Seafood was the very last thing I cut out to go fully vegan. I was never really torn up about giving up meat, dairy or eggs, but boy, was it hard to envision a life without California rolls! (OK, I might’ve been a little dramatic about the whole ordeal.)
Vegan food technology has advanced at an insane pace in recent years, but I’ve yet to encounter a substitute for fish that really scratches that itch for me. Don’t get me wrong: I love me a Gardein fishless filet dipped in tartar sauce or in vegan fish tacos, but that doesn’t quite fill the void in my soul that was once occupied by spicy tuna.
In the meantime, I think this watermelon tuna poké is the next best thing. It may not exactly fool any seafood connoisseurs out there, but it hits the spot for me and makes a kickin’ addition to poké bowls or homemade sushi. And honestly, it’s so tasty I sometimes just eat it alone with a little sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallions.
What is Tuna Poke?
Tuna poke is a traditional Hawaiian salad consisting of diced raw fish, such as ahi tuna, marinated with soy sauce, sesame oil and scallions. It’s commonly served over sushi rice with toppings like furikake.
Poke bowl eateries have been cropping up everywhere in recent years! I had already gone vegan by the time they became so trendy in the States, so the few times I’ve eaten at one, I’ve ordered tofu with my bowl instead. I was very curious to see if how some watermelon tuna would stack up against tofu in a vegan-friendly poke bowl.
Can Watermelon Really Taste Like Tuna?
Well, yes and no. Do you remember a few years back when the carrot hot dog went viral? Although the texture wasn’t spot-on, a lot of folks (myself included) were shocked that this humble root vegetable could taste so much like a hotdog after just a few hours chillin’ in a special marinade. And when you involve a hotdog bun and all your favorite fixin’s (relish, mustard, kraut, what have you), it becomes even more convincing.
All this to say that sometimes, the flavors we associate with a particular food are more to do with the spices/seasonings involved, or the condiments we typically add to them, than the actual food itself. This is definitely the case with this watermelon poké recipe. The simple sesame-soy marinade and fresh scallions bring this into an unexpected but delightful savory space.
Ingredients for Watermelon Tuna Poké
This recipe is astoundingly simple and requires just a few ingredients!
- Watermelon: The star of our show. Our new-age chicken of the sea, as it were. The red color is part of what makes this “tuna” look so eerily similar to the real thing. When cooked and marinated, the usually crisp texture transforms into something much softer.
- Soy sauce: Our primary source of salt and umami.
- Sesame oil: This adds a delicious toasted flavor. It also enhances the texture of the cooked watermelon, adding a luscious, fatty mouthfeel that will make it more similar to tuna.
- Rice vinegar: A little zing to counterbalance the natural sweetness of the watermelon. It also helps to tenderize the watermelon. You can substitute some of the vinegar for a squeeze of lime for a brighter citrus flavor.
- Sriracha: Add a [generous] dash if you, too, were once a fiend for spicy tuna rolls. You can also use sambal chili paste.
- Scallions: Together with the marinade ingredients, scallions make the watermelon even more reminiscent of the marinated tuna served in poké bowls.
- Sesame seeds & crushed macadamia nuts: Optional (but highly recommended) toppings that add a delightful crunch and extra toasted flavor to the mix.
How to Make Watermelon Poké
Step 1. Cut your watermelon. If you want to use this “tuna” for poké bowls, cut it into cubes between 3/4″ – 1″ thick. If you plan to use it in sushi rolls or nigiri, cut it into short, wide strips.
Step 2. Cook the watermelon. Next you’ll sauté the watermelon in a nonstick pan over medium heat. The goal here is to simply cook out as much of the excess liquid as possible and to soften the watermelon. You don’t want it to brown or char in any way, so keep an eye on it, stir often, and reduce the heat as needed. When there isn’t any extra watermelon juice in the pan, you’re ready to marinate.
Step 3. Marinate the watermelon “tuna.” Whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar in a sealable container, then add your cooked watermelon and scallions and toss to thoroughly coat. Pop it in the fridge for at least an hour. The flavor and texture improves as it sits, so I recommend making it in advance and letting it marinate overnight for the tastiest vegan poké experience.
Step 4. Enjoy! I love to enjoy this atop a homemade poké bowl with seasoned sushi rice, creamy avocado, crisp cucumber, and edamame. Topped with extra scallions, toasted sesame seeds and chopped macadamia nuts, it’s absolute perfection! Refreshing, light, and flavorful, it’s perfect to eat on a hot summer day. Enjoy!
Watermelon Poké (Vegan Tuna)
- nonstick skillet
- mixing bowl
- 4 cups seedless watermelon cut into roughly 1/2″ cubes
- 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sliced green onions green parts
- sriracha to taste (optional)
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons chopped macadamia nuts
- In a skillet over medium heat, sauté watermelon cubes for 8-10 minutes, stirring often. The watermelon will shed a lot of liquid. You’ll know it’s ready when there is no extra juice at the bottom of the pan.
- Transfer cooked watermelon to a container and toss with all other ingredients (except for sesame seeds and macadamia nuts). Toss to coat, then cover and refrigerate. Allow to marinate for at least one hour, but preferably 4+ hours. Sprinkle with chopped macadamia nuts and sesame seeds before serving.