Fresh. Crunchy. Savory and satisfying. On the table, 30 minutes or less! Spicy Tuna Gimbap — the humble pantry meal that feels like a feast.
Typically, Gimbap is labor-intensive Korean food. Lots of ingredients. Lots of chopping and cooking. Individual hand rolling, one by one.
So I rarely made Gimbap at home. Too much work, too much fuss. Sadly, it doesn’t taste good the next day either. Gimbap was placed into the rarely accessed, “special occasion,” food vault.
But when a YouTube video introduced me to different kinds of Gimbap, I was instantly intrigued. Small batch Gimbap? Made from pantry ingredients and/or leftovers?
And just like that, Spicy Tuna Gimbap became a regular addition to our meal rotation!
What’s the difference between Gimbap and Sushi?
Gimbap/Kimbap literally translates into “Seaweed Rice.” “Gim/Kim” = seaweed. “Bap” = rice.
Some people refer to Gimbap as Korean sushi. But Gimbap is NOT sushi. Gimbap is definitely its own thing.
Sushi contains raw fish and vinegar-seasoned rice. Sushi is also dipped into soy sauce and wasabi.
Traditional Gimbap has a completely different flavor profile. Every bite is an explosion of flavor! There’s a salty-umami flavor that comes from bulgogi, tuna, or eggs. Then there’s a fresh vegetable flavor that comes from a rainbow assortment of vegetables. And finally, there’s that pickled, sour-sweet flavor from danmuji (yellow Korean pickled daikon). This combination is so delicious!
My Spicy Tuna Gimbap is not traditional. But it’s a super tasty, pantry-friendly Gimbap that I’ve been eating quite happily during the quarantine. I hope you will, too!
Short Grain Rice (preferably warm)
Short grain rice is essential to Gimbap. Short grain rice, sometimes labeled sushi rice, contains more starch than medium and long grain rice. When cooked, the rice clings and sticks together.
Trust me — long or medium grain rice won’t work! The fluffy, separate grains of rice will fall out and frustrate you to no end. Slicing, rolling, eating — these are difficult tasks if the rice doesn’t stick together.
For this recipe, I recommend a spicy Korean tuna fish made by Dong Wong. So much flavor! Just enough spice! (It’s really not that spicy, wink wink.)
If you don’t have access to Spicy Tuna, use regular canned tuna and add sriracha. I’ve included notes in the recipe card below.
Or, feel free to make a non-spicy version with regular canned tuna. Non-spicy Tuna Gimbap is good, too!
Mayonnaise binds the tuna together and adds tons of flavor. I like Kewpie, which is a Japanese mayo. It’s sweet, eggy, and very rich. Regular mayo also works, FYI.
Seaweed Sheets or Nori/Gim
Full size seaweed sheets (also called Nori or Gim) can be found at the Asian Grocery store. There are two kinds: unseasoned Japanese Nori and seasoned Korean Gim. Honestly, they are both delicious. Use the one that’s most convenient to purchase. They store for a long time in the pantry, so I always keep some on hand.
Fresh Vegetables: Cucumber + Kkaennip
I like cucumber for lots of crunch and freshness. Cut into long, tiny strips for maximum crunch! (Versus one big cucumber log.)
I also LOVE kkaennip (Korean perilla leaves) for that earthy, herby freshness. If you’ve never tried it, kkaennip tastes SO GOOD with tuna. The perfect combination! If you don’t have access to this ingredient, lettuce makes a good substitute.
How to Make Spicy Tuna Gimbap:
Season freshly cooked rice. Drain tuna and mix with mayo + sriracha.
Place seaweed sheet, flat side down. Add rice evenly and spread to corners, leaving a 2-inch border on top.
Add Kkaennip (perilla leaves) or lettuce.
Add spicy tuna + mayo. Add cucumbers.
Picking up the bottom end, roll tightly into a log. Brush with sesame oil. Repeat, slice, and enjoy!
Optional: The Spicy Tuna filling will bleed into the rice. There’s just no way to avoid it. Eat as is OR drizzle extra Kewpie (Japanese mayo), sriracha, and a generous handful of Bonito flakes to cover. Enjoy!
Spicy Tuna Gimbap
- Bamboo Mat (optional)
- 4 Nori Sheets
- 1 cucumber
- 8-12 Kkaennip (Perilla) leaves (red or green leaf lettuce is a good substitute)
- 3 cups (uncooked) short grain rice
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 3 (5.29oz/150g) cans spicy Korean tuna (I use Dong Won Hot Pepper Tuna)
- 3 Tbsp Mayonnaise (I use Kewpie Mayonnaise)
- *1-2 Tbsp sriracha (if you don't have access to spicy tuna, depending on spice preference)
- Cook short grain rice according to package directions. When the rice is fully cooked, transfer to a large bowl. Season with soy sauce and mix well. Cool slightly.
- While the rice cooks, prep the rest of the ingredients. Add drained, canned spicy tuna to a medium bowl. Add mayo and mix until well combined with a fork. Roughly divide the tuna mixture into 4 equal portions. Julienne cucumber into thin strips, the same length as the short side of the seaweed sheets. Roughly divide cucumber into 4 equal portions.
- Take one seaweed sheet, flat side down. Add 1 cup of (warm) rice and spread evenly to the edges, making sure to leave a 2-inch border at the top.
- Add kkaennip or lettuce leaves, making sure the leaves overlap.
- Add tuna mixture and cucumbers. (If you divide the portions in 4 equal portions beforehand, each roll will be sure to have equal amounts of filling.)
- Picking up the bottom end, roll tightly into a log. Use the bamboo mat (optional) to press into a cylindrical shape. Press a few grains of rice on the border to "glue" the end of the seaweed sheet to the rest of the roll. Coat with sesame oil. Repeat until all 4 rolls are finished.
- Slice Gimbap and spread onto a platter. The spicy sauce will bleed into the rice. There's just no way to avoid it. Eat as is OR drizzle extra Kewpie (Japanese mayo), sriracha, and a generous handful of Bonito flakes to cover. Enjoy!