The word “sushi” has become synonymous with raw fish, which means that vegetarians might believe they have no choices when their friends go out for sushi. Here are some of the most popular sushi rolls for vegetarians to keep in mind the next time your friends want to go out for sushi.
Shiitake Mushroom Nigiri
Nigiri is a type of sushi that is essentially pressed rice in the shape of a log with a small piece of fish stuffed in the middle. However, nigiri can easily be turned into a vegan or vegetarian option by pressing various vegetables in the middle of the sticky rice roll instead. The rice is often held together by a piece of seaweed, which is already vegetarian, so the only substitution is the vegetable for the meat. However, equating sushi with raw fish is a mistake, as there are plenty of vegetarian sushi, like the ones offered by mito.ca, available that allow people who don’t want to consume meat to still be able to enjoy the flavors of Japan whenever they want.
One of the most popular vegetables to use in nigiri is a shiitake mushroom because this type of mushroom has a strong and savory flavor. It is a staple in Japanese cuisine and will deliver the flavors you’re familiar with from traditional sushi. The mushroom will often be lightly flavored with salt or soy sauce to enhance its natural flavors and will quickly become a favorite on any sushi plate.
Cucumber is another primary ingredient in sushi. Its light, refreshing flavor and crispness is often regarded as a palate cleanser between other types of rolls. But for vegetarians, the kappa maki cucumber roll will likely be a main vegetarian or vegan option on most sushi menus. This is because it is a basic roll consisting of a slice of cucumber, a thin layer of rice, and a wrapping of seaweed. It’s simple to make, which is why it or a variation of it is typically found wherever sushi is sold.
This is another type of vegetarian sushi that uses pressed rice in the shape of a log. Instead of mushrooms, though, it uses eggplant, a vegetable that is available all year round. Nasu nigiri is served in various ways, including grilled, pickled, or fried in tempura. All varieties are vegetarian and will give you different flavors with the same vegetable. Eggplant is one of the most versatile vegetables used in sushi because it is almost always available.
Also known as the “battleship roll”, seaweed gunkanmaki sushi is one of the most nutrient-rich sushi options for vegetarians. Seaweed salad, or wakame, is coated with soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin, red chili, and sesame seeds. It is then piled on top of rice and rolled in a strip of sori seaweed to secure it in place. The sauces make this a flavorful vegetarian sushi option that is also one of the healthiest. It’s a delicious bite that even non-vegetarians will crave!
Shinko Maki or Takuan Maki
For the vegetarian who is looking for a bite of sushi that offers a tangy flavor as a departure from the more savory flavors of traditional ingredients, shinko maki or takuan maki rolls are a perfect option. Shinko is the generic word for “pickles” and takuan is a type of pickled radish that provides a bit of a kick in a morsel of sushi. These rolls, like kappa maki rolls, are frequently used as palate cleansers, so they are a nice choice for even non-vegetarians, if you decide you want to share.
This type of sushi consists of an old vegetarian standby: tofu. Inari is basically fried tofu that is stuffed with various vegetables like avocado, cucumber, eggplant, carrot, and more. It does not usually contain rice, but it can if you prefer. It is seasoned with soy sauce and sugar, which gives it a salty-sweet flavor that can be a bit addictive. Sometimes, inari is sprinkled with sesame seeds for additional flavor.
Inarizushi is almost a complete departure from what you would recognize as traditional sushi, but it’s still considered sushi. It consists of a fried tofu skin pouch that is filled with flavored rice (usually vinegared rice) and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It has long been offered as a gift to the gods at shinto shrines and is thought to be a favorite food of the fox, a messenger to the gods. These pouches are popular among street vendors because they are portable forms of sushi that can be carried as customers walk.
Nearly all sushi restaurants offer tempura-fried vegetables as an option for their vegetarian customers. Even if you don’t care for sushi, you’ll probably enjoy this dish because like most fried foods, it’s flavorful and filling. However, tempura is not as greasy as other batters and is usually applied very lightly to the vegetables so that you still get all of their flavor as well. You can usually find tempura-fried broccoli, green beans, sweet potatoes, carrots, and cauliflower on the menu, but any vegetables can be cooked in this style.
While takenoko chirachizushi doesn’t look like traditional sushi in that it isn’t in nice tidy rolls, its flavors are entirely in line with what you would expect from sushi. This dish might better be called a sushi bowl because it is essentially unpacked sushi rice (not packed like other sushi varieties) topped with bamboo shoots that have been marinated in broth. The Japanese word for bamboo is takenoko, giving this meal its name.
You’ll usually only find takenoko chirashizushi in the spring, but it’s worth waiting all year for. When the bamboo shoots are marinated in broth, they become soft and infused with flavor. Be aware, though. Some broths are made from fish-based dashi or contain fish flakes, which would make this dish not 100% vegetarian. Check with the sushi preparer before you order to make sure it’s completely vegetarian.
Nearly any sushi roll can be made into a vegetarian version if you substitute well-seasoned vegetables for the meat. But the rolls mentioned here are some favorites of vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores alike.