Poke bowls with garnish

Say hello to your Valentine’s Day dinner plans, sushi lovahs! Skip the crowded restaurant this year and, more importantly, the outrageous bill (OUCH,) and make these fun and healthy Poke Bowls at home instead!

overhead photo of a fresh poke bowl

Last week I showed you the Poke Bowls Ben whipped up for me and him and I got so many comments and emails about the recipe that I knew I had to crank it out in time for the upcoming holiday. If you and your partner like sushi and sashimi, you’re going to love whipping this recipe up together!

So in case you haven’t heard, Poke (pronounced poh-kay) is a diced raw fish dish that Hawaiians have been eating for decades. It’s only recently made its way onto the mainland, and into my eagerly awaiting heart, as there’s nothing I love more than sushi. Poke Bowls, however, are like a deconstructed sushi roll in a bowl drizzled with the most incredible, savory-sweet-umami-tasting sauce. Can you say upgrade?

man making a poke bowl

Ben and I love making homemade sushi rolls and nigiri on special occasions like Valentine’s Day, as going to a sushi joint is not always an easy option on account of my Celiac Disease (plus, like I mentioned, the bill: YOW.) It starts out fine – we pour some sake and turn up the tunes – but inevitably he’ll bail when the sticky sushi rice starts getting stuck everywhere from his fingers to his eyebrows, and I end up playing sushi chef with an eye rolling issue when he requests his half be rolled inside out “like they do at the restaurant.

Hey, I obviously love cooking but there’s a reason why it’s fun to sit AT the sushi bar and not stand BEHIND it. There’s not enough sake in the world to make rolling sticky sushi for 2 a super fun task!

Anyway, that’s why we’re loving Poke Bowls. Sushi rice is piled into bowls then topped with tons of sushi-friendly toppings, diced sushi-grade fish, and a yummy sesame-soy-based sauce. I make the rice, he makes the toppings, then we collaborate on the sauce. Boom – no pesky rolling, and we’re in the kitchen spending quality time together!

sesame soy almonds on top of a poke bowl

Not only am I posting these Poke Bowls as a fun Valentine’s Day date idea, but I’m also sharing them in honor of Heart Health Month, in partnership with Fisher Nuts.

Fisher has 9 varieties of nuts, including the sliced almonds I used as a crunchy topping in this dish, that are not only preservative-free but certified as Heart Healthy by the American Heart Association. Combine the sliced almonds with omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish like salmon and tuna, and Poke Bowls are not only fun to make with your love this Valentine’s Day, but they’re good for your hearts, too!

Now, Poke Bowls are kind of the Hawaiian version of Chipotle’s burrito bowls, top yours with whatever sounds good to you. I went with quick pickled vegetables, sliced nori, creamy avocado, Sesame-Soy Almonds, green onions, and sushi-grade tuna and salmon dressed in the most irresistable Poke sauce. Feel free to add mango, toasted sesame seeds, edamame, cucumber, carrot, onion, radish – seriously, anything!

chopsticks holding salmon sushi

Start by cooking sushi rice. In my experience it always pays to spend a little more on quality sushi rice – that said, I recommend Lundberg’s sushi rice. Whatever brand you buy, follow the cooking directions on the package, which will almost always include rinsing the rice very well under running water then soaking for 30 minutes before cooking.

After the rice is cooked, drizzle in a mixture of rice vinegar that’s been microwaved with sugar and salt until dissolved, then gently stir the rice with a spatula to coat. Scoop the rice out onto a plate then set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, get the quick-pickled vegetables ready. Again, this is an optional topping but Ben and I love its crunch and tang in contrast to the avocados and Poke sauce.

In a medium-sized bowl combine rice vinegar, sugar, and salt then microwave for 30 seconds and stir until dissolved. Set the pickling liquid aside to cool slightly while you julienne carrots, English cucumbers (or a small regular cucumber) and serrano pepper. Stir to coat then place in the refrigerator to pickle while you prepare the rest of the Poke Bowls.

pickled vegetables in a bowl

Next stop – Poke sauce! So, per Ben, he’s never had the same type of Poke sauce, meaning every restaurant he orders Poke at seems to have their own “house” sauce. I think that’s kind of the recurring theme of Poke though – it’s all up to the individual as to how they want their bowls to taste.

Personally, I went with a mixture of gluten-free Tamari (or soy sauce – dish will not be GF if using traditional soy sauce,) rice vinegar, sesame oil, mirin, garlic, ginger, and a few slices of serrano pepper for a little zing. Classic Asian flavors that I like best with sushi. My advice is to make the base then add what feels right to you, if anything. Stash the sauce in the fridge to let the flavors meld — you can make this a day ahead to save some time.

The last topping is my favorite – Sesame-Soy Almonds! Often times Poke is topped with toasted sesame seeds but I thought the crunch of toasted almonds flavored with sesame and Tamari would be even better, and I was sooooo right. I am obsessed with this 2 minute topping featuring Fisher Naturals sliced almonds.

Heat sesame oil in a small skillet over medium heat then remove the skillet from the heat and very carefully pour in gluten-free Tamari followed by sliced almonds. The oil will spit a bit from adding the Tamari so please use caution (I don’t want to be dramatic because it’s not like the skillet is going to burst into flames, but I also don’t want you to be surprised!) Return the skillet to the heat then cook while stirring near constantly for a minute or two, being careful not to burn the Tamari.

Scoop the almonds onto parchment paper or a silpat then let cool slightly. Salty, crunchy – YUMMY!!

Last stop – fresh fish! From my research it seems ahi tuna is the most traditional fish to use in Poke, but since this dish is all about eating and including what you like, I went with both tuna and salmon. It’s important to use sushi or sashimi-grade fish for this recipe, so skip the traditional grocery store in favor of your local fish market. Locals, I HIGHLY recommend Waterfront.

Wherever you purchase your fish from, it should NOT smell or taste “fishy”. If it does, it’s not the night for Poke Bowls. Truly fresh, sushi-grade fish should just smell fresh.

fresh tuna steak and salmon filet on a cutting board

Slice the fish into bite-sized pieces using a sharp knife to avoid tearing, then add to a big bowl. This is what differentiates Poke from sashimi, or even tartare, by the way. Poke is diced fish, while sashimi is thinly sliced, and tartare is finely chopped.

diced raw salmon and tuna in a bowl

Spoon some of the Poke sauce over the top then add a sliced green onion and gently stir to coat. Ahhh, I could eat this entire bowl!!

raw tuna and salmon tossed in poke sauce

Assembly time!

Step 1: pour yourself some sake if you haven’t already. Very important.

Step 2: Scoop the sushi rice into bowls then top with the pickled vegetables, Sesame-Soy Almonds, sauce-coated fish, plus any/all toppings you love. I included chopped avocado, sliced nori, and more green onions.

Step 3: drizzle with more Poke sauce then dive in. I hope you LOVE these fresh and fabulous, FUN to eat Poke Bowls – enjoy!

close up photo of a poke bowl

Poke Bowls with Sesame-Soy Almonds


Get the restaurant experience at home with homemade Poke Bowls! Fresh, easy, and gluten free.


serves 2

  • 1lb sushi-grade fish (I used 1/2lb each salmon and tuna,) cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 green onions, sliced on the diagonal, divided
  • 1/2 sheet nori, thinly sliced
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • For the sushi rice:
    • 1 cup sushi rice
    • 1-1/2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
    • 2 teaspoons sugar
    • pinch of salt
  • For the pickled vegetables:
    • 3 Tablespoons rice vinegar
    • scant 1 Tablespoon sugar
    • pinch of salt
    • 1/3 English cucumber, julienned
    • 1 large carrot, peeled then julienned
    • 1/2 serrano pepper (or more or less,) thinly sliced
  • For the sauce:
    • 1/4 cup gluten-free Tamari or soy sauce (dish will not be GF if using traditional soy sauce)
    • 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
    • 1 Tablespoon mirin
    • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
    • 1 small clove garlic, microplaned or grated
    • heaping 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
    • 1/2 serrano pepper (or more or less,) thinly sliced
  • For the Sesame-Soy almonds:
    • 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
    • 1 Tablespoon gluten-free Tamari or soy sauce (dish will not be GF if using traditional soy sauce)
    • 1/3 cup Fisher Naturals sliced almonds


  1. For the sushi rice: Cook rice according to package directions (usually this will include rinsing the rice followed by a 30 minute soak in water before cooking.) Add rice vinegar, sugar, and salt to a small dish then microwave for 25 seconds. Stir until sugar has dissolved then pour over cooked rice and stir to coat. Spread rice out onto a large plate to cool slightly.
  2. For the pickled vegetables: Add rice vinegar, sugar, and salt to a medium-sized bowl then microwave for 30 seconds. Stir until sugar has dissolved then cool slightly. Once cool, add vegetables then stir to coat and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  3. For the sauce: Add ingredients to a small bowl then refrigerate to let flavors meld. Can be done a day ahead of time.
  4. For the Sesame-Soy Almonds: Add oil to a small skillet over medium heat. Remove skillet from heat then very carefully add Tamari (or soy sauce if using.) BE CAREFUL as the oil will spit a bit. Immediately add almonds then stir to coat and return skillet to heat. Continue stirring until almonds are well coated and slightly toasted, 1-2 minutes, being careful to not let the Tamari burn. Scoop almonds out onto a piece of parchment paper or silpat then let cool.
  5. Add fish to a large bowl then add some of the sauce and half the green onions, and then gently stir to coat. Scoop sushi rice into bowls then top with the dressed fish, remaining green onions, nori, chopped avocado, pickled vegetables, and Sesame-Soy almonds, and then serve.

This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats, http://iowagirleats.com.

photo collage of a poke bowl