Seared Tuna Roll with Basil Aioli

A fun home cooking project! Step-by-step recipe for sushi featuring tuna, avocado, and cucumber served alongside a basil aioli. Gluten-free.

Welcome to amateur sushi night… Tonight’s dinner was inspired by the leftover bowl of white rice that’s been sitting in the back of my fridge. We’ve been eating enough stir fries lately and I figured Jack was probably kale-d out. Plus I thought this sounded like “group” fun. (Especially for our little Japanese girl who was standing by for floor droppings).

We took a class once about 5 years ago at Central Market and I remembered this blackened tuna roll with 7-spice and basil sauce that I’d been meaning to make again. Of course Jack and I got home from the store and realized that the little bulk 7-spice baggie didn’t make it to the grocery bag. I threw a little tiny tantrum, collected myself, (took a drink of sake), remembered that cooking is fun, and just seared the tuna with salt.

So the basil sauce became the star here. While, sadly, most of my basil plant died in this past weeks’ frost, a few lonely sprigs survived to provide us enough for tonight’s sauce.

For the rice —  I was going to add a splash of water, rice vinegar and sugar (actually, agave syrup, because it’s the only sugar I usually keep on hand) to make sushi-esque rice. But when we took the leftover rice out of the fridge it was dry and un-reconstitute-able, so we tossed it and started over. Jack didn’t approve of my idea of “a splash of this a splash of that” sushi-esque rice, so he looked up the proper and official way to make sushi rice vinegar. He was very disappointed at my offering of agave syrup instead of “fine grain caster sugar” but he begrudgingly made do. I’m not going to say that this official recipe was simple… because it took him a good 30 minutes to create the mix while the rice cooker was cooking the rice… so I’m sure it involved much precision and technique.

Surprisingly I remembered from the class how to roll sushi rolls decently well.* And I garnished them with un-burnt toasted sesame seeds.

2 hours from start to finish we had a yummy sushi dinner.

* Intentionally not pictured here: Jack’s roll

5.0 from 1 reviews

Seared Tuna Roll with Basil Aioli

Serves: 3-4
Basil Aioli:
  • ½ cup mayo
  • 2 teaspoons wasabi paste, or to taste
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • small handful basil leaves, blanched, shocked, and chopped
  • small handful spinach leaves, blanched, shocked, and chopped
  • 4-6 oz high quality fresh tuna
  • 1-2 cups sushi rice
  • 2 sheets nori, halved
  • 1 avocado
  • ½ cucumber, sliced into sticks
  • ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
  • Sea salt and fresh black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for searing
  • 7 spice blend (optional)
  1. Make the basil aioli: Combine the mayo, wasabi, garlic, olive oil, basil, and spinach in a small blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
  2. Generously season both sides of the tuna with pinches of salt and pepper and rub with the 7 spice blend, if using. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a pan and sear the tuna for 1 minute on each side. Remove from the pan, let cool, and slice into thin strips.
  3. Prepare the rolls: Place a small bowl of water and a kitchen towel near your work area as your hands will get sticky. Place one nori sheet, glossy side down, onto a bamboo mat and press a handful of rice onto the lower two-thirds of the sheet. At the bottom of the rice place your toppings. Don’t overfill or it will be more difficult to roll. Use the bamboo mat to tuck and roll the nori. Once rolled, use the bamboo mat to gently press and shape the roll. Place the roll to the side, cut side down. Repeat with remaining rolls.
  4. Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut the sushi. Wipe the knife clean with a damp towel between cuts.
  5. Serve sushi alongside the basil aioli.
The Basil Aioli recipe comes courtesy of Timothy Thomas, via the Central Market Cooking School.



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  1. Kris

    I never use mayo because my husband and I sort of hate it. I would normally use Greek yogurt in my recipes that call for mayo but I was thinking it might be weird with the sushi. Do you think using blended avocado (with some salt, acid, etc.) would be a good replacement for mayo here?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Kris, you could blend avocado with lime, salt, pepper, and maybe olive oil, yogurt, or water to thin it a bit. I think it would be great.

  2. There are a lot of recipes which we pick for any type of event. You can quickly make it within a few minutes.

  3. paula

    thanks – been planning on trying to make sushi – and really wanted to try tuna.
    this looks great.

  4. telesma

    That is gorgeous. I pinned it for later so I won’t forget about it. I want to try it soon.

  5. Ana

    I can’t wait to try your recipe! I love making sushi at home.
    Sometimes with dried out rice (especially when I’m too much in a hurry to make a fresh pot) I put a about a teaspoon to a tablespoon of water (depending on how much rice) in a microwave safe container and the rice. I cover it loosely and microwave it for about two minutes and it comes out almost good as new.

  6. Denise from

    Sushi is always good, if you ask me. I’ve never made my own before (I know, how strange is that!), but after seeing this post that might change soon….!

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.