The last few years, Pete and I have opted for a quiet home-cooked dinner on New Year’s Eve. This year, after just returning from an especially cold (sub-zero temps, but sadly, no snow) trip to the cabin, staying in by the fire was a welcome way to celebrate.
Having received two new cookbooks for Christmas (my favorite gifts!), it was fitting to pull our dinner menu from them. Our entrée was the Eggplant and Three Cheese Calzone out of Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Apparently traditional calzones, which originated in Naples, didn’t have a red sauce inside like most of the restaurant versions we’ve all had. This recipe, however, included a simple, but delicious garlicky tomato sauce to serve on the side. It all came together for one amazingly delicious entrée!
Our delightful appetizer, though, is what I’m sharing today. It’s a combination of a vegan “crab” cake recipe I came across years ago and a non-vegetarian Maryland-style version in my other new cookbook, Party on the Prairie, by Sarah Nasello (available in her and her husband’s restaurant, Sarello’s or online by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org).
Firm tofu stands in as the crab and finely chopped veggies and herbs combine with bold seasonings to make an appetizer that can be enjoyed by everyone from vegan to carnivore. The accompanying aioli (recipe below) brings the first course to completion with creaminess and bright lemony-dill notes. Enjoy!
Vegan 'Crab' Cakes with Lemon Dill Aioli
1 14-16 oz. block firm tofu
½ half a medium organic green pepper, finely chopped
½ a medium red onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, grated
2 stalks celery, diced
½ cup fine dry whole wheat bread crumbs
½ cup vegan mayonnaise (i.e., Earth Balance Mindful Mayo)
1/8 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, plus extra for garnish
1 teaspoon vegetarian Worcestershire sauce (I like Annie’s Naturals brand)
Juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 teaspoon white pepper
Salt, to taste
1 cup Japanese panko bread crumbs
Lemon Dill Aioli (recipe follows)
Remove tofu from package and wrap in several layers of a clean tea towel (or paper towels) and place on a plate. Place another place on top and weigh it down with something heavy like a large can of tomatoes for about a half hour to release excess moisture. Pat tofu dry and crumble into large mixing bowl.
Add the rest of the ingredients except for the panko bread crumbs and the peanut oil. Mix thoroughly (I use a spatula and then my hands for the final mixing). If it seems too wet, add some more bread crumbs, and if it seems to dry to hold together, add a little more mayo.
Dump the panko bread crumbs into a shallow bowl. Heat a heavy skillet (cast iron is ideal) over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of peanut oil, and swirl the pan so that it’s evenly coated. Once oil is hot, form tofu mixture by the ¼ cup into patties, coating each patty in panko and place in skillet (you’ll need to do this in batches), making sure not to crowd the patties. Flatten each slightly with a metal spatula once in the pan. Cook until bottoms are golden, about 3-4 minutes, flip and cook several minutes more. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any excess oil. Repeat with remaining tofu mixture, adding more peanut oil to pan, as needed, for each batch. Makes about 12 cakes. Serve with Lemon Dill Aioli and top with chopped fresh dill.
Lemon Dill Aioli
½ cup vegan mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Salt, to taste
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Place a dollop on each “crab” cake and garnish with chopped dill.
Tips: Use any leftover “crab” cakes for a nice breakfast/brunch benedict. You can freeze the cakes before cooking or after for up to a couple months. If freezing before cooking, thaw completely before cooking per recipe instructions. If freezing after cooking, thaw completely and bake on a baking sheet or stone at 400 degrees F. for about 15 minutes, until hot.