Vegan sushi is a year-round favorite in our home, whether we’re picking up a few takeout rolls or making it at home. While the classic cucumber and avocado rolls are always delicious, sometimes it’s fun to mix it up with some more creative options. If you’re in that boat, this Vegan California Roll recipe is for you!
California rolls were my absolute favorite type of sushi before going vegan, and luckily this plant-based version totally hits the spot. These homemade sushi rolls feature a spicy tofu “crab” salad along with fresh cucumber, ripe avocado, and toasted sesame seeds.
This take on the California roll is a staple in our house now and will satisfy even the pickiest of sushi lovers.
Why You’ll Love These Vegan California Rolls
California rolls are one of the most popular sushi rolls in the United States, and for good reason. Generally, they’re made with imitation crab meat (which is actually made out of fish), avocado, cucumber, and sushi rice rolled in nori.
Our version, made entirely with plant-based ingredients, features a vegan crab mixture made out of tofu and spicy mayo (vegan mayonnaise and sriracha sauce). This crab substitute works incredibly well in a sushi roll, since it’s savory, spicy, and creamy. Plus, it’s made with simple ingredients you can easily find at any grocery store.
While it’s generally easy to order vegan sushi at restaurants, sometimes the options can be quite limited. That’s why I love making my own homemade vegan sushi whenever I have the time!
Ingredients for Spicy Tofu Crab Salad
- Super-firm tofu. Also known as high protein tofu, this stuff is INCREDIBLE. Since there’s so much protein in it, it has a fantastic texture and structural integrity. It’s firm enough that you can shred it with a cheese grater (or run it through the food processor with the shredding disc) for a texture that is reminiscent of shredded imitation crab, which is commonly used in California rolls or spicy crab rolls. (A lot of people use hearts of palm for their imitation crab meat substitute, but I think the tofu is a more satisfying option.)
- If you want to make this with extra-firm tofu instead, you can use one whole 14 oz block, but press it *thoroughly* for at least 30 minutes prior to preparing the recipe! If you don’t press it, there is a good chance your salad will turn out soggy, and it will be much harder to shred the tofu without it crumbling. A tofu press works best not only to remove the excess liquid but also to compress the texture so it holds up better to grating.
- Vegan mayonnaise. This is the base of the sauce for your tofu crab mixture. We’re essentially going to make a vegan spicy mayo using this. My favorite is the Vegenaise by Follow Your Heart.
- Sriracha. Use as much of this as you’d like! We love heat in this house, so we use the full amount, but feel free to scale it back a little bit if you’re sensitive to spice.
- Soy sauce. This is going to add salt and that classic umami flavor to your tofu mixture.
- Rice vinegar. This adds a hint of acidity and sharpness to your filling to round out the flavors.
- Green onion. Also known as scallions, these provide a ton of onion-y goodness.
- Shredded carrot. A little bit of finely shredded carrot adds a little sweetness to the recipe, but it’s primarily here to make your filling pop with color.
Vegan California Roll Ingredients
- Sushi rice. This is actually composed of a couple of ingredients. To make sushi rice, you’ll need short-grain white rice, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. We’ll have more information about this below.
- Nori (Seaweed). A sushi-making staple. If you have an Asian market near you, I recommend buying your nori there, as it tends to be much more affordable.
- Avocado and cucumber. Classic California roll ingredients.
- Toasted sesame seeds (optional). This is optional, but toasted sesame seeds sprinkled over the sushi rice add a nice nutty aroma that enhances all the flavors!
Make the Spicy Tofu Crab Salad
- Shred your super-firm tofu using a cheese grater or a food processor fitted with a shredding disc. If you’re using extra-firm tofu, make sure you have thoroughly pressed it ahead of time.
- In a large bowl, mix together your shredded tofu along with all remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust spiciness and saltiness to your liking.
- You can eat the salad right away, but I generally prefer to refrigerate it for at least an hour to let the tofu soak up all of the delicious flavors.
Assemble the Vegan California Roll
- Make your sushi rice. My favorite authentic sushi rice recipe is from Just One Cookbook! Once your sushi rice cools to room temperature, you can start assembling your rolls.
- Lay down a full nori sheet. You can work directly on a cutting board, but a bamboo sushi mat is super helpful. Make sure the shiny side is face-down and the rough side of the piece of nori is face-up.
- Add the rice. Spread out an even layer of rice on the half of the nori closest to you. It’s easiest to use your hands to do this. Since the rice will stick to your hands, it’s best to have a small bowl of water at your disposal to dip your fingers into. Having wet fingers will mitigate the rice-to-finger stickage.
- Add your fillings. Pile in your spicy tofu crab salad. Just make sure not to add too much or it’ll be tough to roll. Then add sliced avocado and strips of cucumber.
- Roll the sushi. Carefully roll the sushi. If you’re new to this, the key is to keep the roll as tight as possible as you go. Again, a sushi mat is very helpful. You can wet the edge of the nori on the far side with a little bit of water in order to make it stick better when it’s rolled up.
- Slice the rolls. Using a very sharp knife, cut your vegan California roll into pieces. Cleaning your knife off with a moist towel in between slices will give you the cleanest cuts.
To watch a professional tutorial on sushi rolling (including how to get the rice on the outside of the roll), check out this video by The Sushi Man.
While we usually use this spicy tofu crab salad to make vegan California rolls, you can also use it in a sushi bowl or onigiri. Onigiri are Japanese rice balls that are usually wrapped in nori. It’s a super fun way to eat this filling!
Your the spicy tofu filling will stay good in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
It’s best to eat your sushi right after rolling it. You can technically save leftover vegan California rolls in the fridge in an airtight container, but the rice will harden and dry out.
More Tofu Recipes
- Tofu Lettuce Wraps (Better Than PF Chang’s)
- Vegan Egg Salad (Tofu Egg Salad)
- 10 Minute Chili Garlic Silken Tofu
- Crispy Tofu Katsu
Vegan California Roll (Spicy Tofu Crab Salad)
Spicy Tofu "Crab" Salad
- 3/5 (16 oz) package super-firm high-protein tofu (see notes for measurements and substitutions)
- 1/3 cup vegan mayonnaise
- 1-3 tablespoons sriracha to preferred spiciness
- 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce to preferred saltiness
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 scallions finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons finely shredded carrot
To Assemble Sushi
- sushi rice see notes
- fresh avocado sliced
- fresh cucumber cut into strips
- sushi nori
- toasted sesame seeds
Options for Serving
- soy sauce
- pickled sushi ginger
Make the Spicy Tofu "Crab" Salad
- For this recipe, I only use 3 servings of a 16 oz packet of super-firm tofu. Save the rest of the tofu for another recipe!
- Use cheese grater or a food processor to shred the super-firm tofu. (If you are substituting extra-firm tofu, please make sure you have thoroughly pressed it beforehand.)
- Mix the grated tofu with all remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Give it a taste and add an extra dash of sriracha or soy sauce if you like.
- The salad can be served right away, but I usually like to refrigerate it for about 1 hour to let the tofu soak up the flavors.
Roll the Sushi
- Check the recipe notes for my go-to sushi rice recipe and tips on rolling. Vegan California rolls consist of cucumber, avocado, and the spicy tofu salad. Use a sushi rolling mat for clean, tight rolls that hold together well.
- Slice the sushi with a very sharp knife. It's helpful to wipe down the knife with a wet cloth between slices to keep the cuts super clean.
- Enjoy the sushi with your favorite accoutrements! Sushi is best enjoyed immediately, as the rice dries out and gets hard in the fridge.