What Is Poke?
Poke has been all the rage in recent years. In around 2012, poke restaurants started popping up on the West coast and moved east shortly after. Pronounced “p’okay,” it means to “slice or cut” in Hawaiian. The poke bowl originated in Hawaii and usually features raw chunks of sushi-grade ahi tuna (typically yellowfin “aku”), and even octopus, called he’e poke. Salmon and snapper are used as well.
The sliced fish is then frequently served over jasmine rice and topped with veggies and umami sauces. Poke bowls can also be customized and have taken on a number of forms, often influenced by Japanese flavors.
Common ingredients now also include brown rice, avocado, quinoa, hot sauce, edamame, seaweed, and crispy onions. And salty sauces made with soy, shoyu, or even black beans are used, which all have Japanese origin.
These bowls feature a colorful medley of fresh fish and veggies that are perfect for warm-weather eating.
What’s in a Poke Bowl?
Poke bowls are customizable when it comes to nearly every aspect.
Salmon can be swapped for tuna, if preferred, and quinoa or brown rice for jasmine. Different sauces and toppings can be used depending on your personal tastes.
But no matter what you decide, a poke bowl is very nutritious. Let’s take a look at how the commonly-used main components can boost your nutrient intake.
Tuna and salmon are both rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to a number of health benefits including improved cholesterol, a lower risk for heart disease, a boosted mood, and even improved sexual function.
North Americans under-consume omega-3s, so including a poke bowl, sushi, or fatty fish in some other capacity in your diet is highly recommended. If you’re not keen on raw fish, order it grilled. Deep-fried options will do more harm than good.
Jasmine rice, or any traditional white rice, is often used for poke bowls, but some people prefer brown rice. Rice selection, in some circles, is hotly contested.
It’s true that brown rice blows white rice out of the water from a nutritional standpoint. One cup of brown rice is a rich source of fiber, protein, B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, selenium, phosphorous, and more.
These nutrients can serve multiple purposes that contribute to good health, nerve function, blood sugar metabolism, and reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.
Brown rice is also a source of antioxidant phenols and flavonoids that help protect cells from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can play a role in heart disease, cancer, and aging.
But even with all that, brown rice might not be your best option. Some have a hard time digesting brown rice. In cultures with diets that include a lot of rice, and have for centuries, white rice is almost always preferred.
White rice is very east to digest, and considering all the other potential nutrients in a poke bowl, may be the most attractive option.
Quinoa is an alternative base that’s popular for poke bowls. This South American whole grain is known for being high-protein, high-fiber, and very nutrient-dense.
Sometimes called “the mother or all grains,” it is also high in nutrients like magnesium, folate, phosphorous, manganese, copper, and iron. Like brown rice, it is also high in antioxidants, but what makes it unique is that it is a plant-based whole protein.
Some of the benefits quinoa may offer to health include: improved digestion, lower blood pressure, improved glucose metabolism, a reduced risk for anemia, and improved tissue growth.
4. Fresh Veggies
Vegetables like seaweed, pickled cabbage, and crispy onion—and even fruits like avocado—are also healthy staples of poke bowls.
Avocado helps provide a creamy texture and a host of nutrients including heart-healthy “good” fats and fiber. They are also rich in potassium and magnesium, which promote heart health, better sleep, and lower stress.
Red cabbage provides many antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin, which can contribute to healthy eyes and potentially reduce risks for cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Sauces are generally made with healthy fats from sesame oil, a little bit of soy, and rice vinegar. If you’re counting calories, go easy on the sauce and avoid creamier options.
How to Make a Poke Bowl at Home
1. Spicy Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl
Prep Time: 15 minutes Total Time: 15 minutes Serves: 2
1/2 lb sushi-grade tuna
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2 tbsp white onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp soy sauce (low-sodium option)
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp sriracha sauce
1 small, 4-ounce avocado (peeled, seeded, and cubed)
1 medium mango (peeled, seeded, and cubed)
1/2 medium cucumber (peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 small jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup cooked brown rice, white rice, or quinoa
1 tbsp chopped roasted macadamia nuts (optional)
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
- Cut pat-dried tuna into 3/4-inch cubes.
- Place tuna in a medium-sized bowl, and toss with scallions, onions, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sriracha sauce. Set aside.
- In two bowls, layer half with rice (or quinoa), half the tuna, mango, avocado, cucumber, jalapeno, and scallions.
- Top with macadamia nuts and sesame seeds. Serve with lime wedges and extra sauce if desired.
2. Traditional Hawaiian-Style Poke Shots
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 10 minutes Serves:8
2 large sushi-grade ahi tuna steaks
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1 shallot, sliced
3 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp chili-garlic sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
- Pat tuna dry, then cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Place in a medium-sized bowl.
- Add in green onion, shallots, soy sauce, sesame seeds, chili-garlic sauce, and sesame oil. Gently toss.
- Transfer poke to eight shot glasses. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate.
3. Salmon Poke in Chili-Garlic Sauce
Prep Time: 3-4 hours Cook Time: 15 minutes Serves: 3-4
For Chili-Garlic Water:
4 small red chilies, finely minced
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1/2 cup water
1 lb sushi-grade salmon
2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp chili-garlic water
1 tbsp sriracha sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
For the Final Dish:
1/2 cup onion, thinly sliced
8 roasted cashews
1/2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 1/2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce, more if needed (to taste)
1 tbsp chili-garlic water
2 tsp chili flakes
1 1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp scallion, finely diced
Steamed white short-grain rice
For Chili-Garlic Water:
- Place minced chilies in a jar with smashed garlic, rice vinegar, salt, and chili flakes.
- Combine well and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes.
- Bring 1/2 cup of water to a boil and pour into the jar.
- Let sit at room temperature for two to three hours.
For Salmon Poke:
- Pat salmon dry and cut into bite-sized cubes. Place salmon in a large bowl.
- Add in soy sauce, chili-garlic water, sriracha, and sesame oil.
- Combine well and cover in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- Soak sliced onions in cold water for five minutes. Drain.
- Use a stone mortar to pound and grind cashews and sesame seeds to a coarse powder consistency.
- Remove marinated salmon from fridge and add onions, ground sesame/cashew powder, soy sauce, chili-garlic water, chili flakes, and sesame oil. Blend well and store in fridge for another hour.
- Cook rice and place in bowls. Place salmon and diced avocado over rice and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Drizzle with more chili-garlic water.
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