Before you begin, you will need to learn how to prepare kampyo – essentially dried gourd strips boiled in soy sauce and dashi, or fish stock with a little sugar and salt for seasoning. Gourd can be difficult to find in its natural state, so you may want to substitute it with wide, dry noodles instead.
Place two strips of kampyo onto a flat surface, such as a chopping board. The strips have a tendency to curl up, so you may need to use a rolling pin to flatten them.
Next, lay the two strips of kampyo side by side on a sheet of Nori, remembering to leave a 5-10mm space at the top for ease of rolling later on. Trim off the excess with a sharp knife.
Fold the strip of Nori sheet at the top over the kampyo, pressing gently to help it stick. Then, fold the bottom of the sheet over the kampyo, so it becomes enveloped in the Nori. You will need to create different sizes for different letters. For example, an ‘L’ will require one long rectangle of Nori wrapped kampyo, and one separate short piece; an ‘O’ will require one large singular piece, and so will an ‘S’.
Place a moderately heavy, flat object on top of the Nori to help it adhere to the kampyo for approximately 30-60 seconds.
Here, we are creating the letters ‘E’ and ‘L’ in upper case, so you will need to make two smaller, thinner strips to create the ‘E’. As a rule of thumb, these should be half the width of the first strip made.
Once prepared and pressed, cut the Nori strips in half using a sharp knife. You should end up with one large piece and three small pieces for the ‘E’, along with one large and one small strip for the ‘L’.
Using your fingers, transfer a small amount of rice onto the large strip to be used for the ‘L’. Leave a few millimeters of space at one end. Remember not to compress the rice; instead, fluff it a little using your fingers.
Line up the small strip along one side of the rice, and using your other hand, build up the rice until it is level with the upright strip. At this stage, the moisture from the rice will have penetrated the Nori, so it should stand upright on its own.
Turn the letter over, and using your fingers, add a small quantity of rice onto the surface of the wider strip leaving approximately 5mm of space on either side. The sushi rice will act to prevent the ‘L’ from curving as you roll later on.
Lay a small strip flat on the chopping board, then add a small amount of rice onto the Nori. Place another small strip on top of the rice, so it looks like a filled sandwich. Add a further helping of rice, followed by the final small strip.
Turn the triple sandwich on its side, and gently lay it on top of the larger strip. It should look like an ‘E’ on its back. Use your fingers to apply a little pressure. This will cause the moisture of the rice to penetrate the Nori, helping it to adhere.
As with the ‘L’, you will need to add a small amount of rice to the back of the letter to prevent it from curling during the rolling process. Set both letters to one side while you prepare your base.
You will need to create a wider strip of Nori wrapped kampyo, approximately double that originally used to create the letter ‘L’.
Next, layer a strip of sushi rice across the central width of the Nori sheet, roughly 3 cm wide. Leave equal width on either side for rolling.
To achieve a perfect ‘O’, you can use your bamboo rolling mat to roll the sheet. Take care not to apply to much pressure, or you’ll risk compromising the structure of the letter.
As before, take a half sheet of Nori, and using your fingers, cover it with a thin layer of sushi rice. Leave a centimeter or so of space at either end for ease of rolling. Place your ‘O’ at one end of the sheet, then roll it over manually using your fingers – or with the bamboo rolling mat for a more uniform circular shape.
Follow the aforementioned steps to create the ‘L’, however, rather than using two strips of kampyo, you will need four.
Cut the sheet in half across the width.
Add a small amount of rice to the left hand side of the first segment, using your fingers to press it down gently and create a steeped slope. Then, fold the other half of the strip over the rice, so it slopes at a 45 degree angle. Press it down gently to help it adhere to the rice.
To make the ‘U’, simply arrange a thin strip of rice across the width of the strip. Flip it upside down, and use your fingers to gently press either side of the strip against the rice. You may want to use your bamboo rolling mat to improve the shape of the arc.
Add a little rice to either side of the ‘U’ to help them maintain their rigidity when rolling. Also do the same for the ‘V’.
Transfer a small amount of cooked sushi rice onto a half strip of Nori. Then, using your fingertips, gently fluff out the rice until it covers approximately 80% of the sheet. Remember to leave 1-2cm of space at each end for ease of folding.
Add your prepared letters to the center of the sheet perpendicular to one another. If you are making an ‘O’, you can use a whole strip of Nori wrapped kampyo.
Make sure there is ample rice to cover your letters, by lifting up both sides of the Nori sheet and holding them together. You should be able to discern any areas that need extra filling.
To roll your sushi roll, you can either do so manually by bring up one side of the sheet and curving it over, followed by the other. Or, use the rolling mat to bring each side of the sheet up and over, so that they overlap.
Remember, your sushi roll in its present state comprises two letters, so half of the sushi roll will be the letter ‘E’, and half will consist of the letter ‘L’. The same applies when you make the letters ‘V’ and ‘U’ together.
To reveal the letters, simply cut off a thin slice from each end. Then, cut your roll into small segments (the width will generally be determined by how many of the same letters are required). Repeat this process for subsequent letters. Once arranged, they should spell ‘L-O-V-E U’.
Tip: When serving, you can either stand the letters upright on a plate, or lying down. Consider using a few carrot and cucumber spirals to enhance the aesthetic design of your plate – or if you’re feeling adventurous, one or two mosaic design sushi rolls.