Super Post! Vegan Tuna Nigiri, Uni, and Smoked Salmon


Tuna nigiri made from slowly roasted watermelon

My vegan friend Saph came to visit last weekend, and I was entirely flummoxed by what I should do to amuse her during her stay. You see, the only way I know how to entertain guests is to throw delicious food at them until they can no longer move and resort to a slow crawl while clutching too full bellies. And that is not everyone’s idea of fun. Fortunately for me, when I asked Saph’s girlfriend Lisa for ideas, she did not hesitate to respond, “Extremely realistic vegan sushi. Make that and she will be super happy.”



Vegan uni made from soaked cashews and flaxseed oil

Now that is an easy guest to please, because extremely realistic vegan sushi has lately become an obsession of mine. Long time vegans will all understand when I say sushi that mimics the texture and taste of raw fish is one of the hardest things to fake. Vegans have vegan baking down to a science, vegan cheese has dozens of varieties, and there are more varieties of vegan milk than animal based milk. But jaw-droppingly delicious vegan sushi made me wish for a Star Trek replicator (did you know that Vulcans are vegetarians too?) so that I could just cheat and synthesize vegan sushi out of random molecules. Vegan sushi was a frontier yet to be explored and conquered…until now!

Today, I have three amazing recipes for vegan sushi. Having thought an awful lot about creating vegan sushi, I think that it needs to be conquered on three levels: 1) texture, 2) taste, and 3) appearance. Of all of those levels, the texture of raw fish is the most difficult to mimic, since there is nary a plant-based food in sight that has the buttery and silky texture of tuna sashimi.


Oh but wait there is! Watermelon. And I know what you’re thinking, “Wanda, you’ve been vegan too long. Watermelon does not have the texture of tuna sashimi at all.” But if we slowly bake the watermelon for about two hours, the texture transforms itself from crunchy and refreshing fruit to a delectable cut of the freshest sashimi. The color also changes from a light red to the dark ruby red of fresh ahi tuna.


Watermelon cubes that you slowly bake into tuna nigiri

The taste, however, leaves a little to be desired. Baked watermelon straight out of the oven tastes a bit like teriyaki sauce; there is some umami flavor there from the roasting, but there is a definite sweetness as well. To get rid of some of that sweetness, I soaked up the watermelon juice using paper towels, then marinated them in a combination of soy sauce, kelp flakes, and flaxseed oil. The kelp flakes add a fishy ocean taste. The flaxseed oil adds the buttery taste that you expect with fish, and it really tricks your taste buds because flaxseed oil has omega-3 fatty acids, just like fish oil does. Once I tasted the marinated watermelon, it was so similar to real sashimi that I ran around the kitchen happily screaming, “I’m a WIZARD!! A food wizard!”


­Next, I needed to replicate uni which is my second favorite type of sushi. If you are unfamiliar with uni, it is the sexual gonads of the sea urchin, and it is way better tasting than that sounds. It’s like eating a creamy cloud with the perfume of the ocean. Uni was actually extraordinarily easy to create using soaked cashews, flaxseed oil, and kelp flakes, and vegan uni is so yummy that I can just eat it with a spoon all day long. If you happen to be a uni-loving omnivore, but don’t have the fat paycheck to pay for your uni addiction, try this recipe out. Last time I checked, uni was going for $7-10 a plate in San Francisco (then again, everything is overpriced in San Francisco), and this recipe makes enough to have 12 plates of uni!


The last recipe is vegan smoked salmon sushi. This vegan smoked salmon would be equally happy to play the role as vegan lox with cream cheese on a bagel. I took a beet, and covered it in a salt paste, then slowly roasted it in the oven. Salt roasting the beet transforms it into a smooth, yet flaky texture and flavors the beet intensely as well. Marinating that in the same flaxseed oil-kelp flakes mixture helps boost the smoked salmon flavor.


Vegan Tuna Nigiri
makes 12-14 | prep time: 30 minutes | ready in: 4 hours
This is the tuna nigiri to end all your sushi cravings. Baking watermelon transforms it into a silky smooth and buttery piece of ruby red “tuna”, and then marinating it in kelp and flaxseed oil makes it taste just like tuna. Place it on top of sushi rice, dip into wasabi and soy sauce, and enjoy!

– 1 small watermelon
– 1/3 cup soy sauce, plus extra for serving
– 3 tablespoons flaxseed oil (I used Barlean’s, but you can use any unflavored flaxseed oil)
– 1 tablespoon kelp flakes, plus 1 tablespoon more for topping
– 1 1/2 cups prepared sushi rice (recipe below)
– 2 sheets of roasted seaweed
– wasabi paste

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the watermelon into thick 1” x 1” x 2.5” slices and place in a single layer on a metal baking sheet. Bake in oven for 2 ½ hours, or until the watermelon slices are browned on the bottom and shrunken to about 1/3 of their original size. (Be patient; it will happen. I had to watch two or three episodes of Orange Is The New Black for this to occur…)
  2. (optional) I like to do this next step for appearance’s sake, but if you’re not too comfortable with your knife skills, you can skip this part. Since the outside edges of the watermelon slices will be browned, I carefully slice off the browned outside edges to reveal a ruby red interior.
  3. Place the watermelon slices in a single layer on several paper towels, top with another paper towel, then gently place a heavy plate or cast iron pan on top. The point is to gently squeeze all the juices out of the watermelon. Leave the watermelon alone for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, mix together the soy sauce, flaxseed oil, and 1 tablespoon of the kelp flakes. Take your squeezed watermelon and marinate in this soy sauce mixture for at least two hours, or overnight.
  5. To serve, rinse off the soy sauce mixture (the kelp flakes look a little funny on the finished nigiri). Pat the slices dry with paper towels, then squeeze a little more flaxseed oil. With wet hands, roll the rice into small cylinders and dust the tops of your rice with kelp flakes. Top with the watermelon and wrap with two thick strips of seaweed.
  6. Dip into wasabi, then soy sauce, and then enjoy!

Vegan Uni
makes 24 | prep time: 20 minutes | ready in: 5 hours
Vegan uni is the same delicious buttery ocean cloud that its real counterpart is. The cashews lend their natural creaminess to this dish, and flaxseed oil and kelp flakes add to the ocean flavor. I also added some food coloring to the mixture to get that burnished golden glow, but that’s optional. This uni is also extra delicious on top of avocado and rice.

– 1 cup cashews
– 1/2 cup water
– 1/4 cup flaxseed oil
– 1 tablespoon kelp flakes, plus 1 tablespoon more for topping
– 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– (optional) food coloring, (3 drops yellow, 1 drop red, ½ drop blue)
– 1 1/2 cups prepared sushi rice (recipe below)
– 3 sheets of roasted seaweed

  1. Soak the cashews for at least two hours, or overnight. The properly soaked cashews should bend easily.
  2. Blend the cashews, water, flaxseed oil, kelp flakes, melted coconut oil, salt, and food coloring (if using) in a high speed blender or food processor for 3 minutes, or until smooth.
  3. Empty into a separate bowl, and refrigerate for 2 hours, or until the coconut oil has solidified the mixture.
  4. With wet hands, roll the rice into small cylinders and dust the tops of your rice with kelp flakes. Wrap thick strips of the roasted seaweed around the cylinders to make a tube shape. Scoop 1 tablespoon of the vegan uni into each seaweed cylinder and serve.

Vegan Smoked Salmon Nigiri
makes 12-14 | prep time: 20 minutes | ready in: 5 hours
Vegan smoked salmon is flaky, briny, and made from beets! You can also mix this smoked salmon with some Tofutti cream cheese to make a lox and cream cheese bagel.

– 2 golden beets
– 1 ½ cups of kosher salt
– 2 tablespoons water
– 1/4 cup soy sauce, plus extra for serving
– 1/4 cup water
– 3 tablespoons flaxseed oil (I used Barlean’s, but you can use any unflavored flaxseed oil)
– 1 tablespoon kelp flakes, plus 1 tablespoon more for topping
– 1 1/2 cups prepared sushi rice (recipe below)
– 2 sheets of roasted seaweed
– wasabi paste

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the salt with just enough water until it forms a thick paste, like clay.
  2. Cover the beets in a layer of salt paste, and pack it in like you’re making a snowball. It will look like a snowball when you are done.
  3. Place your snowballs on a metal baking tin and bake for 1 ½ hours.
  4. The fun part! Crack the snowballs with the blunt end of a kitchen knife to remove the salt crust. Remove the beet skin; you should be able to easily slide the skin off of the beets. Slice the beets very thinly.
  5. To make the marinade, mix together the soy sauce, water flaxseed oil, and 1 tablespoon of the kelp flakes. Marinate the beet slices for at least two hours, or overnight.
  6. To serve, rinse off the soy sauce mixture (the kelp flakes look a little funny on the finished nigiri). Pat the slices dry with paper towels, then squeeze a little more flaxseed oil. With wet hands, roll the rice into small cylinders and dust the tops of your rice with kelp flakes. Top with the watermelon and wrap with two thick strips of seaweed.
  7. Dip into wasabi, then soy sauce, and then enjoy!

Sushi Rice
makes 5 cups cooked | serves 3 – 4
Just your basic sushi rice recipe for rolled sushi, nigiri, or whatever!

– 2 cups uncooked short grain glutinous white rice (sushi rice)
– 3 cups water
– ½ cup mirin (or rice vinegar if you don’t have mirin)
– 1 tablespoon sugar
– ½ teaspoon salt

  1. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Combine the rice with the water and cook in a rice cooker.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, mix together the mirin, sugar, and salt over low heat just until the salt and sugar dissolve.
  3. When the rice is cooked, spread the rice in a very large wooden or glass bowl. Drizzle the mirin mixture over the rice while using a rice paddle to ensure the grains are evenly coated. Use a cutting motion with the rice paddle rather than a stirring motion to avoid squashing the individual grains. You should fan it at the same time if you happen to have a lot of hand-eye coordination. I don’t have a fan so I use two manila folders. I have a lot of manila folders because I organize things for fun, but you can also use junk mail or a ripped up cardboard box.
  4. When the rice is at room temperature, it is ready to use.




33 thoughts on “Super Post! Vegan Tuna Nigiri, Uni, and Smoked Salmon

  1. erinwyso

    This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen! I have heard of roasting/grilling watermelon for tuna, but using golden beets for salmon and cashews for uni is complete genius!

    1. Wanda Post author

      Thank you! I hope this recipe serves you well in your sushi adventures.

      ps. I took a peek at your food blog, and WOWZERS! all your recipes look so mouthwatering and yummy. I’m definitely going to have to try out your Panisse Bruschetta recipe this week.

  2. tobie

    amazing! i can’t wait to try it. do you have any thoughts about how to replicate my former favorite, unagi nigiri?

    1. Wanda Post author

      Thanks, Tobie! You’re in luck, because unagi nigiri used to be one of my favorites as well, and I’ve blogged about it in a previous post, “Vegan Unagi“. Try it out, and I guarantee that you won’t be craving unagi anymore.

  3. Sarah

    Can’t wait to try the smoked beet salmon! What is it that makes it smoked, though? Is it just the marinating process with the soy sauce and kelp? I know I can add a few drops of liquid smoke to the tofutti, but wondering if perhaps that should be added to the marinade as well if eating without tofutti.

    1. Wanda Post author

      I think that the beet salmon has the texture of smoked salmon rather than raw salmon because it is so flaky, so that’s why I called it smoked salmon. (Also my oven tends to run a bit smoky, so that adds to the flavor.)

      I do love your idea of adding a few drops of liquid smoke, and I think it would definitely amp up that smoked salmon flavor if you added the liquid smoke to the marinade.

      1. Sarah

        Following up because I made it today (AWESOME): It is definitely smoky enough without the liquid smoke, In fact, I stopped the marinating (no smoke added) at about 5 hours because it was very strong. I think it may have been the salt in the soy sauce that was a bit much for me, though I used Braggs…Anyway, I added a few chopped bits and some smoke to the tofutti and then layered a few slices of beets over on a toasted bialy. Oh My.

  4. melissa

    incredible. so creative and inspiring. loved the part about screaming that you are a kitchen wizard. you truly are. wow. rock on!

  5. Felix

    Looks awesome.
    For the the Tuna nigiri in step 4… is there an easy substitute for the kelp flakes? Maybe some seaweed? I´d really like to try the recipe but I can´t get my hands on kelp flakes that easily :(

  6. Jan Bartel

    I made the tuna and smoked salmon last night. They were amazing! I have a question about roasting the watermelon. I had to pull mine out of the oven after 1 1/2 hours, because it was burning. Is the 2 1/2 hours just a guideline? Also I couldn’t get my coarse salt to stick to the beets.
    To Felix – I found the kelp flakes at Whole Foods.
    Thanks again for sharing this wonderful recipe.

    1. Wanda Post author

      Good call on taking it out of the oven at 1 1/2 hours! 2 1/2 hours is how long it took my watermelon slices to cook, but thicker and thinner watermelon slices will take longer and shorter times respectively. Basically you want to cook the watermelon long enough so that the outside is caramelized and browned, and the inside is ruby red and has a slightly bouncy texture, just like sashimi.

      For the coarse salt, you want to add just enough water to make a paste or wet clay-like consistency. If you feel like the paste is a little too crumbly, you might try adding a little more water. If the paste is too watery to stick onto the beet, try adding a little more salt. Also, if the paste tends to slip off the beet, pat dry your beet with a paper towel before covering it with the salt crust. If all else fails, you can also salt bake beets by spreading a layer of salt paste on the bottom of a baking pan, adding your beets on top, and then mounding another layer of salt paste over the top of the beets.

      Hope this is helpful for you.

  7. Sarah

    these look amazing! Can I ask why golden beets over red? I haven’t seen golden beets in my country, so I’m wondering if I can get the same flavour with red? Thank you!

    1. Wanda Post author

      I think that golden beets have a slightly milder flavor than red beets, but red beets should work as well, since the flavor of the “smoked salmon” mostly comes from the marinade.

  8. Morgan

    Thank you so much for this! Its easy not eating chicken and beef and all other kinds of “turf” meats… but I admit when someone eats sushi, I feel deep jealousy. The texture and flavor of fish were something I really missed since becoming vegetarian (and vegan). But you have given me a way to satisfy my strongest craving! I hope its as good as it sounds. I plan to make this tonight! All of it!

  9. Morgan

    I just noticed that your salmon nigiri recipe says to top with watermelon (step 6), though the rest of the instructions mention beets. I think you may have made a mistake there.

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  11. Cully

    For New Year’s Eve I made the watermelon and beets as sashimi along with a more traditional platter of fish. The vegan sashimi was a hit with vegans and omnivores alike. Everyone agreed that the beets had the better flavor, but the texture of the watermelon is amazing.
    Both recipes are fussy, especially the watermelon, but it was a rewarding afternoon spent in the kitchen.
    I couldn’t find kelp flakes and used dried wakame in the marinade, that worked fine.
    Applying the salt paste to the beets took some time as I struggled to get the consistency right. After a few minutes my skin started to sting, probably due to the salt drying me out. Next time I’ll wear gloves.
    Thanks for the recipes!

  12. Kate

    Brilliant! Do you think the tuna nigiri would freeze okay? Do you know any tips for attempting to freeze it? I keep a bento stash and it would be great to keep some of these for lunches :-) Thanks for sharing!

  13. Kyle

    I made all three, with some variations I’d like to share.

    For the tuna I HIGHLY recommend laying down foil on the baking sheet or using a disposable tin. I’ve soaked my baking sheet (new non-stick pan) for 24 hours and am still having a hard time getting the caramelized/burnt sugar off. Keep the marinating time down as 20 hours (late last night until dinner time today) made it to salty. If your schedule is the same as mine, try watering down the marinade a bit or use low sodium soy. Delicious though! Also, 2.5 hours was the right amount of time for me but I did have to pull some pieces out sooner as they were the slices from the edge of the watermelon and weren’t quit as big.

    I added some turmeric to some of the uni as I don’t like food coloring. I actually liked the taste better even though it wasn’t like the “real” thing.

    I had to use red beets for the salmon as I couldn’t quickly find golden beets. The red beets are stronger in flavor so it is harder to have it resemble salmon. Keep the slices as thin as possible.

    Thank you for a great how to!

  14. CK

    Is there anything I could use instead of flaxseed oil? Sesame or coconut or a mixture of both? Can’t find any places that store flaxseed properly in Australia (refrigerated and properly sealed)

  15. Talbot

    Miss Wanda, I am an omnivore, and I love sushi and sashimi. I’m staring down the barrel of a kidney transplant, after which I won’t be able to touch any meat that hasn’t been cooked to cinders for fear of germs.

    I have been depressed and terrified through this process, but this article has made me feel so much better. It sounds silly, but you may never know how much of a positive impact it had on my outlook, without even trying the recipes yet! So thank you, and God bless you! c:

    1. Wanda Post author

      Talbot, thank you so much for your comment. I hope that your kidney transplant is successful, and wishing you strength and courage through your very difficult journey.

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  19. Sofía

    You are an alchemist. THANK YOU.

    Nigiri was my favorite food before going vegan and (5 years later) I cannot believe it’s back in my life. Thank you so much.

    We tried this today, and all I can say is THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH.

    I’m out of words to describe how flabbergasted I am. If I hadn’t done it myself and they have me this “tuna” in a restaurant I would have sent it back to the kitchen protesting that I’m vegan and how dare they give me fish to eat.

    Now for the detailed account:
    – bigger pieces of watermelon had still a leftover sweet taste but I know how to fix that next time.
    – beets still tasted of beets, I suspect I need to marinate them longer. I had a lot leftover (we made a huge batch and ran out of rice to prepare them all) do I put them back in the marinade and we’ll see how that pans out tomorrow or the day after :)
    – uni was beyond words.

    I am having trouble fathoming this watermelon turned tuna. Seriously, thank you so much!!! <3


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