This plant-based lemon tofu sushi features slices of crisp cucumber and meaty tofu cutlet, wrapped in rice and nori with a tangy lemon cashew butter. The texture and flavor contrasts make it refreshing and fun to eat.
Why Lemon Tofu Sushi
With summer unofficially here, I’ve been experimenting with refreshing ingredients to cool the body and feel more comfortable on warm days. I’ve long been a fan of sushi and have recently begun to explore plant-based combinations in sushi rolls. I wanted to create something part familiar and part new, both for myself and for my readers.
The familiar part of this lemon tofu sushi is the cucumber. We’ve had it in all kinds of sushi rolls and sandwiches and the crispy, watery, very mildly sweet flavor is always comforting. The tofu cutlet may be unfamiliar itself, but its texture feels right at home in this roll. It feels like a tender piece of fish (or a firm tamago omelette) under the tooth though its flavor is very mild. The lemon cashew butter is the wild card here. It’s creamy, umami (from miso), tart, and barely sweet.
Together, these ingredients make a sushi roll that is plenty filling, thanks to the rice and tofu, yet tangy and refreshing due to the cucumber and lemon.
The Tofu Cutlet
I went with an organic tofu “cutlet” from House Foods in this recipe because it is perfect for sushi. The cutlet is lightly fried, so it is much denser than raw tofu and its flavor more concentrated. It doesn’t require any draining or cooking. It’s ready to eat as-is. It’s mildly flavored so it can go with practically any kind of seasoning. For all these reasons, the tofu cutlet makes for a convenient and versatile sushi ingredient.
This post is sponsored by House Foods America. All opinions expressed here are my own.
How to make the Lemon Tofu Sushi
Preparing the ingredients
This sushi is not substantially different from other sushi rolls, so if you’re familiar with the process, this one should be easy for you. There are two homemade ingredients that go into the roll: the sushi rice and the lemon cashew butter.
The sushi rice is important to get right because it’s the glue that holds the roll together. I’ve been using this sushi rice guide for years and it works great for large batches. I developed a quicker version for this recipe that makes a smaller batch and doesn’t require soaking.
The lemon cashew butter is a simple blend of roasted cashews, miso, lemon juice, and lemon zest; you’ll need a food processor or blender for it.
Setting up the rolling station
Once you have the rice and cashew butter prepared and the tofu and cucumber sliced correctly for maki sushi (i.e. long thin strips) you just need to set up your rolling station. You’ll need a bamboo sushi rolling mat, plastic wrap, and a sharp knife.
Orient the mat so that the bamboo pieces run lengthwise, across the counter in front of you. Cut a piece of plastic wrap slightly longer than the bamboo mat, cover the mat with it, and tuck the end nearest to you under the mat.
Rolling uramaki sushi
I’ll explain the process of assembling and wrapping this kind of sushi in the recipe below, but if you’re new sushi making, it can be helpful to watch some videos. I used the general technique in this video from Nami at Just One Cookbook when I was learning to make this style of roll. (You can ignore the ingredients and the avocado on top.)
The basic idea behind this style of sushi is that you cut a sheet of nori (seaweed) to the correct size – half a sheet – then cover one side with rice and sesame seeds. You then flip the nori over, carefully, so that the rice and sesame are on the outside. If the rice is properly sticky, it shouldn’t fall off.
You then place the filling ingredients (cucumber, tofu, cashew butter) on the near edge of the nori and begin rolling it. Use the bamboo mat, coated in plastic wrap, to gently roll the nori around the filling, pulling back at each partial turn to tighten the roll.
Once you’ve finished rolling the roll, you can gently squeeze to shape it. But don’t squeeze too hard because the cashew butter will ooze out. And smashed rice isn’t very nice. At this point, the roll is conveniently inside the sheet of plastic wrap. You can either cut it or save it for later.
Cutting the lemon tofu sushi
To cut this kind of sushi, you’ll need a sharp, clean knife and the plastic wrap that you used to roll the sushi. Remove the plastic wrap and place the roll on a cutting board. Drape the plastic wrap over the roll and gently press the plastic wrap so that it hugs the roll. You want it to be as close as possible to the roll, but not wrapped underneath.
Start by cutting the roll in half, using a gentle sawing motion, going through the plastic wrap and completely through the roll. Continue cutting each half in half, until you have 8 pieces. You will want to wipe the knife clean at least a couple times during this process. The knife will accumulate sticky rice that makes the blade less effective.
At this point, the plastic wrap should still be a complete sheet, just with some slits cut in it. It should pull easily off the top. The sushi is ready to serve at this point.
Sushi Making Isn’t Easy
I often have to remind myself that making sushi is something that takes a long time – up to 20 years – to master. For people like me, amateurs cooking at home, the best result is sushi that tastes good, looks decent, and doesn’t fall apart. It takes a lot of practice, even to get to that point.
If you’re new to sushi and it’s not working out so far, don’t get discouraged. Worst case, you can always disassemble the falling-apart rolls and make them into a poke bowl. (I’ve done that plenty of times.) Watch (i.e. study) some videos, read some literature, and practice some more.
My go-to resource for sushi and Japanese food, in general, is Just One Cookbook (there are links to the site and a video above).
A Few Words about Ingredients and Equipment
My recipe uses a rice cooker with a “sushi” setting to take the guesswork out of the rice. If you don’t have a rice cooker and still want to make this, check out this guide on making Japanese rice on the stovetop.
Also for the rice, I use a type of vinegar blended particularly for sushi. You can make your own if you have plain (unsalted, unseasoned) rice vinegar, sugar, and salt – just check out Just One Cookbook’s sushi rice guide.
I made the lemon cashew butter part of this recipe using whole roasted cashews. But you can use store-bought cashew butter if you have it on hand and the texture will come out much smoother. If you do use cashew butter, reduce the amount by 25% (i.e. to 3 tablespoons in the base recipe) because cashew butter is denser than whole cashews.
The cashew butter also contains miso. I used a very mild white miso with a relatively low sodium content (455 milligrams per Tablespoon). If your miso has a higher sodium content, that means its less mild and you should use less of it, accordingly.
More Plant-Based Japanese Recipes
If you try this recipe out, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @gastroplant on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.
Lemon Tofu Sushi
- Rice Cooker
- Bamboo Sushi Mat
- Sharp Knife
- 1 rice cooker cup short grain rice 180 milliliters, 6 fluid ounces
- 2 Tablespoons sushi vinegar see note
- 1/4 cup roasted cashews or store-bought cashew butter, see note
- 1/2 Tablespoon miso
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons water
- 2 sheets nori (8-inch 20-centimeter square), cut in half
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- 1 large cucumber seeds removed
- 1 House Foods Tofu Cutlet
Prepare the rice
- Cook the rice using the “sushi” setting on your rice cooker. When the cooking is complete, transfer the rice to a large plate and spread it out to cool to room temperature. When the rice has cooled, transfer it to a bowl and stir in the sushi vinegar. Cover the bowl if you need to leave the rice unattended for any length of time. You can prepare the other ingredients while the rice cooks.
Cut the tofu cutlet and cucumber
- Drain any residual liquid from the tofu package and dry the tofu block. Cut the tofu into long strips, about 1/4 inch (1/2 centimeter) on each of the shorter sides.
- Cut the cucumber into strips that are 8 inches (20 centimeter) long and 1/4 inch (1/2 centimeter) wide and thick.
Prepare the lemon-cashew butter
- Combine all the ingredients for the cashew butter in a food processor. Blend until texture is consistent and all ingredients are well integrated. If using cashew butter instead of whole cashews (see note below) you can combine the ingredients in a bowl with a fork or whisk if you prefer.
Set up the rolling station
- Place the bamboo sushi mat on the counter, oriented so that the bamboo pieces run horizontally in front of you. Cut a piece of plastic wrap slightly longer than the bamboo mat. Tuck the plastic wrap under the end of the mat closest to you. Place the bowl of rice, a small bowl of sushi vinegar, the lemon cashew butter, cut tofu and cucumber, sesame seeds, and nori nearby.
Roll the sushi
- Place a piece of nori (they should be cut into 8x4 inch / 20x10 centimeter sheets) on the plastic-wrap-covered bamboo mat. The nori should be positioned with the long side toward you and within 1/2 inch (1 centimeter) of the edge of the mat.
- Measure out 1/2 cup of the prepared sushi rice and use your hands to spread it as evenly as possible onto the nori. Dip your fingers in the bowl of vinegar if the rice sticks to your hands too much. Sprinkle sesame seeds evenly across the rice. Gently press down on the rice to ensure it will stick to itself and to the nori.
- Carefully flip the sheet of nori so that the rice is now on the bottom. The rice should more or less stay attached to the nori and in an even layer.
- Place 1-2 pieces of cucumber and 2-4 pieces of tofu on the edge of the nori closest to you. The quantity will depend on preference and the physical capacity of the roll. You can always remove pieces if you’ve overfilled it, but try to get a feel for how much this size piece of nori can contain. Spread about 1 Tablespoon of the lemon cashew butter across the cucumber and tofu.
- Lift the edge of the bamboo mat closest to you and carefully pull it over the sushi ingredients. You should hold onto the plastic wrap so that it stays taut against the mat. Apply pressure to the roll so that it rolls as tightly as possible, with no empty space. Also, be careful not to press too hard because doing so will smash the rice and displace the cashew butter. Roll gradually, pulling back periodically, until the roll is relatively round. See the video link in the blog post for a better idea of the process.
- Wrap the plastic wrap around the roll and set it aside for now. Prepare the other rolls in the same way.
Cut the rolls
- Set up a cutting board with a damp paper towel on the side. Unwrap the first roll and place the plastic wrap on top of it and press it down so that it hugs the length of the roll. Hold the roll in place using your non-knife hand. Use the sharpest knife you have to cut the roll in half, using short and gentle back-and-forth strokes. You will be cutting through the plastic wrap and the roll. Do not press into the roll. Continue cutting the halves in half until you have 8 pieces per roll. Wipe the knife blade clean every 2-3 cuts so that the edge is fully exposed and you get clean cuts. Cut the other rolls the same way.
- Serve immediately.