Home Cooking: California Roll Salad

This is possibly my favorite main dish salad because it’s so easy to make and contains some of my favorite flavors. The salad can be made in a couple of different ways as well, from composed on a plate to mixed together just before serving, and crisp lettuce can be added as well if desired. The salad is perfect for any time of the year, but on a hot summer’s day it requires no cooking other than making the rice early in the day.

Besides the dressing, there are only four main ingredients: rice, avocado, cucumber, and surumi, or imitation crab, made from pollock. I was first introduced to surumi in 1980, on our first navy tour in Japan. A friend served it in stick form and I was surprised to learn it wasn’t actual crab because it certainly tasted authentic. These days surumi can be found in either stick form or flaked, which is preferred for this salad.

The original dressing recipe calls for two teaspoons of wasabi powder . . . or to taste. I can assure you that two teaspoons of wasabi will painfully clear your sinuses and make you cry for a while! Wasabi powder is easier to mix into the dressing, but its pungency does not last as long in my opinion. I typically use around a half teaspoon of wasabi paste and it provides enough spice without overwhelming the salad. Interestingly, neither the powder nor the paste is made from actual wasabi, but instead contain horseradish and other ingredients (including green food coloring) to mimic the taste and look of grated wasabi root. A true story: the first time I ever ate wasabi I thought it was avocado, and put nearly teaspoonful in my mouth at once. I choked, cried, thought about dying for a moment, and there may have been actual steam coming out of my ears for a while.

The slivers of nori (seaweed) on top of the salad can be made using a package of roasted seaweed snack. In Japan, shredded nori (kizami nori) is easy to find, but here I use a few sheets from the seaweed snack, cut them in half lengthwise, and then snip them into shreds over the salad right before serving. Any remaining nori can go into an airtight container and be kept for future use (or eaten as a snack!).

The rice should be made a few hours before serving so that it can cool to room temperature before making the salad. It’s okay for it to be sticky because the addition of the dressing later will separate the grains.

To put the salad together, first make the dressing. Whisk the wasabi into the mayonnaise first, then incorporate the soy sauce and other ingredients, continuing to use a whisk so that everything is blended smoothly.

Seed and cut the cucumber into small 1-inch pieces.

Peel and cut two ripe avocados (or one large one) into similar sized pieces.

Remove the flaked surumi from the package and break into pieces.

For a composed salad, place anywhere from 1/2 to one cup of rice into the middle of individual plate or salad bowls. Arrange the surumi, avocado, and cucumber around and over the rice. Add two tablespoons of dressing over the salad, then top with some shredded nori. The rice and other ingredients can also be placed on top of shredded lettuce if desired.

The salad can also be served by gently mixing together the rice, surumi, cucumber, and avocado (and chopped lettuce, if desired) in a large bowl, and then adding and mixing in the dressing. The dressing will break apart any lumps of sticky rice. Top the salad with shredded nori and serve immediately.



  • 1/2 tsp wasabi paste (or to taste)
  • 1 TBSP mayonnaise
  • 1 TBSP soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 TBSP sugar
  • 1 tsp dark sesame oil

2 cups cooked rice, at room temperature

2 ripe avocados, cut into 1″ pieces.

2 cups flaked-style imitation crab meat (surumi), separated into pieces

1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces

4 pieces of snack-size nori (can use more if desired)

Lettuce (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk the wasabi paste into the mayonnaise, then whisk in the soy sauce and rice vinegar until well blended, then stir in the sugar and sesame oil. Set aside.

Place 1/2 -1 cup of the cooked rice in salad bowls or on individual salad plates, on top of lettuce if using. Arrange cucumber pieces, avocado pieces, and imitation crab meat over the rice. Pour at least 2 tablespoons of the dressing over the top of the salad. Cut 2 sheet of the nori in half lengthwise, put one half on top of the other and then snip into small shreds on top of each salad. Serve immediately.

The salad can be premixed before serving. Place cooked rice into a large bowl, add dressing, then gently mix in the cucumber, avocado, and imitation crab (crisp lettuce can be mixed in as well). Top the salad with nori pieces right before serving.


4 thoughts on “Home Cooking: California Roll Salad

  1. I make a similar “stacked” salad from a recipe on Skinny Taste using shrimp. You’re right, it’s so great on a hot day, and lots of flavor!


    1. It is the BEST hot weather salad!

      When it’s just Brett and me, I do the composed salad, but when it’s for the family I just throw it together. I like the idea of a “stacked” salad.


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