Vegan Sushi, Baby!

by Sherri Koehler on September 19, 2008

So Andy’s been craving sushi. We’ve talked about going out to Mio, however, haven’t really followed through since Andy’s noted that it really smells of fish (something I’m not real wild about). Although we have made it at home in the past it isn’t something we’ve done in ages.

Well, that’s changed and we’ve been reminded that it isn’t all that difficult once you have all the ingredients prepped and ready to go. We couldn’t find the rolling mat so I improvised with a bamboo place mat folded in half. I discovered the avocado was all brown inside so while Andy ran to the market I got the rice prepped with some sushi vinegar. By the time he was back the rice was ready to go.

At first I tried pushing the rice into place with the paddle, but Andy quickly reminded me that in the past I found using wet hands worked best. He got me a small bowl of water so I could keep my hands wet and I quickly set to getting the rice spread out against the nori.

In pretty short order we had two avocado/cucumber rolls, one done inside-out. A vegan remake of a roll Andy used to love: vegan cream cheese, avocado, and asparagus tempura with spicy sauce and “roe” on top. We also made a yam tempura roll, one of my favorites. Some rice was left over and Andy had grilled some mock salmon. I put those on the top of rice, nigiri style, along with two pieces of tempura tofu.

All told there was an enormous pile of sushi! After both of us ate until quite full (and I sit here with two pieces next to me yet still), I had 12 pieces left for lunch/snack tomorrow at teacher training! What a delight to rediscover how much we enjoy making sushi at home.

So, how ’bout some details!

The shopping

  • There are some really particular things needed for sushi and most can be picked up at a well-stocked, Asian market. Fubonn might be a better option for eastside PDX folks whereas Uwajimaya would likely be easier for westside folks.
  • Strange things like mock crab bits and faux salmon (used to make some grilled “salmon” nigiri) are a speciality of Fubonn, there’s huge freezer section filled with mock meat.
  • Sushi rice is a particular type, shorter grained. This is important because it helps the rice stick together. There are short-grained brown rice varieties out there, when we make another back this will be tried and posted about.
  • Sushi vinegar, also known as Seasoned Rice Vinegar, is also something particular and you should use it.
  • The sheets of sea vegetable (a.k.a. seaweed) used to wrap roll are called nori. There are several types at an Asian market, just pick one that sounds good. These can be cut up at home if you want smaller bits for hand-rolls (think a little cone of rice and fillings as opposed to a cut-up roll) or strips for affixing things to the top of the rice for nigiri style sushi.
  • Tempura batter mix, wasabi paste, gari (pickled ginger eaten between different bites to clear the palate or sometimes with a bite), soy sauce (tamari or shoyu could also be used), and a bamboo rolling mat should also be at the same market you’re getting the rice, vinegar and nori at.
  • Vegan roe, made by Cavi-Art, can be obtained at Food Fight. New Seasons might be carrying this now. Made from sea vegetables this is salty, slightly crunchy, strangely accurate.
  • Vegan Cream Cheese — made by Tofutti and available at Food Fight, New Seasons, Whole Foods, and at Peoples Co-op in BULK!


  • The rice is vital to sushi. Sushi means “rice with vinegar” and goes back in tradition in Japan to salt-preserved fish being served with vinegared rice.
  • All the other ingredients are just added to the rice, so you want it to be right. Too sticky and it is like eating paste rolls. Too dry or too wet and the sushi falls apart.
  • I use about half a cup of this vinegar to 4 cups of cooked sushi rice. Some people call to add about a teaspoon of sugar for every two cups of rice, however, I do not do this as sushi vinegar already has sugar in it.
  • The vinegar should be tossed with the rice, I prefer to use a tall wooden bowl to do this in (traditionally it is a bamboo bowl), until the rice is evenly coated. I then cover the bowl with a tea towel while I prep the various fillings and toppings.
  • When ready the rice should be sticky, roughly room temperature, or slightly warmer.
  • Use wet hands to work with it, keep a small dish of water nearby when you’re making things.

The Stuff:

  • From here on out you can do whatever you want really! Slices of avocado, cucumber, daikon, carrot, bits of tofu (grilled, baked, fried, smoked, fresh, tempura battered, whatever), etc. All of these can be used inside of your rolls or topping nigiri-style, just go crazy with whatever you like.
  • Cut everything up into either thin strips for making rolls or small rectangle shapes (roughly 2″ by 4″) for nigiri
  • Make your tempura up ahead of time if you are including in rolls. You want everything prepped and ready to go so the fresh tempura can come from a brief drain & cool and go right into the sushi.
  • Directions/recipes I’ve seen for tempura note to use ice water, not merely cold, ice water to make the batter. This is supposed to keep it from absorbing too much oil and becoming greasy.

Maki Style:

  • These are the actual rolls, using the sheets of nori. The rice is spread onto the nori. If you flip it over, rice-side down (or spread rice and cover with nori) then you’ll be set to make an inside-out roll.
  • After you spread out the rice in a thin layer (e.g., about a half inch thick or less) using wet fingers and hands put a little of the desired filling onto the rice, spreading across the surface in a thin line.
  • Less is good when it comes to filling rolls, unless you’re trying to go for a huge roll by design.
  • Start the roll by turning over the edge nearest you filling so those things are on the inside. You use the mat to help turn the roll, tightening down on it as you go until the whole thing has been rolled up and you can give it a good squeeze inside the mat.
  • Cut in small rounds with a damp, sharp knife. We have a thin, cheap one with holes in the blade that came in a sushi making kit, it works well. Re-wet, clean the knife when it becomes sticky from the rice.

Close up of Cutting the Sushi

Nigiri style

  • This is the hand-rolled ovals of rice topped with stuff. (sorry the link I gave talks about making shrimp sushi, but it has good images to get the idea so just fill in “grilled tofu” every time you see/read “shrimp”)
  • You start by taking a small ball of rice into your wet hands and pressing/rolling it into an oval roughly 4 inches long, 2 inches wide, and a couple of inches deep (at least)
  • It is traditional to put a spot of wasabi onto the bit of food you’re going to put on top of the rice, but this can be skipped if it isn’t going to work well (e.g., asparagus tempura)
  • You press the rice into the back of your topping (if you used wasabi, that is the “back” side)
  • Roll the whole thing over and give it a slight press, roll it over again and repeat
  • If you’re going to wrap the whole thing in a bit of nori, do so now

That’s it! Sit back, enjoy the applause and the yummy food! (**note: rice is orange. These were taken Halloween 2008 and orange rice was made for an added festive touch)

Halloweed Sushi

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