The appeal of the modern poke bowl lies in its customizability. Pick a fish, pick a sauce, toss in a few pickled items, and you’ve got a colorful and inviting bowl of rice, protein, and vegetables. If you don’t eat fish, however, you might feel a little left out.
“Vegan poke” might seem antithetical to the spirit of the dish. After all, poke began as a one-ingredient dish, and that ingredient was fish. Fisherman would season their offcuts with whatever they had access to and eat it as a snack; there isn’t a vegan alternative to that. A poke bowl offers a little more room for improvisation. Chain poke restaurants will sometimes offer tofu as a stand-in for fish, and Trader Joe’s recently started selling a beet-based vegan poke.
I haven’t tried the latter. According to the Trader Joe’s Mom Facebook group in which I lurk, it’s not good, but a tender and toothsome, slightly salty, bright pink bit of beet certainly looks the part, so I decided to make my own.
Rather than cook and then marinate the beets, I decided to use my immersion circulator and do both at the same time. I tossed cubed beets with a little soy sauce and sesame oil, then crumbled a four-ounce package of dried seaweed in the bag before sealing it all up and letting it hang out in a water bath set to 185℉.
The beets that came out of the vacuum bag were tender but not mushy—lightly savory, with an earthy sweetness and a mild oceanic flavor, thanks to the seaweed. While it might be asking a little much of a vegetable that is pretending to be fish, I wanted to up the savoriness even more, so I add a few shakes of MSG to make the beets read a little meatier and allow them to serve as the star of the rice bowl, rather than compete with the other vegetables.
Why sous vide?
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While you certainly could boil your beets, then toss them with a mixture of sesame oil, soy sauce, and all that other stuff, cooking them sous-vide streamlines it into a single step. The constant temperature of the bath gently cooks the beets to a perfectly tender and toothsome texture while gently infusing them with the flavors of the other ingredients. Once cooked, you can store the beets in the bag you cooked them in until you’re ready to make your bowl.
This isn’t a recipe, but a template
I kept my ingredients list simple on purpose. I like the flavor of beets, and I didn’t want to obscure them too much, but you are welcome to add whatever you want to your bag of vegan poke. You can add sliced scallions, ginger, miso paste, or hot sauce. But whatever you use, I insist you finish it with MSG—the glutamate adds a meaty note not found in root vegetables, transforming them from side dish to main event.
Sous-vide vegan beet poke
- 7 ounces beets, peeled and cubed into 1/2-inch pieces (Use chioggia beets for a vegan poke that looks more like tuna.)
- 0.4 ounces roasted seaweed sheets (one package at Trader Joe’s)
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- MSG for finishing
Fill a tub or pot with water and clip your immersion circulator to the side. Set the temperature to 185℉. Toss the beets with the sesame oil and soy sauce, then crumble the seaweed and mix it in. Seal in a vacuum bag in a single layer. (Alternatively: Place in a quart-sized freezer bag and remove excess air with the water displacement method).
Place the bag in the water bath and cook for at least one hour or up to three. Remove from the bath, dry the bag, and chill for at least an hour, until ready to serve. Season with a pinch or two of MSG to reach your desired level of savoriness. Serve over rice with your favorite poke accoutrement.