Despite its humble roots, Kappa Maki sushi or cucumber sushi rolls are an exquisite balance of textures and tastes, and it's the perfect roll for beginners to hone your sushi-making skills. With a crispy strip of cucumber rolled in tangy sweet sushi rice and crisp nori, it may sound simple, but you'll learn a few essential techniques in this traditional sushi recipe. It will take a little practice but master these skills, and you'll be making beautiful sushi rolls like a pro sushi chef in no time!
Why This Recipe Works?
- Selecting and cutting the cucumber to the right size is critical to get a perfectly shaped sushi roll.
- Using the proper sushi rolling technique ensures your rolls close properly with the filling in the center.
- Adding seasonings such as toasted sesame, umeboshi, and shio konbu gives the cucumber rolls more flavor.
- Sushi Rice - Sushi rice is cooked Japanese short-grain rice seasoned with sushi vinegar. This is the most important component of sushi, and making good sushi rice sets apart the best sushi restaurants in Japan from the mediocre ones. I have a Sushi Rice Tutorial, which will walk you through all the steps you need to know to make sushi like the pros.
- Nori - Nori is a dried seaweed sheet used to hold the sushi roll together. Good nori provides structure and adds umami and a fresh, briny flavor to your sushi. When selecting nori, look for sheets that are almost black with a faint green hue. Moss green, brown, or reddish nori is a sign the nori is either low quality or old. Nori should also be opaque when held up to a light, have a crisp texture, and be uniform in thickness, but it's impossible to check for these without opening the pack.
- Cucumbers - Japanese cucumbers are slim, have tender skin, and are virtually seedless, which makes them perfect for Kappa Maki. When choosing your cucumbers, look for ones slightly longer than your nori is wide. Try and select cucumbers that are straight and roughly the same thickness from end to end. Curved cucumbers and cucumbers that are an uneven thickness will need to be adjusted when you cut them, or your rolls will be lopsided. If you can't find Japanese cucumbers, you can use other thin-skinned cucumbers such as Lebanese, Persian, hothouse, or English cucumbers. Lebanese and Persian cucumbers won't be long enough to fill the roll, but you can cut them according to the directions below and use two sticks per roll.
- Toasted Sesame Seeds - These small roasted seeds add a nutty flavor and poppy texture to the sushi roll, contrasting nicely with the cucumber's crisp freshness. You can add flavorful ingredients such as wasabi, umeboshi, shiso, or shio konbu to your rolls for a pop of flavor.
- Rice Vinegar - Sushi rice is very sticky, so keeping your hands wet when working with it is important. Using plain water will result in the flavor of the rice getting watered down, which is why sushi chefs will use rice vinegar diluted with water to keep their hands wet.
Cutting Nori for Hosomaki
Cucumber Sushi is rolled as a Hosomaki (narrow roll), so you'll need to cut your nori in half. Sheets of nori are not perfectly square, so lay a piece of nori on the cutting board with the wide edge facing you and use a sharp knife to cut down the middle (see the diagram below). You can also cut a stack of nori, but you need to make sure they're stacked perfectly while being careful the stack doesn't shift as you cut it.
How to Cut Cucumber for Sushi
Slicing cucumbers may seem like a no-brainer, but there are some important tricks to learn so your roll closes properly. I've written out the instructions here, but you may want to watch the video below to see the techniques.
The first step is to choose the right cucumber. Japanese cucumbers work best for Kappa Maki because they're the perfect length, but other thin-skinned varieties, such as Lebanese or hot house cucumbers, will work. Additionally, you want to try and find a cucumber that's straight and roughly the same diameter from end to end.
To prepare your cucumber, wash and scrub it under cold running water and then dry it off. Cut the ends off of your cucumbers using the width of the nori as a guide. This ensures the cucumber won't spill out the sides of your roll. If you use a shorter cucumber, you can use two strips per roll.
Next, you want to slice the cucumber in half lengthwise. If your cucumber is curved, rotate it until the curve reaches the top so you can cut it perfectly in half. Lay the halves flat, and then use your fingers to straighten out the cucumber against the side of your knife. Now you want to cut it into ⅓-inch (8mm) wide strips. If you're using a Japanese cucumber, you'll cut each half into three strips.
Set the cucumber sticks with the skin side down, and then use your knife to slice off the translucent core of the cucumber. This is also a good time to trim the cucumber so it's roughly the same width from end to end. If the strip is wider on one side than the other, it will cause your roll to be lopsided, and it may not close properly.
How to Roll Cucumber Sushi
Lay the nori sheet along the bottom edge of your makisu (bamboo sushi mat) with the shiny side facing down. Wet your hands thoroughly with the tezu and shake off any excess water before grabbing a handful of rice. You want to use about 80 grams of rice per roll. Shape the rice into a cylinder slightly wider than your hand's width.
Proceed to spread the rice from one edge of the nori to the other, leaving a 1-centimeter (.4 inch) gap along the top of the nori (see the diagram below).
Flatten the palm of one hand and use it like a wall along one side of the nori. Then use the tips of the fingers of your other hand to spread the rice down towards the bottom edge of the nori, leaving a .5 centimeter (.2-inch gap). When you do this, you want to leave a small mound of rice along the top margin, which will help you roll the sushi later.
Now you can add your fillings into the center of the rice, but be careful not to overfill it, or the roll won't close properly. I usually sprinkle on some toasted sesame seeds for a plain Kappa Maki and place one cucumber stick in the middle.
Grab the edge of your sushi mat with your thumbs under the mat, and use your fingers to hold the cucumber in place as you roll the mat up and over the fillings. The bottom margin of the nori should meet the small mound of rice near the top of the nori.
Now roll the cucumber sushi a quarter turn so the seam of the nori is on the bottom. Give the sushi mat a squeeze on both sides using your thumbs and fingers. This will cause the top to puff out. Now use your forefingers to press the top down while supporting the sides of the roll. This will make the roll almost perfectly square with the cucumber in the center of the rice.
How to Cut Sushi
If your nori is 19 centimeters wide (7.4 inches), use a ruler and sharp knife to score the roll at 3.2 cm (1 ¼ inches), 6.4 cm (2 ½ inches), and 9.5 cm (3 ¾ inches) from one side.
Now wet your knife using a damp towel and use short back-and-forth strokes to cut the sushi roll in half where you scored it. Line the two halves up and use the two remaining score marks to cut the halves into thirds.
Tip the sliced rolls upwards so the filings show up on top.
Variations on Cucumber Sushi
While the original Kappa Maki with cucumbers and some toasted sesame seeds are delicious, it is also a great platform to layer on other tastes and textures. Here are a few additional ideas for your kappa roll. There's room to get creative here with your fillings, but just ensure you don't overstuff the roll, or it won't roll properly.
Ume Shiso - Umeboshi is a Japanese pickled plum with a tart and salty taste. Combined with the fresh, herbaceous flavor of green shiso leaves, it creates a refreshing balance of flavors and tastes while adding a beautiful red hue to the roll. To make Ume Shiso Kappa Maki, follow the Cucumber Maki recipe below but add a thin smear of umeboshi paste to the center of the rice before laying a few halves of shiso leaves on top along with the cucumber.
Shio Konbu - For those who love umami, the Shio Konbu Kappa Maki is a must-try. Shio Konbu is a preserved Japanese kelp simmered in salt water before being dried. It's salty and packed with umami, which adds a satisfyingly meaty flavor to this vegetarian roll. To make Shio Konbu Kappa Maki, follow the kappa maki recipe below, but add a sprinkle of shio konbu strips along with the cucumber before rolling.
Serve it With
This recipe will make nine kappa maki rolls. I usually serve these with soy sauce, wasabi, and gari (pickled ginger). If you want more variety, you can make other kinds of sushi rolls, such as California Rolls, Caterpillar Rolls, or Spicy Tuna Rolls, by preparing different fillings. To make this a full meal, consider starting with a batch of Edamame, and serving the rolls with a side of Miso Soup. For a traditional dessert, you can make my Ohagi (sweet red bean paste with mochi rice), and for something more modern, give my No-Churn Green Tea Ice Cream a try.
Kappa Maki (a.k.a. kyuri maki) is a type of hosomaki or thin sushi roll that's often served at the end of an omakase sushi meal along with tekka maki (tuna roll), kanpyo maki (seasoned gourd roll), and natto maki (fermented soy bean roll). It's named after a mythical aquatic creature from traditional Japanese folklore that's said to like cucumbers and the main ingredients are just cucumber, sushi rice and nori.
Kappa Maki is a 5-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
ka like copy
pa like pond
ma like mall
ki like key
One batch of sushi rice makes 700 grams of rice, and each cucumber roll uses about 80 grams of rice, so you should be able to make 9 Kappa Maki rolls with this recipe.
As long as you use vegan sugar in your sushi rice, Kappa Maki is vegetarian and vegan friendly.
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 batch sushi rice
- 5 full sheets nori (or 9 half sheets)
- 2 Japanese cucumbers (see headnotes for preparation and substitutes)
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- Make a bowl of tezu by diluting 1 tablespoon rice vinegar in 1 cup of cold water.
- Place a half sheet of nori at the bottom edge of your sushi mat with the smooth side facing down.
- Wet your hands with the tezu and scoop approximately 80 grams from 1 batch sushi rice into your hand, shaping it into a cylinder that's a little wider than your hand.
- Keep your hands wet enough so the rice does not stick, and spread the rice cylinder across the nori from one side to the other, leaving a 1-centimeter (.4-inch) gap along the top of the nori.
- Use one hand as a border along one side of the nori. Dig the tips of your fingers from the other hand into the rice just below the top margin and press the rice down towards the bottom edge, leaving a .5 centimeter (.2-inch) gap along the bottom edge of the nori.
- Sprinkle the rice with some toasted sesame seeds and place a cucumber stick in the center of the rice. You can also add ume and shiso leaves or shio konbu to the roll here but be careful not to overload your roll, or it will not close.
- Place your thumbs under the sushi mat, and use your fingers to hold the filling(s) in place. Flip the bottom of the sushi mat up and over the fillings to connect the bottom margin of nori with the small ridge of rice along the top.
- Now tip the roll 90° so that the seam of the nori is on the bottom.
- Press the sides of the sushi roll between your fingers and thumbs to flatten them out.
- Use your index fingers to press down on the top of the mat (while supporting the sides of the mat with your remaining fingers) to flatten off the top.
- To cut the roll, assuming your roll is 19cm wide, use a ruler to score the roll at 3.2cm, 6.4 cm, and 9.5cm.
- Remove the ruler, wet your knife with a damp towel, and cut the roll in half using short back-and-forth strokes. Line the two halves of sushi up.
- Cut the two halves of sushi together where you scored one of them earlier.
- Tip the rolls up on their sides to expose the filling and plate.