Sushi does not mean raw fish. You’ll probably know this if you’ve been vegan for a while. The idea that sushi must contain sea creature flesh is quite widespread in western countries, but anyone native to Japan will tell you that sushi actually means vinegared rice. So if you love sushi, fear not!
There are plenty of vegan sushi options available. Having lived in Japan as a vegan for several months, I’ve tried just about all of them. I have come to the conclusion that sushi of the vegan variety is far better than any that comes from the bodies of our friends from the sea.
The most common variety of vegan sushi comes in the form of what is known as maki sushi, or sushi rolls. This is the typical veggie rice and nori roll. Nori is the black sushi seaweed that traditionally makes up the outside of the roll (though in California rolls, the rice is on the outside). What’s great about maki sushi is that a large variety of veggies can be used, and they can be mixed and matched. Let’s start with traditional Japanese versions:
Kappa maki, or the cucumber roll is the most popular sushi roll and can be found at every sushi restaurant in Japan and locally alike. Named after a Japanese water spirit, this type of sushi has a fresh, light taste.
Other popular rolls found in Japan and most traditional Japanese restaurants include oshinko (pickled daikon), kampyo (dried gourd), shitake mushroom, and, for those who are a little more adventurous, there’s natto (fermented soy bean) and umeboshi (sour pickled plums).
But maki doesn’t stop here. You can also get your maki on with some adapted varieties such as avocado, yam tempura (make sure the batter is egg-less), roasted asparagus, julienned carrots, mango, red pepper or any combination of the above.
I particularly enjoy avocado cucumber; the creamy texture of the avocado complements the crunchy cukes and with a little bit of soy sauce and gari (pickled ginger), it is like a matsuri in your mouth (that’s a Japanese festival)! Gari is a necessity for a complete sushi experience. Traditionally used to cleanse the palate after each piece of sushi, this pale pink or yellowy pickled ginger packs a pleasant punch and delivers lots of healthy goodness: it aids in digestion, treats nausea, diarrhea and pain, and can even help prevent some types of cancer.
Less common in the vegan sushi world, nigiri simply means pressing or squeezing. Vegan nigiri sushi is therefore simply a vegetable pressed into a rectangular ball of rice, held together by a thin band of nori. Again, you can get creative with the veggies you use here. Steamed broccoli or cauliflower, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, and avocado are all great choices. Marinated tofu and TVP (texturized vegetable protein) also make for some good rice pressing.
Perhaps the most succulent of all vegan sushi; inarizushi (abbr. inari) is sushi rice packed into a pouch of fried tofu. The tofu is flavored using mirin, vinegar, and soy sauce and has a nice sweet flavor. If you are eating out, just make sure that dashi was not used in the recipe. (It means ‘fish flakes’, so it’s a vegan no-no!)
An integral part of sushi, nori is so much more than just a wrapper. Nori comes from red seaweed which is the variety most commonly used for food. Harvested from the sea and roasted, nori supplies you with a wealth of vitamins and nutrients including vitamins A, C, B, and E, iron, magnesium, and iodine.
Nori may also help prevent cancer and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. The vitamin C in nori also helps with iron absorption which makes this sea-flavored gem even more appealing. Moreover, a single sheet contains only 10 calories and also provides 1g each of protein and fiber.
Not crazy about sea weed? That doesn’t mean you have to give up on sushi! There are plenty of nori substitutes out there from soy sheets to kalypso (rice sheets with lettuce); you can even use the vegetables themselves as shown in the picture on the right.
The thing I really love about sushi is how easy and fun it is to make! Get yourself a bamboo mat, some sushi rice, rice vinegar, nori (or other), and any of the ingredients listed above and start rolling. And if you want to indulge in some merry maki-making, you could always bring in the sake (most brands are vegan – just double check).
Happy vegan sushi eating!