While sushi chefs have an inscrutable image to many Americans, the making of makizushi (also called norimaki) at home isn't all that inscrutable. Better than with other types of sushi, an amateur using impeccably fresh ingredients and a little practice can attempt makizushi with excellent results.

Often the first experience Americans have with sushi, makizushi means rolled sushi and consists of thin strips of vegetables, seafood, omelette and/or raw fish rolled in sushi rice and crisp black nori, sheets of dried seaweed. As evidence of the Japanese emphasis on culinary beauty, the rolls are artistically cut into rounds displaying a kaleidoscope of the colorful filling ingredients surrounded by snowy rice and enclosed in a thin rim of black nori.

A "roll-your-own" makizushi party is not only an unusual culinary and dining experience for most people but is also easy on the hostess. You need only to set out sushi rice, nori, dips and condiments and an array of fillings and then lead your guests through the easily acquired skills of rolling their own sushi.

A half hour or so before your guests arrive, it is a good idea to make up a few sample rolls of makizushi and arrange them attractively on a tray for your guests to sample as they arrive, to acquaint them with the various fillings. If they are already sushi fans, they will clamor for their turns at the sushi mats. And after a taste, even the uninitiated will be eager to acquire the skill and sample the sushi.

Sushi is very nutritious. Other than the belly cut of tuna called toro, which contains about as many calories from fat as does an equal sized piece of marbled beef, sushi ingredients are very low in fat. Most other fresh seafood used in sushi are lean, very low in calories and very high in protein. The fresh vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals and the nori contains a fair amount of protein and is extremely high in vitamin A, C and the B vitamins. The rice, of course, is a complex carbohydrate. Depending on the fillings used, a roll of makizushi, which makes 8 generous pieces, will have 100 to 200 calories. Very satisfying and digestible without being filling.

Most of the filling ingredients can be prepared the day before, the rice an hour or two before and only the fresh, raw seafood need be kept chilled and sliced at the last minute to maximize freshness. Buy your seafood from a fresh fish market, not from a packaged fish counter, and be sure to tell your fish dealer that your purchase will be eaten raw so that he will cut you a piece of his freshest. Good sources for fresh fish for sushi are Sutton Place Gourmet on New Mexico Avenue, Fishermen's Marketing on MacArthur Boulevard and Mikado on Wisconsin Avenue.

Other than toro, other raw fish fillets that can be eaten in sushi when fresh are fluke (a local flounder called hirame in Japanese), Boston mackerel (kan saba in Japanese), Japanese shad, yellowtail, red snapper, halibut and sea bass. Because of possible parasites, anadromous (ocean fish that spawn in fresh water) fish should not be eaten raw, thus salmon should be cured. Squid should be frozen, octopus cooked and frozen, while seafood such as shrimp and crab should be cooked.

Little or no special equipment needs to be purchased, as most kitchens have reasonable substitutes for authentic Japanese utensils. You will need an inexpensive bamboo mat, called a makisu, for rolling the sushi. A clean woven bamboo placemat will do. You will also need a very sharp knife.

Other rather pricy equipment that is nice to have though not necessary is a hangiri, a wooden tub for tossing the rice with the vinegar solution and an ohachi, a covered wooden bowl to keep the rice moist and at the appropriate temperature during sushi making. You can use a large shallow bowl to toss the rice in, and cover it with a damp towel to keep it warm and moist. Avoid using your favorite wooden salad bowl, which will very likely leave your sushi rice tasting like olive oil and garlic.

A flat wooden paddle called shamoji used to toss the rice with the vinegar dressing is nice too, but a large, flat wooden spoon or spatula will do. An uchiwa, or woven straw or paper fan is also used to cook the rice while tossing it, but a shirt cardboard or folded newspaper work just as well. For making omelet, the Japanese make a nifty little rectangular omelet pan which assures that when the omelet is cut in strips, all the pieces will be the same length. A regular omelet pan or seasoned skillet will do. Area Japanese specialty stores carry most of these items.

All makizushi are rolled or wrapped in nori, paper-thin sheets of dried seaweed that come in squares and rectangles of various sizes depending on the kind of sushi to be made. Nori also comes in various qualities from cheap greenish or purplish sheets full of holes that shatter easily when handled, to relatively expensive smooth, glossy black ones, free of holes and thin spots, that not only hold together when handled, but taste better. It is worth the extra expense to buy good quality nori. Look for packages that say "roasted" seaweed or nori. To bring out its full flavor, nori should be toasted very briefly over an open flame before using. Pre-roasted nori saves this extra step.

Wasabi, Japanese green horseradish, is used in makizushi and also as a dip for it. It comes in little tins in a powdered form and is reconstituted with a little warm water to make a paste. Most sushi eaters also use soy sauce as a dip. Pale pink pickled ginger slices called sushaga or gari are also served along with sushi. A bite of gari is taken between mouthfuls of different kinds of sushi to freshen the palate. It can be purchased fresh in Japanese markets.

Sushi-meshi, or vinegared rice, is the soul of sushi. Though it is not difficult to make, it is very important that you follow the directions precisely. Good sushi rice should be tender but chewy, shiny and pearlescent, and sticky enough to hold together in a roll or a "finger." It should also have just the right balance of vinegar, sugar and salt to enhance the flavor of the rice itself, the nori and the fillings.

Always use good quality Japanese short-grain rice and always wash and drain it thoroughly before cooking. Though the addition of the konbu, dried seaweed, to the rice could be considered optional, it adds a faint lovely aroma of the sea to the finished rice.

The easiest way to make perfect rice every time is with an automatic rice cooker, but if you don't have one, use a heavy bottomed pot with a tight fitting cover. Just remember, once the rice has come to a boil and the pot has been covered, no peeking. SUSHI RICE

This is enough to get eight moderate sushi eaters about halfway through the evening. Rather than doubling the recipe, it is better to make two batches, keeping one covered until needed.

3 1/3 cups short grained rice, rinsed thoroughly and drained

4 cups cold water

3-inch piece konbu seaweed, wiped clean and cut in a fringe on one side

5 tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons kosher salt or sea salt

5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Japanese rice vinegar

Combine the rice and the water in a saucepan with a tight-fitting cover. Wipe the piece of konbu with a damp cloth and place it on top of the rice. Partially cover the pan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. When it has come to a boil, remove and discard the konbu, cover the pan tightly and boil on high heat for 2 minutes. Without removing the cover, reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes. Reduce heat again to a very low setting and cook 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the pan to rest undisturbed on the burner for 10 or 15 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, prepare the vinegar solution, giving it enough time to return to room temperature. Combine the sugar, salt and vinegar in a small glass or enamel pan. Stir over very low heat until dissolved. Remove from heat immediately and transfer to a bowl to cool. Do not add ice cubes to the solution.

When both the rice and the vinegar dressing are ready, turn the hot rice into the hingiri or a large, shallow bowl and begin to add the dressing, a little bit at a time while holding the bowl steady, tossing the rice and fanning it.

If you're counting, you've probably figured out that what with the pouring and holding and tossing and fanning this is not a one-person job. So enlist the help of a friend and one of you can pour and fan while the other holds and tosses. Whatever arrangement you come up with, be sure that the dressing is added very gradually, and that the rice is tossed gently and thoroughly after each addition while it is being fanned continuously to evacuate the steam and heat. Care should be taken while tossing the rice to use a slice and fold motion so as not to smash the grains. The entire process should take about 10 minutes, at which point the rice should be about body temperature. Sushi rice can be made up to 2 hours in advance if covered closely in an ohachi or with a damp towel. Hold at room temperature. Do not refrigerate. Makizushi Fillings

The options for fillings for makizushi are considerable. Aside from raw and cooked seafood and fresh vegetables, there are dried mushrooms, calabash shavings, a wide variety of tart and colorful Japanese pickles, a paste made of sour plum, bright-pink sweetened dried fish flakes, strips of sweetened omelet, mock crab legs and canned sea urchin roe. There are also some unexpected choices such as raw or rare beef tenderloin, avocado, poached Chinese lap cheong sausages, and Korean kim chee. A Japanese friend even assures me that in many Japanese homes, the likes of chopped ripe olives and vienna sausages are used, and even hot dogs. The number of fillings you offer is a matter of personal choice, but for a party of eight, 10 to 12 fillings would be generous. Those indicated with an asterisk are particularly popular.

To serve eight sushi eaters, prepare up to 1 1/2 cups of up to 12 different fillings, striking a balance between seafood and vegetables, color and texture, sharpness and blandness. Unless otherwise noted, all unfamiliar ingredients are available in general Asian markets. Some items, as noted, are usually found only in Japanese specialty and food stores. The fillings:

Abalone: Awabi, canned, drain and cut in thin strips.

Asparagus: Choose slender stalks, trim off bottoms and drop into boiling, salted water for 1 minute. Plunge into iced water to set color. Drain. Cut in thin strips lengthwise.

Avocado*: use firm but ripe fruits. Peel, cut in strips and toss gently with lemon juice to prevent them from darkening. Used in the California roll.

Beef tenderloin: Can be raw or very rare. Use alone in makizushi with a good dab of wasabi.

Carrots*: Use 4 or 5 slender, straight carrots. Peel and cut in thin strips and poach until barely tender in a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon mirin (sweet rice wine), water to just cover. Drain. Prepare up to 24 hours in advance and store in the refrigerator.

Chinese sausages (lap cheong): Poach 5 minutes in boiling water, drain and cut in halves or quarters lengthwise. Chinese sausage tastes best in makizushi when it is used alone or with pickled daikon.

Crab*: Frozen, shelled king crab legs should be cut in halves or quarters lengthwise. If using fresh or pasteurized crab meat, toss with a little lemon juice before serving.

Cucumber*: Small pickling type cucumbers available in Japanese markets are ideal. Scrub and cut in thin strips lengthwise. Do not peel. Hydroponic cucumbers are a satisfactory substitute. Prepare as for pickling cucumbers but remove most of the seeds.

Deep fried bean curd (usu-age dofu): Available in Japanese markets, cut in thin strips.

Dried black (shiitake) mushrooms*: Soak 10 shiitakes in boiling water to cover for 15 minutes. Save the soaking liquid. Remove and discard stems and cut the mushrooms in strips. Add 2 teaspoons handashi powder, instant Japanese fish stock granules, 1 tablespoon ake, Japanese rice wine, 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon soy sauce to the soaking liquid and simmer 30 minutes or until almost all of the liquid is absorbed.

Dried calabash or gourd strips (kampyo)*: Available in cellophane packets in Japanese markets. Cut in 6-inch lengths and soak 10 minutes in cold water. For half of a 3/4-ounce packet of kampyo, drain and simmer 15 minutes in 3/4 cup boiling water and 1 teaspoon handashi powder.

Flying fish roe (tabiko)*: Tiny, bright orange eggs that fairly explode with briny flavor when bitten into. Used in the California roll. Available in Japanese markets.

Green beans*: Choose straight, slender beans. Snip off the tips and drop into boiling salted water. Boil 1 minute, drain and plunge in iced water to stop the cooking and preserve the bright green color. Drain and cut in half lengthwise.

Halibut (hirame)*: Use raw, cut in long, thin strips.

Korean spicy pickled cabbage (kim chee): Available in jars. Spicy and exhilarating. Use alone in makizushi.

Lobster: Use lightly cooked lobster tail strips.

Lox: Cut in thin strips.

Mock crab legs*: Available frozen in supermarkets. Cut in halves or thirds lengthwise. Used in the California roll.

Omelet*: Make sweetened omelets by combining 4 medium eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Heat a lightly greased omelet pan and pour in the egg mixture to the depth of 1/4 inch. Cook over moderate heat until lightly browned on the bottom. Turn and lightly brown the other side. Cool and cut in thin strips. Repeat with remaining egg mixture. Can be made a day ahead.

Pickled yellow daikon radish (takuan)*: Sweet, tart and crunchy, this pickled form of the giant white radish is available in plastic pouches. Peel and cut in thin strips. Store unused portion in the refrigerator.

Red snapper (tai): Have fish dealer skin and fillet the fish. Cut in thin strips just before serving.

Salmon (sake'): smoked, cut in thin strips.

Scallops (hotategai)*: Use very fresh sea scallops and julienne just before serving.

Sea bass (suzuki): Have the fish dealer skin and fillet the fish. Cut in thin strips just before serving.

Sea urchin roe (uni): Rich and salty, mustard colored, available in jars in Japanese markets.

Sesame seeds: Lightly toast white sesame seeds in a dry skillet over moderate heat. Sprinkle on the outside of the California roll.

Shiso leaves: Deeply serrated leaves with a unique flavor and aroma, these leaves are a member of the mint family and often used in the "hand roll." Available, fresh, in Japanese markets.

Shrimp (ebi)*: Usually cooked for makizushi. Boil unpeeled shrimp 2 minutes in salted water, drain, peel, and cut in strips.

Snow peas (saya enda)*: Trim off ends and drop into boiling, salted water for 1 minute. Drain and plunge into iced water to stop cooking and set color. Cut in thin strips.

Sour plum paste (neri ume): Made from brined, unripe plums flavored with red shiso leaves, sour plum paste imparts a salty-sour taste that is very astringent but refreshing. Available in bottles and cellophane packets in Japanese markets.

Spinach or watercress: Use only fresh, not frozen spinach. Wash and trim off tough stems. Blanch in salted water, drain and squeeze gently to remove excess moisture.

Sweetened, pink, dried fish powder: Sounds terrible, but is mostly sweet and only faintly reminiscent of fish. Its bright pink hue adds an unexpected shade in the sushi spectrum of colors.

Tuna*: The most popular fish used in sushi, tuna has deep red flesh and a mild pleasant flavor similar to raw beef. Though toro, the rich belly cut, is the best, it is extremely expensive and too good for makizushi. It should be saved for sashimi or hand-formed nigiri-zushi. Choose, rather, the maguro, a leaner, redder cut with excellent flavor. When buying tuna, look for a regular shaped piece, free of dark, discolored areas. Slice in thin strips just before serving. Types of Makizushi

The three basic types of makizushi differ in size or shape. There is also the very popular "California roll."

Futomaki: A very fat colorful roll utilizing a full sheet of nori and about 1 1/4 cups of rice, has as many as 5 or 6 different, compatible, filling ingredients, such as kampya, (calabash shavings), tuna, shiitake (dried mushrooms), cucumber, watercress and takuan, (pickled daikon).

Hosomaki: A slender roll, using a half sheet of nori and half as much rice, usually contains only one or two fillings. If filled with cucumber, it is called kappa-maki, with kampya it is called kampya-maki, etc.

Temaki: The "hand roll sushi" is usually made with a half sheet of nori though sometimes smaller sheets are used, and is rolled up into an ice cream cone shape, in the hand, without a mat. It takes a couple of tries to perfect this technique, but once you've got it down, it provides the neophyte an apt tool for enjoying instant sushi.

California roll: A very popular, wrong-side-out sushi roll features rich, creamy avocado slices, tangy, crunchy flying fish roe, and mock crab legs. Makizushi Making

To set up your "roll-your-own" stations for an easy flow of sushi making and eating, it is a good idea to place your plates and bowls of filling ingredients in the middle of a large table with easy access from all sides. For each "makizushi station" on the sides of the table, place a makisu mat, a small dish of wasabi, a stack of nori, a bowl of sushi rice, a small cutting board and sharp knife, a stack of small plates for guests to put their makizushi on, and a bowl of vinegar water solution (1 part rice vinegar to 4 parts water) to dip hands in while handling the sticky rice. A towel is helpful, too.

At the ends of the table place the fixings for temaki-zushi, (hand-rolled sushi) which include nori, rice, wasabi, vinegar-water solution, plates and a towel.

On a separate table or sideboard, arrange tiny bowls of soy sauce and wasabi for dipping, chopsticks, napkins, and drinks, which should include warmed sake, hot tea and/or Japanese beer. Guests can roll or hand roll their own sushi, reaching to the center of the table to choose fillings, and when finished with a roll, move to the sideboard and dip, eat and share their creations. Given a dozen or so fillings, the combinations are multitudinous and definitely the object of profuse sharing and comparing. Teams may spontaneously form, competitions develop and loyalties become established along the lines of magro, kampya, and shiitake, versus the California roll, etc.

To make futomaki, place a whole sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the mat, which is positioned to roll away from you. Spread about 1 1/4 cups of rice over the surface of the nori, moving it gently with moistened fingertips in a "tickling" motion. Spread it clear to the edges on 3 sides, leaving a 1-inch strip at the top of the nori uncovered. If desired use your finger to spread a thin line of wasabi across the center from side to side. Arrange several filling ingredients on top of the wasabi, while holding the ingredients in place with your fingers, use your thumbs to lift and roll the mat away from you, rolling the rice-covered nori around the fillings. Don't roll the mat into the sushi. When you get to the end and the roll is enclosed, reposition it on the mat and and wrap the mat around it.

Gently squeeze the roll into an evenly shaped cylinder, pressing so that it is firm and will hold its shape. Place the roll on the cutting board and cut, crosswise, into 8 equal pieces. Arrange pieces with the cut side up.

To make hosomaki, use a half sheet of nori, and about half as much rice. Nori is easily cut with scissors. Again leave a 1-inch border uncovered at the top. Proceed as for futomaki but use only 1 or 2 fillings.

To make temaki, place a quarter sheet of nori, shiny side down and diagonally on your left palm. Be sure your hand is dry so the nori doesn't stick to it. Place a tablespoon of rice in the center of the sheet, add a dab of wasabi and a little of 2 or 3 fillings. Roll up into a cone, squeezing gently. If necessary "glue" the nori to itself with a grain or two of rice.

To make a California roll, place a half sheet of nori on the sushi mat. Using wet hands, cover the entire surface of the nori with a thin layer of rice, about 1/2 cup. Sprinkle the surface of the rice evenly with unhulled sesame seeds. Carefully invert the sheet of rice-covered nori onto another sushi mat that has been covered with a piece of dampened plastic wrap. The rice will be between the plastic wrap and the nori. In a horizontal line across the empty surface of the nori, paint a thin stripe of wasabi. On top of the wasabi place thin wedges of avocado and strips of mock crab legs cut in quarters lengthwise. On top of the other ingredients, sprinkle a little band of flying fish roe. To roll, follow instructions for rolling futomaki, taking care not to roll the plastic wrap or sushi mat into the roll. Squeeze the roll gently while it is still inside the mat to give it a nice cylindrical shape. Remove from the mat, peel off the plastic wrap, and slice into 8 pieces. Arrange the pieces cut side up to serve.