These vegan sushi rolls with crispy tofu, fresh vegetables, quick-pickled onions, and spicy mayo feel like a special-occasion dinner, but are actually quite easy to make. No special equipment needed!
Making vegan sushi at home is shockingly simple. All you need is some freshly cooked rice, colorful veggies, crispy tofu, and nori (dried seaweed). And no, you don’t need a rice cooker or even a sushi mat!
Homemade veggie sushi rolls are one of my favorite weeknight dinners. I pour myself a glass of wine, play some jams, and have myself a little kitchen party while I make the rolls. Even though the whole process takes all of 15 minutes, it’s still a nice way to wind down from the day.
What’s In These Vegan Sushi Rolls
Instead of raw fish, these rolls have crispy seared tofu, crunchy raw cucumbers and carrots, quick-pickled red onions, and seasoned rice, all wrapped up in nori. Although I wouldn’t claim these rolls are “authentic”, I’d say they’re more like Korean gimbap than Japanese sushi rolls.
Ingredients and Variations
The Rice: Sushi is usually made with medium- or short-grain white rice (often labeled “sushi rice”). Although I typically advocate for whole foods, I prefer refined white rice versus brown rice here because it’s stickier and has a more delicate texture. Brown rice is slightly more difficult to work with while rolling sushi.
The Tofu: I use extra firm tofu here, which I press, season with salt and pepper, and sear in a skillet until golden brown and crispy. (More details below)
The Veggies: I love how the freshness of raw carrots and cucumbers balances out the “meaty” tofu. But you can definitely get creative with these sushi rolls and use: roasted sweet potatoes, raw mango, avocado, scallions, thinly sliced and sauteed shiitake mushrooms, cilantro, and even thinly sliced purple cabbage.
The Quick-Pickled Onions: Pickled veg adds a brightness to vegan sushi rolls that sort of mimics the brininess of raw fish. You can also try quick-pickled carrots or daikon here. Or, substitute with kimchi. Without this element, this sushi doesn’t feel balanced (well to me, anyway).
The Nori: Sushi-size dried seaweed wraps are available in many supermarkets these days. You can also find them at Asian markets and online.
The Spicy Mayo: I like to dip these nori rolls in spicy mayo as well as in soy sauce. It adds the richness that you’d otherwise get from raw fish in traditional sushi. There are lots of vegan mayo options these days. Sir Kensington’s is my favorite.
How to Make Sushi Rice
There are a lot of ways to prepare rice for sushi/gimbap – I’m sure if you ask ten different cooks you’ll get ten different answers. Here’s the technique I’ve found works for me…
First, combine rinsed sushi rice with water and salt in a pot. Bring it to a boil, then simmer covered until all the water is absorbed (15-20 minutes). DO NOT STIR the rice while it’s cooking, as you’ll risk ending up with sticky, mushy rice.
Next, turn the heat off and let the pot stand covered for 10-15 minutes more, still not stirring. This moment allows the steam in the pot to get absorbed by the rice, resulting in a fluffy, not mushy rice.
Finally, stir in some seasoned rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil. Seasoning the rice makes a subtle but important difference in sushi.
How to Make Crispy Tofu For Sushi
There are two main elements to making the crispiest tofu possible: pressing the tofu before cooking + not touching it while it sears.
To press tofu (without a designated tofu press), place the block on a plate, then top it with another plate or cutting board, and weigh it down with something heavy (like a couple of cans/jars). Let this contraption stand for 15-30 minutes, periodically draining off the water that pools at the bottom of the plate. Getting rid of this excess moisture is key to getting that golden brown crust.
Next, slice the tofu into slabs and season with salt and pepper. Cook the slabs over medium-high heat until golden brown and crispy, which takes at least 10 minutes per side. Resist the urge to move or flip the tofu before it’s ready.
Making These Sushi Rolls In Advance
Store leftover vegan sushi rolls in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Keep the rolls whole (not sliced) until you’re ready to eat them; otherwise, the rice will dry out. I like to bring leftover sushi to room temperature before eating (or just pop it in the microwave for 10 seconds).
Check out these other takeout-inspired recipes…
- Soba Noodle Bowl with Tofu, Cucumbers and Peanuts
- Enoki Mushroom “Carnitas” Tacos
- Creamy Veg Curry with Crispy Tofu and Sesame Noodles
- Vegetable Fried Brown Rice with Tofu
These vegan sushi rolls with crispy tofu and fresh veg feel like a special-occasion dinner, but are actually quite easy to make. No special equipment needed!
- 2 cups medium- or short-grain white rice, rinsed
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided
- One 14-ounce package extra firm tofu
- 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar, divided
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil, like avocado, organic canola, or refined coconut
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup vegan mayo
- Hot sauce, to taste
- 2 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick batons
- 2 small Persian cucumbers, cut into 1/4-inch-thick batons
- 6–7 sushi-size nori sheets
- Soy sauce, for serving
- In a medium pot, combine the rice with 4 cups water and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover tightly with a lid and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until all the water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes (do not stir during cooking). Turn the heat off and let the rice stand covered for 10 more minutes to steam.
- Meanwhile, press the tofu. Drain the tofu and squeeze out some of the water by pressing on the block with your palms. Place the tofu on a plate then top it with another plate or cutting board and weigh it down with something heavy (like a couple of cans), to squeeze out as much water as possible (or use a tofu press if you have one). Let stand for 15 to 30 minutes, periodically draining off the excess water.
- Next, pickle the onions. In a medium shallow bowl or jar, combine 1/2 cup rice vinegar with 1/3 cup water. Add the onions, making sure they’re fully submerged, and let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. (See note below)
- While the rice is still hot, add 2 teaspoons sesame oil and the remaining 3 tablespoons rice vinegar. Using a wooden spatula, gently toss the rice. Let stand uncovered until cool enough to handle.
- Meanwhile, cook the tofu. Cut the tofu lengthwise into 8 slabs. Lay the slabs side by side on a cutting board and season with salt and pepper.
- Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Place the tofu seasoned side down in the skillet in a single layer; season the top-facing side. Cook until crispy and golden brown on the bottom, about 10 minutes, then flip and brown the other side. Transfer tofu to a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil.
- To make the spicy mayo, stir the mayo with enough hot sauce to taste, starting with 1-2 teaspoons and working your way up, depending on how spicy you want it.
- When the tofu is cool enough to handle, slice each slab in half, making 16 batons in total.
- To make the rolls, lay 1 piece of nori on a work surface, shiny side down. Place about 3/4 cup rice in the center. Using wet hands, gently spread the rice all the way to the edges, leaving a 1-inch border at the top. Place 2 tofu batons on the bottom third of the rice, followed by a few pieces of carrot, cucumber, and pickled onions. Take the bottom edge and tightly roll over the fillings, continuing to roll up. Brush the top border with a wet finger and roll over the border to seal the roll. Continue with the remaining ingredients.
- Using a very sharp knife, cut each roll crosswise into 8 pieces. Serve with the spicy mayo and soy sauce.
Quick-pickled onions will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
- Serving Size: 1 roll, without spicy mayo
- Calories: 390
- Fat: 10.2 g
- Carbohydrates: 55.7 g
- Fiber: 3 g
- Protein: 15 g
Keywords: vegan, sushi, nori, tofu, gimbap