How To Make Dragon Rolls (With Vegan Recipe)

How To Make Dragon Roll Sushi (With Vegan Recipe)

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Dragon rolls

If you ask me to pick my favorite non-traditional sushi, I would say a dragon roll. The crunchy taste of shrimp tempura inside the roll is highly appetizing and the overall presentation looks eye-catching. As you don’t need sushi-grade fish for this recipe, you can make it anytime.

While this western style of roll is not common in Japan, you can find a dragon roll in almost every sushi restaurant outside Japan. The sushi-traditionalists may not call it real sushi, but it is prevalent in the western countries.

If you love dragon roll but find it an expensive indulgence in the sushi restaurants, consider making them at home. While there are a few extra steps involved in making this type of sushi roll, it’s an enjoyable experience for the entire family, and the result is finger licking good!

Today, I will share an easy recipe for making delicious dragon roll and an alternative recipe for my vegan friends. But, before that let’s discuss the basics about a dragon roll and the type of ingredients that make it so unique. 


What Is A Dragon Roll?

This is a western style of inside-out sushi roll, which means you have sushi rice on the top and the Nori hidden inside to make your roll look aesthetic. The roll typically has cucumber slices, and shrimp tempura inside and thin slices of avocado are decorated on the top. Some restaurants may make different variations of the roll by using grilled eel (unagi) instead of shrimp tempura.

Why Is It Called A Dragon Roll?

A dragon roll is called so because of its green outer layer comprising of avocado and cucumber slices. It looks almost like dragon scales, and hence the name. A slight variation of this style is often known as the caterpillar roll. I love this style more because it not only has yummy fillings inside but tasty toppings well. 

How To Make Dragon Roll (Recipe)

• 7- 8 pieces shrimp tempura
•1 Japanese cucumber (Persian cucumbers will also do)
•2 Ripe avocados
•Half lemon (optional)
•2 Nori sheets cut into half
•2 cups of sushi rice
•2 tablespoon Tobiko (flying fish roe)

For toppings

• Spicy Mayo
• Unagi Sauce
• Roasted sesame seeds

Step 1:

Cook short grain Japanese rice and add the seasonings (vinegar, salt, and sugar) when the rice is still hot. Cover the rice pot and keep aside.

Step 2:

Peel the cucumbers lengthwise into four pieces and remove the seeds. Now, cut them further lengthwise to get eight long slices in total.

Step 3:

To make thin slices of avocado, first, cut it into half from both ends until the knife touches the pit. Twist both halves into the opposite direction to remove the pit smoothly. Take a sharp Japanese knife and carefully remove the skin.

Now cut out thin slices of the fruit and gently press the slices to make them fall into a line. If you don’t plan to eat the sushi immediately, I recommend squeezing some lemon juice on the avocado slices to prevent them from turning brown.

Step 4:

Place the bamboo mat on a plain surface and cover it with a plastic wrap to prevent the rice from sticking on the mat. Now, put the half Nori sheet over the plastic wrap, shiny side facing upwards. Moisten your hands and use about a half cup of sushi rice to spread over the Nori sheet.

Step 5:

Flip over the Nori sheet and now put the fillings (two shrimp tempura, tobiko, and cucumber strips) at the bottom section of the Nori sheet. You may add an ounce of unagi sauce over the fillings to enhance the taste.

Step 6:

Slightly lift the bottom part of Nori and start rolling the Nori sheet from the bottom end. Apply gentle pressure using the bamboo mat as you press to get a tight and firm roll. Remove the bamboo mat, place it over the roll and squeeze gently. 

Step 7:

Now use your Japanese sushi knife (read this article to know about sushi knives) to pick all slices of half an avocado and carefully place it over the top of the roll.

Step 8:

Cover the top of the sushi with the plastic wrap and then place the bamboo mat over it. Squeeze tightly to make sure the avocado slices wrap around the roll. You must be gentle so that the avocado slices retain their shape and don’t break.

Step 9:

Take a sharp Japanese sushi knife, moisten it, and cut the roll into 8 slices. Clean the knife with a damp towel after each cut to make sure rice does not stick on the blade. If the roll gets messy after cutting a few slices, squeeze again with the bamboo mat. Remove the plastic and transfer the pieces to a serving tray.

Step 10:

To adorn the sushi slices further, you may put some tobiko on the top and drizzle some spicy mayo on it. Sprinkle roasted sesame seeds on the top to add more texture to the roll. Serve with unagi sauce and enjoy!

Key Ingredients Used For Making Dragon Rolls

#1. Ripe Avocado

As avocados are the first ingredient that comes in contact with your taste buds as you bite a slice of dragon roll, you must ensure that you get only the best quality. To get the perfect texture and flavor, you must use ripe avocados that can be easily squeezed by applying pressure.

If you plan to make sushi the next day, ask the store staff to help you select avocados that will be perfectly ripe by the time you are ready to prepare dinner. For immediate use, look for avocados with darker skin color. Do a quick test by gently squeezing the fruit on your palms. If it yields to pressure, it is perfectly ripe to use in the recipe.

Too firm or too mushy avocado will not work best for the recipe. Avocado slices are used as toppings on the sushi rice to look like the scales of a dragon. You will not be able to give the right shape to avocados that are too firm or soft. 

#2. Japanese Cucumber

Cucumber slices are used along with avocado to adorn the outer area of a dragon roll. I prefer using  Japanese cucumbers as they are long and slender. They have fewer seeds, which make them perfect for making sushi rolls. If you don’t find Japanese cucumbers, you may use Persian cucumbers instead.

While it is possible to use American cucumber for making dragon sushi rolls, make sure you carefully remove all seeds. If the seeds are not removed properly, there will be too much water content inside the sushi rolls.

#3. Sushi Rice

This is an important part of your dragon roll as it will hold the Nori and fillings on one side and the toppings on the other side. It acts as the base and needs to be well cooked to get a tight roll. Outside Japan, sushi rice is often used interchangeably with Japanese short grain rice.

In Japan, sushi rice refers to cooked rice seasoned with vinegar, salt, and sugar. It is mixed in a specific ratio to be used for different types of sushi recipes. To find out how to make the perfect sushi rice in cooker and pot, read my article – how to make sushi rice in a rice cooker (also in a pot).

One important tip is to make sure you don’t mash the sushi rice while seasoning it. When you spread a layer of rice on the Nori sheet, you should be able to see the grains separately. Maintaining the right proportion of sushi rice with the fillings and toppings is also essential.

As the dragon roll has extra items both inside and outside the Nori and rice layer, you need to maintain the right thickness. I suggest using half a cup of sushi rice to spread on a half sheet of Nori evenly.

#4. Nori sheet (Seaweed)

For the dragon roll, you will need only half the sheet of Nori. If you plan to use extra ingredients and the half sheet falls short, you may increase the size to 2/3. You will need to add some more sushi rice, and this will yield a fatter roll. I would suggest that you make a few rolls with half Nori sheet first and then make adjustments if needed. 

#5. Shrimp Tempura

caterpillar roll

The shrimp tempura is another Japanese delicacy and my favorite ingredient in the dragon roll. It lends a unique crunchy taste and flavor to the dragon roll. Due to the popularity of this special seafood delicacy, it is now readily available at many grocery stores around the world.

You may purchase frozen shrimp tempura from any grocery store if you don’t have enough time to make them at home. The frozen tempura is a quick option, as you merely need to put it in the oven for 20 minutes to make it ready to use.

If you want to prepare everything fresh and crisp in your home kitchen, you can also make shrimp tempura for the recipe. There are quite a few steps to follow, but the result will be delicious. Please remember that you will need at least two shrimp tempura for each dragon roll.

To make shrimp tempura, you will need flour, water, eggs, vegetable/ sesame oil, shrimps, potato/corn starch. First, you need to make the tempura batter by sifting the flour inside a large bowl and adding water and an egg to get a batter like consistency. Remember to use cold flour, water, and egg for the batter.

Clean the shrimps and lay them on a flat surface. Dust some cornstarch over the shrimps. Heat oil in a frying pan. Now, dip the shrimps into the batter to get a coat over it and deep-fry the shrimps.  Don’t try to fry all shrimps at once or they will stick together.

When the shrimps get a tough texture, transfer the cooked pieces into a wired plate or rack lined with paper towel to remove excess oil. Now that your crunchy shrimp tempuras are ready to roll let’s get started with putting the ingredients together to create a delicious dragon roll.

Using frozen eel fillet as toppings

You may substitute the avocado slices with eel fillets on the top to enhance the flavor. To do this, you need to first defrost the fillet and grill it for 5 minutes to help it release the natural oils and flavors. Cut the fillet into half lengthwise, and you will need only one-half for the toppings.

Place the half of the fillet over the sushi rice and let the tail part hang at one end like a dragon’s tail. Use a plastic wrap to cover the unagi and apply gentle pressure to shape it around the roll. Use the bamboo mat to further press and help the eel fillet stick to the sushi rice.

Vegan Recipe For Dragon Roll

Dragon rolls look all green and vegan from the top, but they are filled with shrimp tempura or smoked eel inside. They are also drizzled with eel sauce to add to the flavor. Hence, they look vegan but are not to the core!

If you are a vegetarian, don’t be disappointed because I have a vegan version of the dragon roll for you to relish! The recipe is similar to making California rolls (click here for California rolls recipe), just that we will take avocado slices from the middle and put them on the top of the roll.

To make a vegan roll, you will need:

• Seasoned sushi rice (click here for recipe)
• Nori sheets
• Cucumber sticks, julienne cut
• Carrot sticks, julienne cut and steamed gently
• 1 pack of smoked Tofu, cut into strips
• Sliced green onion (scallion)
• One avocado finely sliced (small-medium size)

Step 1:

To prepare vegan sushi rolls, you first need to prepare seasoned sushi rice and vegetables as mentioned above. Cut out thin slices of ripe avocado and use the back of your knife to flatten out the slices slightly.

Step 2:

Place the bamboo mat on the kitchen counter and cover it with a plastic wrap. Now, put the half of a Nori sheet over it and spread out a medium ball of sushi rice (about half cup) on the rough side.

Step 3:

Sprinkle roasted sesame seeds on the rice to add more texture to it and flip over the Nori sheet. Add a few strips of cucumber, carrot, tofu, and sliced green onions as fillings.

Step 4:

Lift the bamboo sheet slightly and start rolling to get a tight roll. Use the knife to lift the flattened avocado slices and place them over the roll. Use the plastic wrap to slightly press from the top to help the avocado stick on the top and get a shape. Drizzle with spicy mayo sauce on the toppings.

You may also use other variations of vegetables like zucchini (julienned and steamed lightly) or blanched asparagus spears. When you are done, cut the vegan dragon roll with a moistened Japanese knife and serve with wasabi sauce. 

Related Questions

What is the calorie count of a dragon sushi roll?

Each serving size of Dragon sushi roll contains about 45 calories, and the primary sources of calories are fat, carbs, and protein. While this may not be a great diet food if you are trying to lose weight, you can safely indulge in the delicacy once a week without feeling guilty!

Can You Eat Dragon Rolls When Pregnant?

During pregnancy, a woman body is vulnerable to infections, and it is better to avoid eating raw fish as they may contain bacteria if not handled properly. Most doctors say that cooked fish is fine, although you must avoid fish that is high in mercury content.

Dragon rolls do not contain raw fish, and this makes them safe to eat while pregnant. The shrimp tempuras are deep-fried, so you can savor the taste without worrying!

Can I add more fillings to a dragon roll?

I would recommend that you keep the fillings minimum, just one or maximum two with some tobiko. The dragon roll comes with slices of avocado on the top, which adds to the volume and has an overpowering taste. More fillings will make the slices difficult to eat in one bite, and the flavor will be distorted.

The Final Words

If you are a novice sushi maker, I would suggest that you try your hand at making a few basic rolls before you move on to making dragon rolls. Although the rolling technique is almost similar, it takes a little practice to ensure the toppings hold on well to the top.

The unique toppings and presentation make dragon rolls one of the best sushi rolls that are a treat for the taste buds and eyes too!  Some people prefer adding slices of raw salmon on the top instead of avocado slices. However, I feel the avocado slices do more justice to the name! 


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