The Great Hot Dog Cook-Off is less than one week away, time for our chef-competitors to put on their thinking caps and channel their most dogged determination. Obviously, I’ve been putting myself in their shoes lately, and this is what I’d do if I were entering the Veggie Dog category next Saturday: layer a heap of sweet vinegar-laced sushi rice atop a sheet of nori, place a cold veggie link inside it with a squirt of wasabi mayo, and roll with it. The Maki Dog: summer’s healthy, chilled, surprisingly tasty answer to dull dog boredom.
Of course, for a hot dog experiment of this kind of unprecedentedness, I had to invite my friends over for a tasting session. We finished the pack of dogs between the four of us, and fought for the last link. One of the great things about this dish was also how easy and fun it was to make. Since the veggie dogs are pre-cooked to begin with, they can be used straight out of the package without any heating or grilling (a detriment to their rubbery texture, if you ask me). Unlike most maki rolls, where a clump of ingredients like sliced veggies or fish need to be carefully pressed while rolling the maki roll up in order to create a uniform thickness, this cylindrical hot dog could be slapped down on the prepared nori sheet and rolled with one hand in a snap. And instead of spicy mustard, how about a little sharp, spicy wasabi mayonnaise to draw a squiggle with on top?
My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed this Maki Dog night and I’d gladly eat these again, maybe pack them for lunch sometime. It’s a great improvement on the Health Factor than my last hot dog creation, the Baked Brie Dog. I might want to try stuffing julienned cucumber around the veggie link next time for a little crunch, or what about (as Karol suggested) crispy, tempura-like french fries? They might not stay crispy for too long, but who can resist a hot dog and fries (in seaweed)?
I don’t eat veggie dogs very often, nor do I find occasion to cook myself meat hot dogs too much. I wouldn’t want to try this application out with a cold beef frank, to be honest, but I suppose it might be alright if grilled a little first and then chilled. The sushi rice and nori are already fairly salty, and the mild-tasting veggie dog seemed to complement them just enough without overpowering the entire roll.
I’d like to think of the Great Hot Dog Cook-Off as the hot dog connoisseur’s antithesis to the horror and blasphemy of Nathan’s famed hot dog eating competition that went down yesterday in Coney Island; the gastronome’s response to gluttony. I’m not trying to be overly prudish or snobby, but something about the fact that there is a global food shortage, major inflation on food costs in this country, and potentially even more increases on the horizon, watching people stuff 66 hot dogs in their mouths in ten minutes makes me want to puke — even if the champs didn’t, this time. (No, I didn’t watch the eating competition on TV; still scarred from seeing Kobayashi puke onto his hot dog then continue to eat it last year.)
So while we eat and drink plenty at the Great Hot Dog Cook-Off, I hope all the contestants, guests and surprise judges can feel proud that the object of the entire event is to benefit those less fortunate. By selling out tickets, we’ve already raised $1,500 for the Food Bank for NYC, and hope to bolster that a little bit at the contest when audience members vote for their favorite dogs. Of course, a round-up of the culinary creations that will be spawned this Saturday will be posted soon afterward. In the meantime, I’ll be on a hot dog diet.
Maki Veggie Dogs
(makes 8 dogs)
1 pkg 8 vegetarian/soy protein links (I prefer Tofu Pups brand)
4 nori seaweed sheets, folded in half and broken into 8 rectangular sheets
1 cup sushi rice
2 tablespoons sushi vinegar (can be purchased pre-mixed, or made from rice vinegar and seasonings)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons wasabi powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon rice vinegar (or substitute white vinegar)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Steam the sushi rice as you would any other type of rice — a rice cooker is preferable. Line the bottom of a wide-bottomed bowl with a tablespoon or so of the sushi vinegar. With a soft spatula, gently transfer the rice to the bowl. Sprinkle the remaining sushi vinegar throughout as you fold the rice, carefully so as not to break any grains, to both aerate and evenly distribute the vinegar. Cover bowl with a wet cloth and cool a few minutes before using.
Make the wasabi mayonnaise: Combine the mayonnaise, wasabi powder, sugar, rice vinegar and salt and mix well. (Optional: transfer to a piping bag or a plastic bag with a corner snipped off in order to pipe drizzles of mayonnaise on top of your maki dog.)
Place a nori sheet on a sushi rolling mat (if you do not have one, it’s not impossible to roll it up; just place sheet on a flat surface). Wet your fingertips and stick bits of sushi rice onto the sheet quickly, so as not to stick to your fingers (too much). Stick enough on the sheet to create a somewhat even, thin layer of rice. If desired, spread some of the wasabi mayonnaise in a line at the bottom of the rectangular sheet. Place a cold, uncooked veggie dog at the bottom, and roll starting from the bottom until you get all the way to the top. Squeeze some of the wasabi mayonnaise on top of the maki dog if desired, and serve.
(for 4-8 servings, depending on appetite)
1 pkg 8 soy protein links: $3.99
4 nori sheets (at $1.75/pkg of 10): $0.65
1 cup sushi rice (at $7.99/5 lb sack): $0.50
2 tablespoons sushi vinegar (at $2.25/bottle): $0.20
2 teaspoons wasabi powder (at $3.50/small jar): $0.50
2 tablespoons mayonnaise: $0.25
1 teaspoon each sugar, rice vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt: $0.25
Four brownie points: I think I can get used to these veggie dogs. 2.5 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein per serving is nothing to be ashamed of, indeed. As mentioned, the cold, un-cooked taste and texture of these soy protein links suited them the best, for me. No hefty use of condiments is needed here, too, since the heat of wasabi is so strong you’ll want to go easy on the mayonnaise spread for these. And, though much has been purported of the benefits of seaweed in recent years, there’s no denying that nori is a densely packed source of calcium, zinc and iodine (as well as sodium, however).
Three maple leaves: Aside from the tofu dogs, most of these ingredients were imported and purchased at an Asian grocery in the city: nori, sushi rice, wasabi powder, and the vinegar. I’m not sure how you could avoid this, but I do know that the staples will last you many, many maki-making sessions. Wasabi powder, anyone? I think I’m going to be experimenting with this one by putting it in marinades next…