Considering association(s) of the dish with Chesapeake Bay and Baltimore, It surprised me to find crab cakes served in shacks on the beach in Puerto Rico. This recipe adapts the type of crab cake commonly found in Puerto Rico, which differs from other vegan adaptations that tend to emulate the style of crab cake most people expect in the states. Instead of using Tempeh or another “meat substitute” I used heart of palm, which seemed more appropriate in this case not only culturally speaking–but also for the fact that it makes the recipe not only paleo-friendly but paleo-approved. I’d like to hear rebuttals of this statement, if anyone begs to differ.
I find it easier to make the mixture for the cakes the night before, so that the flavors combine and the cakes form more easily. Since this recipe adaptation doesn’t call for breadcrumbs as many crab cake recipes do (which tends to help them to keep from falling apart), I highly recommend going this route if you can. Otherwise: no worries. Just apply a bit more care to the handling of the cakes while frying.
Also—if you make the aoili the day before I guarantee a flavor upgrade. Even a few days before (fyi the lemon juice acts as a natural preservative so no need to worry; it will keep at least a week).
Puerto Rican “Crab” Cakes
For the cakes:
1 (14 ounce) can or jar heart of palm, chopped
1 cup water
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil for pan frying
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
4 Large Garlic Cloves (pressed)
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro, plus whole leaves for garnish
1/4 cup soy-free vegan mayo
1 Lime, juiced
1 Tbsp celery salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1 Tbsp dulse granules
1/2 cup soy-free vegan mayo
1/2 lime, juiced
2 Tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp celery seed
pinch of cayenne pepper, or a bit more to taste
Thoroughly combine all ingredients for the aioli in a small bowl. This does not require a mixer or food processor. Cover and move to the fridge.
Transfer all ingredients for the crab cakes in a bowl and mash with a fork. You can also use your hands.
To cook the cakes, preheat a thin layer of oil in a cast iron or otherwise non-stick skillet over medium heat. Scoop approximately 1/4 cup dough and form into a ball with your hands. Flatten gently and add to the skillet when ready. Depending on the circumference of your skillet, you can cook more than one at a time. When I developed this recipe I could only fit one in my (ridiculously small) cast iron skillet. I imagine most people own a larger one! But when cooking for 1, it works like a charm. Anyway: fry each 1 or each batch for 3 minutes on each side, allowing for the margin of error that could occur between types of stoves, skillets, oil used, etc.
Serve with lime wedges and garlic aioli. I think it tastes especially great atop flavorful wild lettuce leaves (such as “spring mix” that contains spicy lettuce i.e. arugula in addition to milder varieties e.g. baby romaine leaves). If you want to stick to authenticity of the region from which I adapted this recipe, serve it with shredded cabbage. *Totally unrelated: it’s my favorite vegetable…but I didn’t have any on hand for the photo.