Vegan sushi is one of my favorite meals. It might sound like an oxymoron since sushi is basically synonymous with fish, but a veggie roll with avocado and rice in some nori is basically the perfect plant-based meal. Recently I started thinking about how to make a vegan version of the classic California roll with cucumber, avocado, and crab.

The interesting thing is, many California rolls are made with Surimi, or imitation crab, which is basically a paste of various mystery meats (eew). But that actually makes our job of creating a vegan version easier because we can create a paste from plant-based ingredients. I had high hopes for my imitation crab, but this recipe really exceeded them all. The textures and flavors are spot on.

The secrets to this concoction are all below – it’s a blend of chickpeas for the meatiness, nori for the seafood flavor, some shredded cabbage for texture, and blended cashews for some creaminess and body. It’s sooooo good and (as far as I can remember from a decade ago) tastes a lot like crab. It’s the perfect filling for sushi rolls.

Makes: about 4-6 rolls

Ingredients:

  • 1 (15 oz) can chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup shredded red or green cabbage
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup raw cashew pieces
  • 2/3 a sheet of nori
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups cooked sushi rice
  • 4-5 sheets of nori
  • 2-3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 large cucumber
  • Sesame seeds as garnish
  • Soy sauce, for serving

Prep: Soak the 1/2 cup raw cashew pieces for at least an hour to soften before blending.

Step One

After soaking, blend the cashews with about 1/2 cup of water until you have a smooth cream and set aside. This will add a ton of creaminess to the crab mixture in the next step.

Step Two

In a food processor (yes, I know, a food processor and a blender in the same recipe, but it’s really important), combine the chickpeas, lemon juice, cabbage, carrots, about 2/3 a sheet of nori (broken into pieces) and some salt and pepper. Pulse just a few times. Then drizzle in the cashew cream and pulse just a few more times. It should be perfect after a few pulses – you don’t want mush! But feel free to give it a taste and adjust the salt, pepper, or lemon juice as needed. This can be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated, but it’s best made just before preparing the rolls.

Step Three

Make a bunch of sushi rice according to package instructions. About 2 cups of dry rice and 2 1/2 cups of water should be about right. When it’s done, allow to cool then fold in 2-3 tablespoons of rice vinegar and a dash of salt.

Step Four

Now, you’re ready to make the rolls. A typical California roll will look like the photos, with the rice on the outside of the nori and the ingredients on the inside. this is about 3.5 times more difficult and less convenient to eat than just putting the rice and ingredients on the inside, but it doesn’t look as impressive. It’s fine to do it either way.

No matter how you’re doing it, start with a sheet of nori and add a layer of rice and use wet hands to smooth the surface. If you’re doing the rice on the outside, add plastic wrap on top and flip it all over, then add some cucumber and avocado slices along with the chickpea crab meat. Then, slowly roll the whole thing up and (ideally) use one of those bamboo mats to shape into the perfect roll. Slowly slice with a wet knife into 1/2 or 3/4-inch rounds.

Repeat until you run out of ingredients and serve the slices with a garnish of sesame seeds and soy sauce for dipping.