rolls spill out from the ends. I like mine with more fillings than rice these days, and sometimes I include a bite-size portion of the large leafy green salad that often accompanies this Sabbath meal. It’s the perfect communal Sabbath meal for our family, and it expands well when family and friends join us. “Just bring some sushi fillings of your choice,” we might say as we put on an extra-large pot of rice. It’s what we’ll be enjoying again this Sabbath lunch. If you’d like to join us, wherever you are, please try the recipe below.

Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson is a writer and occasional graphic designer who lives in Rocklin, Calif., with her family. She is a former assistant editor of Spectrum.


Wrap-Your-Own Sushi (pictured)

Total prep time: 50 min. 
Active prep time: 40 min. 
Serves: 3-4

Rice, Seasoning and Wraps

2 cups short grain Japanese/sushi rice or brown sweet mochi rice, washed and cooked
   Important: Rice kernels should remain distinct from one another, but should stick together without being mushy—not to be attempted with long-grain or any other nonsticky rice. The rice must be cooked the day of; it will not keep overnight, as it will harden and refuse to hold together.

Juice of 1½ – 2 lemons and a pinch of salt (our preference) OR the traditional sushi rice seasoning of sweetened rice vinegar to taste
Nori seaweed, cut into half sheets (quarter-sized sheets work well for little mouths)*
Soy sauce

Our Favorite Fillings (cut into thin strips)
Steamed carrots
Raw cucumber
Fried egg
Roasted red bell peppers (jarred)
Raw daikon radish
Sweet potato
Baby corn
Raw baby spinach
Experiment to discover your own favorite fillings


1. Prep the fillings and store in the refrigerator (can be made a day ahead).

2. Cook the rice according to instructions. Mix lemon-salt blend or rice vinegar into the steaming rice and let it cool to room temperature.

3. Cut nori into half sheets. Place large bowl of rice, platter of fillings and nori on the table, family style. Serve with pickled or freshly grated ginger, wasabi—and if your diet allows, soy sauce.


Lay down a small amount of rice toward one end of a half-sheet of nori. Add your favorite fillings. Roll from the end with rice toward the other end. Enjoy. Repeat.

*Note: Nori can be found at Asian markets or in the Asian food aisle at your local grocery store.
**Wasabi is a nasal-clearing spicy paste found at Asian markets or in the Asian food aisle at your local grocery store.

Sharon’s son with his favorite wrap. 

Read more stories from the Spectrum Café here.

Do you have a unique story or regularly-requested recipe that you’d like to share? Email Midori at midori[at]

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