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This watermelon tuna recipe transforms sweet, crisp watermelon into vegan sushi that will blow your mind with how much it actually tastes like fish! With just 10 minutes of cooking required, the magic happens with the nori marinade.

vegan poke bowl

There are two main reasons why this vegan sushi tastes like real sushi – with no fish in sight!

  1. The first step is crucial: cook the watermelon! The point of this is twofold; it releases the juices (so the watermelon can better absorb the marinade), and additionally, it helps the watermelon lose its crispness and take on a more rubbery, squishy, fish-like texture.
  2. After cooking, we soak the watermelon in a flavorful marinade. One of the marinade ingredients is nori (aka dried seaweed), which gives this watermelon tuna its fishy flavor!

You can use this watermelon tuna to make vegan poke bowls, vegan sushi, vegan sashimi, or vegan nigiri (which is raw fish pressed over rice).

watermelon tuna poke bowl

The Best Vegan Sushi – Watermelon Tuna!

Ingredients

In this section I explain the ingredients and give substitution ideas. For the full recipe (including ingredient amounts), see the recipe card below.

Watermelon Tuna:

watermelon tuna ingredients
  • Watermelon – look for seedless watermelon, and cut it into 1-inch cubes or 1-inch slices
  • Tamari sauce – or you can use soy sauce (if keeping this gluten free isn’t a concern), or coconut aminos
  • Rice vinegar – adds tanginess to balance the flavor
  • Sriracha – for a little spicy heat; don’t skip this if you like spicy tuna or spicy salmon sushi
  • Toasted sesame oil – adds rich, nutty depth of flavor
  • Nori – dried seaweed is the secret ingredient that gives our vegan sushi its fishy flavor; you can usually find it in the Asian aisle at the regular grocery store
  • Garlic and ginger – for flavor and aroma
  • Sesame seeds – to bump up the sesame flavor even more

Vegan Sushi Poke Bowls:

  • Steamed jasmine rice, brown rice, or quinoa – any of these make a good base for poke bowls, or you can use salad greens to keep the carbs down
  • Carrot – I like to shave the carrot with a vegetable peeler, and then curl the shavings and put them in cold water so they set curled
  • Scallion – this adds savory, mild onion flavor
  • Sesame seeds – for garnish and to bump up the nutty sesame flavor
  • Lime wedges – for squeezing on top to brighten the flavors

How to Make Watermelon Tuna Vegan Sushi Poke Bowls

Step 1: Cut the Watermelon Into 1-Inch Cubes

how to cut watermelon for vegan sushi

Cut off the watermelon rind, and then cut the watermelon into 1-inch-thick cubes.

For Watermelon Tuna Steaks

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Watermelon cubes are great for making poke bowls, but you can also make vegan sashimi and nigiri with watermelon tuna steaks. To do so, cut off the watermelon rind, cut it into 1-inch-thick slices instead of cubes, and then cook it as directed.

Step 2: Cook the Watermelon

cooking watermelon to make tuna
  1. Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the watermelon cubes in a single layer.
  2. Cook 10 minutes, flipping the cubes every so often. The watermelon will release much of its liquid. Remove from the heat.

Step 3: Marinade the Watermelon

watermelon marinading in nori seaweed mixture
  1. Whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, sesame oil, nori, garlic, and sesame seeds.
  2. Add the watermelon and gently toss to coat. Let the watermelon cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  3. Cover the bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days. In this photo, you’ll notice that the watermelon has shrunk because it has absorbed the marinade; this is what we want to happen!

Now that your watermelon tuna is cooked and marinated, you can use it to make poke bowls! Or for a vegan version of seared ahi tuna salad, briefly grill the marinated watermelon and serve it on salad greens with sesame ginger dressing.

How to Make Watermelon Tuna in the Oven

If you prefer, you can make this vegan watermelon tuna in the oven instead of on the stovetop. Here is how to do it:

  1. Arrange the watermelon cut into 1-inch cubes or slices on a baking tray lined with parchment paper for easy cleanup.
  2. Bake in a preheated 350F oven until the watermelon is soft, about 1 hour.
  3. Transfer to the marinade, and follow the rest of the recipe.

How to Store Watermelon Tuna

You can store watermelon tuna in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Note that it will soften during this time, and its flavor will intensify as it sits in the marinade.

watermelon vegan sushi

Vegan Sushi FAQs

Does Vegan Sushi Taste Fishy?

Yes! Follow this recipe exactly as written and you’ll be amazed that you’re not eating real tuna or salmon.

For the right fishy texture, make sure to cook the watermelon as directed. And to get the fishy flavor, don’t skip the nori in the marinade!

But if a full-on fishy flavor isn’t really your thing, feel free to skip the nori in the marinade. You’ll still get a great simulation of sushi, just without the flavor of the sea.

Why is Watermelon a Good Choice for Vegan Sushi?

First of all, it’s the right color! We eat with our eyes first, so this is actually very important.

Secondly, after watermelon is cooked (either on the stovetop or in the oven), it loses its crispness and takes on a fishy texture.

spread of vegan sushi poke bowls with rice

What Can I Add to a Vegan Poke Bowl?

There are a ton of different fruit and vegetables that are great additions to vegan poke bowls. Here are a few ideas:

  • Edamame – shelled edamame works great, and you can usually find it in the freezer section of regular grocery stores (thaw it before adding to your poke bowl)
  • Red cabbage – thinly sliced
  • Cucumber – cut into thin slices
  • Carrot – cut into matchsticks or curls
  • Avocado – thinly sliced
  • Mango – cut into thin slices
  • Radish – thinly sliced
  • Tofu – to bump up the protein
  • Pickled ginger – a classic accompaniment for sushi and poke bowls
  • Wasabi – another traditional accoutrement for sushi
  • Rice, quinoa, or salad greens – any of these will work as a great base for a poke bowl

More Vegan Recipes to Try

vegetarian poke bowl with rice and watermelon spicy salmon

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Watermelon Tuna Vegan Sushi Poke Bowls

Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Other Time1 hour 30 minutes
Yields: 2 servings
This watermelon tuna recipe transforms sweet, crisp watermelon into vegan sushi that will blow your mind with how much it actually tastes like fish! With just 10 minutes of cooking required, the magic happens with the nori marinade.

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Ingredients
 

Watermelon Tuna:

  • 4 cups cubed seedless watermelon 1-inch cubes
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons tamari sauce or coconut aminos
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha or more to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 sheet nori dried seaweed, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger peeled and grated
  • 1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds

Vegan Sushi Poke Bowls:

  • 2 cups steamed jasmine rice or brown rice or quinoa (see Notes)
  • 1 cup shaved carrot optional
  • 1 scallion thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 2 lime wedges

Instructions
 

For the Watermelon Tuna:

  • Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the watermelon cubes in a single layer, and cook 10 minutes, flipping the cubes every so often. The watermelon will release much of its liquid. Remove from the heat.
  • Whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, sesame oil, nori, garlic, and sesame seeds. Add the watermelon and gently toss to coat.
  • Let the watermelon cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Cover the bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.

To Serve:

  • Divide the rice between 2 individual bowls. Top each with half of the watermelon tuna (discard the marinating liquid), carrot, and scallion. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top, and serve each bowl with a lime wedge to squeeze on top.

Notes

  • Storage: You can store watermelon tuna in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Note that it will soften during this time, and its flavor will intensify as it sits in the marinade.
  • Rice Base: If you want to keep the carbs down, instead of using a base of rice you can use salad greens.

How to Make Watermelon Tuna in the Oven

If you prefer, you can make this vegan watermelon tuna in the oven instead of on the stovetop. Here is how to do it:
  1. Arrange the watermelon cut into 1-inch cubes or slices on a baking tray lined with parchment paper for easy cleanup.
  2. Bake in a preheated 350F oven until the watermelon is soft, about 1 hour.
  3. Transfer to the marinade, and follow the rest of the recipe.

Nutrition

Calories: 397kcal | Carbohydrates: 79g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 1481mg | Potassium: 729mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 23g | Vitamin A: 12566IU | Vitamin C: 41mg | Calcium: 103mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutritional information is automatically calculated and should be used as an approximate.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Japanese
Keyword: Vegan Poke, Vegan Poke Bowl, Vegan Sashimi, Vegan Sushi, Vegetarian Poke Bowl, Watermelon Poke, Watermelon Tuna, Watermelon Tuna Recipe

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Faith, author of An Edible Mosaic.
About Faith

I’m the writer, recipe developer, photographer, and food stylist behind this blog. I love finding the human connection through something we all do every day: eat! Food is a common ground that we can all relate to, and our tables tell a story. It’s my goal to inspire you to get in the kitchen, try something new, and find a favorite you didn’t know you had.

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