Looking for Healthier Sushi? Vegan Quinoa Sushi & Pickled Ginger

Vegetarian Quinoa Sushi Allergy Free Friendly

Easy Quinoa Sushi & Pickled Ginger Recipe


When my husband and I were still dating, he gave me one of the best birthday surprises. He told he wanted to take me to dinner. He picked me up and drove me all around town before bringing me back to one of my favorite sushi restaurants that was within walking distance of where I lived. The most exciting part was after we ordered our food, the sushi chef invited me behind the counter to help make our dinner. This was the first time I ever made sushi. I had so much fun that I registered for this sushi cookbook when we married, which unfortunately sat on my shelf unused for years.

As I have been focusing on eating healthier, I’ve been enjoying the versatility of quinoa. If you don’t know about quinoa, it’s considered a whole grain (although it’s really a seed) and is packed with protein (it has all the amino acids). It is a great substitute for other whole grains. I have been loving quinoa for breakfast, lunch, and even dessert (be sure to come back in a couple weeks when I share a gluten free wintry cupcake recipe with quinoa flour only). Having recently heard that eating two 6 piece sushi rolls was comparable to eating 6 pieces of white bread, I thought about breaking out my sushi cookbook (bought by one of my best friends and the artist behind Nom Yum & Free) and substituting quinoa for rice in homemade vegan sushi.

Curious if anyone had used quinoa in sushi before, I did an Internet search for “quinoa sushi.” To my surprise, quite a few recipes came up, but they all pointed back to the same quinoa sushi recipe by Sarah Britton on her blog My New Roots. (The healthy recipes on her website look amazing!!) I noticed many similarities between the sushi recipe on My New Roots and the basic sushi recipe in my sushi cookbook. So I used tips from each recipe as inspiration for my vegan quinoa sushi.

Vegetarian Quinoa Sushi Rice Free Allergy Free Friendly

FREE Ingredients

The sushi cookbook calls for using sugar and rice vinegar to flavor your sushi rice and pickled ginger (gari), while My New Roots uses honey and rice vinegar. To make the recipe truly vegan and refined sugar free, I decided to use pure maple syrup and rice vinegar instead. You might be thinking – what Devin, syrup in sushi?! But trust me, no one will know unless you tell them (or maybe I just did). 😉

(Makes 24 large quinoa sushi pieces)

Pickled Ginger (Gari)

  • 1 piece of whole fresh ginger root
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  •  cup rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup

Quinoa Sushi

  • 1 ½ cups uncooked quinoa
  •  a bit of sesame oil (or canola oil) for sautéing
  •  3 cups water
  • 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
  •  1 tbsp. pure maple syrup
  •   ½ tsp. sea salt
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 to 2 carrots (or small bag pre-cut matchstick carrots)
  • 1 packet of Nori sheets
  • Wasabi paste (optional)**
  • Soy sauce (optional)

**Food Allergy Note: I noticed commercial wasabi paste often contains dairy.

Special Equipment

Method (or Mistakes)

Pickled Ginger (Gari)

This recipe is based off the gari recipe in this easy to make sushi cookbook.

Peel skin off ginger root using a vegetable peeler. Then use vegetable peeler to slice ginger root into thin slices. You should have about ½ cup sliced ginger root. Put sliced ginger into a colander and sprinkle with sea salt. Fold over gently to coat ginger, and then let sit for 30 minutes. Rinse ginger well, and use your hands to squeeze excess water from ginger. Place ginger slices in a small glass bowl.

In a small saucepan, mix  cup rice vinegar and ¼ cup maple syrup over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, and then let boil for 5 minutes, stirring infrequently. Remove from heat and let cool for at least 15 minutes. Pour vinegar mixture over ginger slices and let sit uncovered for 15 minutes. Stir ginger, cover, and then place in refrigerator until serving. (Tip: the longer it sits, the milder your ginger will be.)

Vinegared Sushi Quinoa “Rice” (Sumeshi)

Thoroughly rinse quinoa in a sieve under streaming water until water runs clear.

Heat a bit of sesame oil (or canola oil if you have allergies) in a medium saucepan on medium heat (use enough oil to cover bottom of pan). Once oil is heated, sauté rinsed quinoa for 5-8 minutes, until crisp. Add water and heat until boiling. Let boil for 1 minute, and then turn heat on low. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Do not stir!  (You may want to prepare your vegetables while your quinoa is cooking.) Once cooked, remove quinoa from heat.

In a small bowl, mix together 2 tbsp. vinegar, 1 tbsp. pure maple syrup, and ½ tsp. sea salt in a small cup or bowl. Spread quinoa over a large baking sheet with a wooden spoon. Use a small spoon to sprinkle vinegar mixture over quinoa. Lightly fold quinoa with a wooden spoon to mix. Do not stir!

Vegetable Preparation

Vegetarian Rice Free Allergy Free Quinoa Sushi Pickled GingerYou can use almost any vegetables in your vegan quinoa sushi. I like the textures of cucumber and avocado. Avocado gives a soft “meaty” fish-like texture, which contrasts nicely with the crispness of the cucumber. Sweet red bell peppers and carrots add a vibrant splash of color.

Thoroughly wash all your vegetables before preparing.

Prepare the cucumber by chopping off the ends, and then cutting lengthwise into four quarters. Use a knife to remove the cucumber seeds. Place each seedless quarter skin side up and cut lengthwise into long thin matchstick thick pieces. Make sure each piece has some skin. (I found ½ cucumber to be enough for 24 quinoa sushi roll pieces.)

Prepare the red pepper in a similar manner as the cucumber – cutting into quarters, removing seeds, then slicing matchstick thin. To save time, I bought my carrots pre-cut into matchstick pieces.

The easiest way to prepare your avocado is as follows: 1) cut in half lengthwise; 2) open and remove seed; 3) leaving avocado halves in skin, use a sharp knife to slice each half lengthwise into matchstick thin slices (be careful not to cut through the skin); 4) use a metal spoon (soup spoon size works well) to scrape avocado off the skin. 

Hand Vinegar

Prepare hand vinegar to dab your fingers in as you prepare your sushi. Simply mix ¼ cup of with 1 cup of warm water in a small bowl, and then set aside.

Quinoa Sushi Assembly

When I was searching for sushi mat kits, I came across the Sushezi Sushi Made Easy Device. The product reviews claim that the Sushezi takes the difficulty out of sushi rolling. Remembering how misshapen my sushi rolls were when I made them for my birthday surprise years ago, I thought it might be worth giving this gadget a try – especially, since I have been such a fan of other fun kitchen gadgets such as my Slice-O-Matic and E-Z Icing Pen. (The only downside I found to the Sushezi device is that it makes extra-large sushi rolls – there’s no size adjustment).

Vegetarian Rice Free Allergy Free Quinoa Sushi

Quinoa Sushi Made Easy in Sushezi Device

Dip fingers in hand vinegar, and then fill Sushezi with prepared vinegared quinoa in accordance with directions (Note: directions are in French, but they have good pictures that explain what to do). Push down quinoa into Sushezi device, re-moistening finger tips in hand vinegar to prevent quinoa from sticking to them. Use Sushezi rod to indent the both sides of the quinoa for filling.

If allergies permit, dab a small amount of wasabi paste in middle of indentation on one side.  Lay two strips of cucumber on top of the wasabi paste. Then layer red peppers one end to another, on top of cucumber to make one or two strips. On the other side of the Sushezi, layer some carrots. Then layer avocado on top of the carrots. (Note: you will have to cut the larger avocado pieces in half.)

Place a piece of Nori on a sushi mat. Moisten ends slightly with fingertips dabbed in hand vinegar. Close Sushezi at an angle, add top, and then twist rod 5 times. Remove cover and push filled quinoa roll over one end of Nori. Roll the quinoa roll until covered with the piece of Nori (I used the sushi mat to help).

Cut sushi roll width-wise in middle with a very sharp knife. Then continue cutting to make six (quite thick) quinoa sushi roll pieces.

(In the alternative of using the Sushezi, place Nori on Sushi Mat and cover with prepared quinoa. Then dab with wasabi and layer vegetables in same order as above.)

Serve quinoa sushi with pickled ginger pieces. For those without allergy restrictions, serve alongside some wasabi (contains dairy) and soy sauce (obviously, contains soy).


The quinoa “sumeshi” is amazingly lighter in texture than sushi rice. This allows the quinoa sushi practically to melt in your mouth. My sushi cookbook recommends against refrigerating regular sushi, to avoid the rice from getting too hard; however, this does not appear a problem with quinoa sushi. Even after being refrigerated for a couple days, it was just as light in texture as the day I prepared it.

My husband was surprised to find the quinoa sushi to be so filling. He also was surprised by how much the flavor of the vinegared quinoa resembled that of regular sushi rice. Not only did I watch him eat the most sushi that I have seen him eat in one sitting in years, but also he didn’t need to supplement his meal with some other protein based food (likely the benefit of protein-packed quinoa). Plus I think my husband liked knowing that the quinoa sushi used a healthier whole grain than white rice. He enjoyed the flavor of the quinoa and fresh vegetables so much that he chose to eat his quinoa sushi without any soy sauce or wasabi (which was also how Baby Girl enjoyed her sushi).

I have come to realize that Baby Girl loves trying new and different foods and flavors as much as her mommy. While Little Man is less free-spirited in his tastes, Baby Girl wants to try anything and everything she sees on anybody else’s plate, which isn’t as scary now that she has outgrown her food allergies. So she was excited to try the quinoa sushi (minus the seaweed which I thought might be too tough without yet having her second set of molars). I put a bit of the quinoa with some of the avocado and carrots and let her try. It is funny how children learn by example, because ultimately she refused to eat the quinoa sushi on her own with a spoon. She only wanted me to feed her the quinoa sushi with chopsticks. (Perhaps it’s time that I pull out my son’s training chopsticks for her.)

And, I was surprised to find out how few vegetables were needed to fill my quinoa sushi rolls. Since I had quite a few veggies and Nori left over, guess what my family and I will be enjoying for Meatless Monday this President’s Day?! :)

Featured on Healthy Vegan Friday and Thank Goodness It’s Quinoa

the veggie nook

Shared on My Meatless Monday, Fat Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Gluten Free Wednesday, Tasty Thursday, Full Plate Thursday, Healthy Vegan Fridays, Gluten Free Fridays, Foodie Fridays, Thank Goodness It’s Quinoa, Wellness Weekend, {Gluten Free} Weekly Meal Plan

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