Almost every place that I’ve lived (until know) has been woven into a bay or ocean landscape. That’s inevitable when you grow up in a Navy family. My parents were living in Monterey, California when my mother was pregnant with me. They used to go to the beach and play Pachelbel’s Canon to me in her growing belly. I can only imagine that they used a walkman and some huge headphones on her stomach. Although maybe they used a handheld tape player or a boom box, proudly displaying their sophistication to the seagulls and the dune grass.
I feel an inexplicable sense of calm around the sound of ocean waves and arias.
My parents moved to Maui when I was a toddler. Another Navy relocation. I remember very little of this. But I’m told that I used to strip-down every day and escape into our rose and gardenia-scented garden, the one my father planted in the backyard of our short-term home. I have a fuzzy sense-memory of climbing fences and feeling the salt air running through my white-blonde hair, cooling my unencumbered, naked skin. To this day I can hardly stand to do anything that requires wearing shoes (I notice with curiosity that all of my work and play are shoes-optional).
We subsequently moved back to California, then to Maryland, then to Virginia. In Maryland we lived in Annapolis-area: home to the Naval Acadamy, the Annapolis Yacht Club, lots of marinas and infinite fishing docks. My brothers and cousins and I used to spend Summer days pitching ourselves off of my grandfathers boating dock into the (jellyfish strewn) Chesapeake bay water. I remember the slimy rails of the ladder that we climbed to get in and out, the sharp barnacles that would cut your feet if you weren’t careful.
The boys in the family would spend weekends sailing, fishing or crabbing. We all got tan lines and bee stings and the inevitable bruises of youth. We got excessively jacked up on cream soda. Those salty Summer days tasted like crab-pickings, old bay, brine, pine sap, driftwood and blue raspberry freezie pops.
When we moved to Sandbridge in Virginia Beach, the most popular restaurant within a 5 mile radius from our house was a tiny diner with a light-up sign outside that read: “BEST SHE CRAB SOUP AROUND.”
They were telling the truth.
I’ve always been a water baby. But I’ve been an East Coast gal most of my life. And if there’s one thing you learn when you’re a beach babe (regardless of the coast) it’s how to appreciate seafood. All varieties of it. Octopus, mussels, fresh-water fish, ocean fish, shrimp… the works.
When I stopped doing diet labels seafood was the thing I jumped back to the fastest. I eat it about once or twice a month, whenever I feel a craving.
Side note: My whole family can hang with my plant-based grooviness as long as I am open to eating super fresh local seafood sometimes. Not just because they think it’s healthy (which, when you look at the toxicity levels in East Coast waters, it might not be). But because it’s part of our culture. Everyone on my dads side grew up boating and surfing and enjoying the pleasures of ocean life. For my family not being down with seafood is like not being down with cake, or classic 80’s movies or sex. It’s like ok I get your preference but you’re missing out on THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE AND LIFE IS SHORT DAMMIT.
Now, in my experience nobody loves crab as much as Marylanders. It’s practically the state animal. It’s always consumed with buckets of old-bay, butter and lemon juice. Crab soup is really about the crab, not the vegetables (just accoutrement, really). And crab cakes are best when made of mostly lump crab meat held lightly together with flour and, yes, more Old Bay.
Since these days I mostly avoid crab (hello, they’re bottom feeders) I prefer to get my crabby kicks from foods flavored with you guessed it Old Bay seasoning. Ah, Old Bay…it’s the curry seasoning of the South. You can make almost anything taste like a Summer on the Chesapeake Bay if you shake that bright red peppery stuff over top.
All of this to say: this is one hell of a vegan crab cake recipe! Trust me. I grew up on the real stuff.
I’ve literally had this vegan crab cake recipe in my head for two years. TWO. YEARS. I’ve made numerous versions over the last 24 months, written the recipe down, lost the recipe and then subsequently forgotten all about it. Clearly, all of that was meant to happen. Because this version is the definitive, inimitable, most fabulous version of them all!
I knew I wanted to use oyster mushrooms, as they have a saline, oceanic flavor kin to seafood. But after watching this recipe video for fried vegan crab cakes from Hot for Food I knew artichoke hearts were what I was missing. Artichoke hearts packed in brine have that perfect, crab-like texture: tender, flakey and juicy.
This recipe is also naturally gluten free. Chickpea flour stands in for wheat flour. And crushed snap peas stand in for bread crumbs. I like using crushed snap peas because I find the ingredients list to be simpler than a lot of gluten free bread crumbs (usually no xanthan gum, mold inhibitors or hidden potato starch — ahem, I’m intolerant to potatoes in case you didn’t know). Also I like the flavor options available with snap peas (I like black pepper and habanero the best).
I also decided to bake these crab cakes instead of frying them. Baking them offers the same crispy texture as frying — without the extra work and excessive calorie-density.
This Louisiana remoulade sauce… it’s a deep South style sauce that is typically made with mayo, relish, horseradish, hot sauce and garlic. My version is definitely a twist on that, made with ingredients I had in my pantry. I used sesame seeds, sweet pickle relish, red wine vinegar, old bay, dijon mustard and hot sauce. It’s sort of like a creamy complex tartar sauce, but slightly sweeter thanks to the pickle relish. And it’s less pungent (I didn’t have horseradish on-hand). It’s quite flavorful and makes a great salad dressing or dipping sauce, especially for these crab cakes. I think next time I’ll make it with tahini instead of raw sesame seeds as the seeds took 5 minutes to break down in my Vitamix. I would suggest using tahini instead of sesame seeds at home, especially if you don’t have a high powered blender.
- You can now buy the chocolate and coffee that my husband and I make at the Charlottesville Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays! We’re treating this Summer like a “soft-launch” to perfect our bean-to-bar chocolate and house-roasted cold brew coffee before we rocket it onto the internet. If you’re a local yokel, come by our booth! I’m usually there for a few hours on Saturdays. Follow our Frolic events calendar here.
- Join my team! I’m looking for passionate, wellness-loving creatives to help me with all things WFFF. I’m currently hiring for an intern for school credit only. It’s about 5 hours of work a week. Learn more + apply here!
- I will be doing a few workshops in Richmond, VA in the Fall at Boketto Wellness! Keep your ear to the ground because tickets are going to go fast. Sign up for my newsletter to be the first to know. Want a workshop in your city? Contact me!
Without further ado: vegan crab cakes because SUMMER.
p.s. Sorry the photos are a bit confusing. I shot the set with the beet / romaine salad a week ago (it’s just olive oil / salt / paprika on those beets, roasted at 375F for 30 mins). The light that evening was so gorgeous I couldn’t resist including them. I retested and shot the radish / tomato salad yesterday in mid-day light and the finals are significantly more “flat” looking, don’t you think? Oh well! xoxo — Renee