By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Oct 05, 2007 at 5:25 AM

There is something undoubtedly mysterious about the art of sushi.

Sushi commonly involves several components and there's usually a process to eating it. Plus, in most restaurants the delicate little pieces are so artfully arranged and properly placed you almost feel wrong slathering them in soy sauce and mashing them up in your mouth.

After that first bite, however, you quickly realize that although the intricate Japanese rice concoctions are nice to look at, they were in fact diligently crafted do nothing but please your palate.

Sushi is a delicious, healthy and fun way to dine, and it definitely doesn't require a professional chef. Rolling your own sushi maki rolls is actually quite simple -- once you get the hang of it -- and is a great idea for group dinners and parties.

It used to be that you had to go to an ethnically authentic grocery store like Asian Mart, 1125 N. Old World 3rd St., to get all the necessary supplies, but recently more and more commercial food suppliers like Pick 'n Save's Metro Market, 1123 N. Van Buren St., have stocked their shelves with just about all your sushi rolling needs. Note: It's still cheaper to buy in bulk from Asian Mart than it is to purchase pre-packaged goods from Pick 'n Save.

Here's what you'll need:

Accessories & supplies:
Bamboo rolling mats
Bamboo sushi press (Optional)
Several small dipping saucers
Lots of chopping space

Sushi or Basmati rice (Don't use long-grain rice)
Rice or sushi vinegar
Nori (Dry, flat seaweed wrappers)
Soy / tamari sauce
Pickled ginger
Wasabi powder / prepared wasabi (Hot Japanese horse radish)

Popular maki filling:
Shitake mushroom (Sauté first)
Sweet potato
Green onions

Additional filling ideas:
Fesh Mint
Toasted sesame seeds
Fresh basil
Hot chili sauce
Cream cheese or seasoned mayo

Appetizers & sides:
Edamame (Frozen is just as good and is cheaper)
Wasabi peas
Miso soup (You can find powdered packets for $1 at the grocery store or you can make it yourself by following the recipe below.*)
Seaweed salad (Pick 'n Save sells it pre-made in its sushi deli case)

Sake (Downer Wine & Spirits has a nice selection)
Japanese beer (Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo are good options)
Hot tea

With everything you need in one place, you're ready to begin this adventure. A helpful hint is to have everything chopped and separated into bowls before you start rolling so that you can go through the process like an assembly line.

One of the best things about rolling your own sushi is that no two rolls have to be the same, if you don't want them to be. This is your chance to be creative and experiment with different textures and flavors.

Step 1: Make your sushi rice. For two cups of cooked rice, add two tbsp of rice vinegar, two tbsp of sugar, and one tbsp salt. If you use sushi vinegar, forgo the sugar and salt, as it's already added.

Step 2: Place one nori sheet on the bamboo mat. With wet hands, cover the bottom 2/3 of your sheet with a thin layer of rice (no more than 1/3-in. thick)

Step 3: Add your filling. This can be any desired combo of the above items, although too many ingredients make rolling more difficult (think of it as a Japanese burrito.) Place veggies in the middle of the rice horizontally.

Step 4: Starting at the end closest to you, roll the bamboo mat toward the top, keeping a relatively firm grip. You might want to use water or vinegar to "seal" off the top of your nori when you're done rolling.

Step 5: Using a sharp, serrated knife (and it helps if it's wet, like when cutting brownies), slice the roll into one-in. pieces. Voila! Go crazy.

*Miso soup recipe
4 cups water
1/3 cup miso (Fermented soybean paste. Comes in white, red, or blended.)
3 green onions, chopped
1 tbsp shredded nori or wakame (Seaweed)
1/2 block firm silken tofu, cut into 1-in. cubes
Dash soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil 

Bring water to a slow simmer and add seaweed. Simmer at least five to six minutes. The longer you simmer the seaweed, the less of a salty fishy flavor it will have. 

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”