Vegan “Shrimp” Tempura Rolls with Black Sesame Sauce

Vegan tempura sushi (via abeautifulmess.com)I really struggled with what to call this. It's SO good that I didn't want to scare anyone off with the name, but I also wanted to describe it as accurately as I could because you can't taste things through a computer screen. 

Here were the other contenders:
vegan crunchy rolls
plant-based tempura rolls
fried plantain sushi
yes-this-is-weird-but-please-give-it-a-try sushi

I know. I should have gone with that last one. What was I thinking?! 

So, the truth is I'm not a big sushi lover. Trey (my husband, in case you're new around here) is though, so we end up eating it fairly often, as I certainly don't MIND eating sushi or just getting to eat out now and again. But then I had this AMAZING shrimp tempura roll while we were in Big Sur. Now I know what you're thinking, "Man, she must really not like sushi if she thinks a shrimp tempura roll can be anything but bland and mildly crunchy." I know, it's a boring thing to order. BUT, this one was amazing. Chef Yancy Knapp truly inspired me. You could tell he was so passionate about what he does (making the best sushi ever). And although I have no idea what he put in that shrimp tempura roll I had, there was one ingredient I tasted and immediately loved: granny smith apple. 

Whoa! Why had I never thought to use granny smith apples in place of cucumbers in a sushi roll before? I don't really make sushi often at home. In fact, this is the first time I've been inspired to do so for quite a few years. But man, my mind was blown. Don't get me wrong, I love cucumbers in lots of things. They are crunchy and refreshing. But a slightly tart and crunchy apple slice in a sushi roll just worked so well, or at least that's my (apparently strong) opinion. 

Vegan tempura sushi (via abeautifulmess.com) Vegan shrimp tempuraI eat shrimp now and again, but most of the time I stick to a vegetarian diet. I just feel better when I'm eating mostly plants. So, I was curious to replace the shrimp with something else that might add a little flavor as well as some crunch from the tempura treatment. I've been playing around with plantains in some other recipes I've been working on, and sometime last week it dawned on me: why not use plantains as the base for the "shrimp" tempura? Hmm. 

Now you might be thinking, "Plantains?! You mean those big bruised looking bananas?" Yes, yes I do. Plantains are actually a really cool ingredient I've fallen for recently. They are less sweet and quite a bit more starchy than their cousins, bananas. They hold up well in cooking and deliver just a subtle amount of flavor. 

So, I gave it a try. The result: my new favorite at-home sushi rolls. I mean, whoa, if you like sushi, you've got to make these. They are simple but absolutely packed with flavor. Plus we're gonna make a savory, creamy black sesame sauce to go with them. Let's do this. 

Rice rice babyVegan "Shrimp" Tempura Rolls, makes 5-6 rolls (enough for 2 to 3 as a meal)

1 cup (uncooked) sushi rice
1 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or rice vinegar)
1 large plantain, mine was 9.5 oz before peeling
1/3 cup panko flakes
enough oil to fry in (so it's 1/2 inch or a little more deep in your pot)
1 granny smith apple (the green sour ones)
1 avocado
5-6 soy sushi wraps or nori sheets

For the sauce:
1/4 cup Vegenaise (or mayo if you don't care about keeping this 100% vegan)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon brown sugar or maple syrup

I basically think of this as a meal you make in four steps:
1. Make the rice.
2. Make the tempura.
3. Make the sauce.
4. Put together the sushi rolls.

You can technically do the first two steps at roughly the same time once you get the rice going. But let's talk about each of these a little more. 

Plantain tempuraTo make the rice, just follow the package directions. Generally this involves rinsing the rice, adding it to a pot with the water, bringing to a boil, then reducing the heat to simmer for 18-20 minutes. Once the rice is cooked through, remove to a large bowl and stir in the apple cider vinegar. 

While the rice is cooking, peel and cut the plantain into small strips. I cut my plantain into 16 strips by first cutting it in half widthwise, and then cutting eight pieces lengthwise. Check the photo above, as I think it helps to illustrate the process. Then sprinkle these with a little salt and pepper, coat in panko, and fry for 30-45 seconds until a deep golden color. Then remove to a plate lined with paper towels to soak up any excess oil. 

Fried plantainsTo make the sauce, simply add all the sauce ingredients to a small food processor and blend for 30-45 seconds. 

To assemble the rolls, lay out a soy sheet, add rice and press into place. Then add plantain tempura, thinly sliced apple, and thinly sliced avocado to the center, lengthwise. Roll up and gently press so it holds together. A sushi mat works well here. Then slice into bite size pieces. I'm not a sushi rolling expert at all, but I felt that after my first one, I sort of had the hang of it, at least enough for me to enjoy it. I don't think I'll be hired as a sushi chef anytime soon though. 🙂 One thing that helped is I would lightly oil my (clean) hands and work with the rice mostly by hand. I thought this worked better than using a spoon or wooden spatula to spread the rice. But, that's just me. 

Serve alongside the sauce… and maybe some sake too. 😉

Vegan tempura sushi (via abeautifulmess.com)  You guys gotta make this some weekend. It's certainly more labor intensive than my usual dinner routine, but such a fun and delicious meal to prepare if you have a little more time. Also, if you'd like to add a little more nutrition to this, try swapping out the sushi rice for brown rice. Dana did this in a post here, and I thought it was pure genius. 🙂 xx. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions

  • I’m allergic to nori and totally did not know soy sushi wraps were a thing! This is tremendously exciting. Plus, the fried plantains sound like an amazing shrimp alternative.

  • My brother in law is from Nigeria and he introduced me to fried plantains (no breading just in oil) long ago, they are SO GOOD. This looks like an intense sushi recipe but well worth all the work 🙂

  • Looks great!

    Talking about different sushi ingredients, I used to live in Belgium and they’re really big fans of apple and bell peppers in their sushi, and also peaches with tuna salad…which is a bit too far for me

  • Why did you named “tempura”? Tempura its made of vegetables and sometimes has shrimp on it with with flour and eggs. Then you fry it. What you made its a sushi. A vegan sushi, but a sushi. Not a tempura!

    This is what a tempura looks like: http://ccook3.vila.to/receita/tempura-f8-4225.jpg

  • I lived many years in central America and am a big fan of plantains, but, I have to say, I never use them yellow. Where I lived you wouldn’t do that on purpose, unless you’ve waited too long, and I just don’t like to use them in recipes sweet. I’ve just felt that if you want them sweet , banana is a better option. And they are sooo good savory. But I would try this. There’s a lot of flavors going on and it sounds really interesting and cool! Wondering if you’ve ever cooled with green plantains though? Love them!

  • Flip your chopsticks around when you eat, you’re using them backwards in the way it’s pictured. not that it really matters. Also this would be good with tempura sweet potato too I bet and a spicy miso!

  • My mouth is watering! This looks absolutely delicious!!! Just like you I am not a big sushi lover but this looks like something that I will definitely have to try! Thanks for sharing!

  • I’ll have to try this! I love sushi! And I’m always searching for new vegan recipes to try for when my brother and sister in law stop over for dinner. My palate has definitely broadened since joining their family!

  • The rice is easy to spread by hand if you keep your fingers wet. I use a small bowl of water by my mat and dip my fingers as need be.

  • Sushi is definitely a necessity in my diet, hehe. (Avocado and cucumber <3) But oh wow, panko-crusted bananas is something I would have never thought of! I'll definitely try some kind of panko-sushi recipe.

    I think you might be interested in a banana lumpia recipe. Super simple and REALLY tasty.

  • This looks awesome, thanks for sharing! I’m Korean so I grew up with these ‘sushi’ rolls. 20 years ago I used to get frowny faces when unpacking my lunch but great to see that these are widely accepted and popular now!