Whenever I whip out my bamboo rolling mat, pile on the brown rice and veggies, and start my Japanese-inspired culinary adventure, someone invariably will reply to my vegan sushi-crafting with, “Is vegan sushi even possible?” To this quip, I always like to respond by informing my fish-brainwashed compatriates that the word “sushi” literally translates to “sour-tasting,” since the oldest form of sushi—narezushi—consisted of fermented rice. Nowhere in this original definition of sushi does fish appear, and the fish prepared for use in Japanese cuisine holds a completely different name that sushi—sashimi.
Indeed, vegan sushi (a rather redundant term, as you can now see) proves infinitely superior to its fishy counterpart in terms of ocean sustainability and humane treatment of fish. Not only has overfishing and aquaculture—basically the marine equivalent of factory farms—all but destroyed the ecosystems of the world’s oceans thanks to trawling and other forms of modern mass fishing methods, but absolutely no laws exist to ensure the humane treatment of aquatic life. To give one mere example of the exorbitant amount of cruetly exerted upon oceanic species exploited for human consumption, fish’s innards often explode out of their mouths and tail-ends while brought up to the water’s surface due to a sudden increase in pressure. In the words of Jonathan Safran Foer, “You never have to wonder if the fish on your plate suffered. It did.”
While I would absolutely love to expound upon this pressing issue, the commencement of my second semester at Vassar college has provided me with enough class reading material to maintain a constant state of hecticness in my life, and alas I must finish my fishy musings earlier than I would prefer. I hope, however, that you delve further into the urgent matter of oceanic depletion by visiting the websites of and supporting two astonishing organizations—Sea Shepherd and The Black Fish—and by indulging in some truly delicious, truly sustainable sushi.
Brown Rice Sushi with Coconut-Lemongrass Tofu and Miso-Tahini Sauce—Oil Free, Low Sodium.
Makes 4 sushi rolls (can be easily doubled or halved).
1/4 batch of Coconut-Lemongrass Tofu, sliced into 1/2-inch-wide strips (but definitely make the whole batch—leftovers would taste delicious in a Thai-inspired vegan bowl! Recipe below.)
1/2 batch Miso-Tahini Sauce (recipe below.)
4 sheets of nori seaweed
2 cups cooked brown rice
1-2 medium carrots, julienned
3-4 small leaves of kale, torn into small pieces
Lay a sheet of nori on a bamboo rolling mat, shiny side down.
Scoop about 1/2 cup rice onto the bottom-middle section of the nori. Spread the rice either with you hands or a spoon to evenly cover the whole sheet, leaving a 1-inch thick strip of nori rice-free at the top.
Drizzle a layer of Mis0-Tahini Sauce onto the rice about 1/2-inch away from the bottom of the nori to span the entire width of the sheet. Lay the torn kale leaves in a single layer on top of the spread, then cover them with the julienned carrots and the strips of tofu.
Flip up the front veggie-less 1/2-inch of the nori over the veggies with the bamboo mat. Continue tightly rolling the sushi, pressing evenly on both sides of the bamboo mat. Cut the roll seam-side down into 8 pieces with a very sharp serrated knife.
For more comprehensive sushi-rolling instructions and a step-by-step picture guide, check out my previous post on veggie sushi.
Coconut-Lemongrass Tofu—Oil Free, Low Sodium.
16-oz block of firm tofu, sliced into 8 rectangles and pressed well (I like to employ this method of tofu pressing for 2 hours per press)
1 cup coconut milk (regular or lite)
2 tsp dried lemongrass or 2 stalks fresh, bruised and halved
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp tamari or Bragg’s
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
In a large plastic bag, combine all the ingredients except the tofu (coconut milk through vinegar). Lay the pressed tofu in the bag in a single layer, seal the bag, place it on top of a plate, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours, flipping halfway through (I like to marinate mine all day, if possible).
Once you’re ready to prepare the tofu, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the tofu in a single layer in the skillet and cook for 5-7 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat.
Miso Tahini Sauce—Can be Soy Free, Oil Free, Nut Free.
Makes about 1 cup.
1/4 cup miso (I used brown rice miso)
1/4 cup tahini
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tsp maple syrup or agave
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/3 cup water
In a medium-sized bowl, combine all of the ingredients and whisk well to combine. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
I served this sushi on top of a bed of mixed greens along with an additional hot slab of Coconut-Lemongrass Tofu.
Meal Checklist: Protein—tofu, tahini. Whole Grain—brown rice mix. Vegetables—carrots, cilantro, lemongrass. Leafy Greens—kale, mixed greens.
Until next time, Ali.