For a vegan take on seafood dishes, try this crabcake and lox combo
When I opened Trumpet Blossom Café in April 2012, plant-based cuisine was still seen by many as a curious oddity. Ten years later, this once mysterious way of eating has made its way into the mainstream.
There are vegan options almost everywhere food is served or offered, and more and more people are trying – and enjoying – vegan alternatives to dishes that traditionally contain animal products. There are almost as many reasons to choose a plant-based meal as there are vegan versions of people’s favorite foods.
Some may choose to skip the meat for ethical reasons while others opt out due to health concerns. Even more will look to vegetables as a way to help heal the environment. However it is viewed, food and the choices we make around it are inherently personal.
It is important to emphasize that the goal of adopting a vegan diet or becoming vegan is not to achieve an unalterable, rigid sense of perfection. I believe the goal is simply to eliminate as much unnecessary suffering as possible.
This can mean embarking on a learning-as-you-go process that involves paying attention to your actions but forgiving yourself for making mistakes. For example, I try to take the time to read the ingredient list on the packaged items I buy. But sometimes I forget, and when I come home and watch, maybe there will be something I’d rather not ingest.
Often it’s something like honey or whey, which can be ubiquitous and hard to avoid. I’m always disappointed when I make a mistake like this, but the reality is that it’s best to just pass the item on to someone who will appreciate it, since I’ve bought it before and it’s no use. nothing to waste it. We must always remember to be gentle with ourselves and focus on the positive results our efforts can produce.
I abstained from meat for just over 20 years and followed a plant-based diet for about five years. At first I stopped eating meat but continued to eat fish, eggs and dairy products. I felt it was a happy medium to occupy, and was comforted by the thought that no beautiful “farm animal” died because of what I decided to eat.
But the more I learned about the realities of how these vegetarian and pescetarian products arrived on my plate, the more I invested myself in eliminating them from my diet. It seemed to me that there was too much torture, both of the animals and of the humans involved, no matter how badly one claimed they were done. Eventually, I stopped consuming all animal products.
Once I became more aware of my food choices, I became more aware of the other ways one can be a consumer of animal products. As you may hear some people explain, there is a difference between following a plant-based diet and being a vegan.
Some people argue that being vegan means not exploiting animals for any purpose, including but of course not limited to clothing, footwear, and cosmetics. A quick Google search will shed light on the many items that we might be surprised to learn contain animal products.
Most of us have probably heard that raising animals for human consumption can be devastating to the environment and that our constant demand for affordable, subsidized meat is unsustainable. There are articles and infographics everywhere about how much soil and water it takes to make a pound of beef versus a pound of beans, or how animal agriculture is responsible for a alarming percentage of harmful emissions.
There seems to be less information in our collective consciousness about the consequences of the exploitation of the oceans. We are destroying the sea at a much faster rate than the land.
This is not only a tragedy for life in the seas but also for all life on land, including our own. The blunt truth is that we cannot survive without the oceans. To protect them, and the future of our home, we need to slow down our desire to consume creatures that live in this precious water.
All of this may seem very daunting, daunting and maybe even impossible, but we have to keep in mind that a bunch of small individual changes can add up to a giant change. One of the most impactful changes we can make as individuals is altering the way we eat and the way we think about food.
Even if you don’t adopt a plant-based diet or go vegan overnight, you can still have a hugely positive impact on the future of our environment by making small, manageable changes gradually. These changes, as trivial as they may seem, can often have delicious results.
So back to the restaurant: our menu at Trumpet Blossom is completely plant-based, and we make as many things from scratch as we possibly can. I’m not a big fan of meat substitutes trying to trick me into thinking they’re made from animals.
One of the first reasons I gave up meat was that I found the texture very unpleasant. But as I said before, I continued to eat the occasional fish and seafood and eventually phased them out. I feel like there are a lot of people who may be in that gray area between not eating meat but not turning entirely to plants.
I’ve also noticed that recently companies have started making plant-based alternatives to fish and seafood that people can make at home and restaurants can use. One of my first instincts as a chef is to explore if and how I can make something myself, from scratch.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, I spent time in my kitchen at home experimenting with a few recipes that have since made their way onto Trumpet Blossom’s menu, and I’m sharing them with you here. Carrot Lox is a plant-based alternative to Salmon Lox and mimics the flavors of the traditional version – rich, smoky notes accented with a touch of herbal sweetness and depth.
Our Hearts of Palm Crabcakes taste shockingly “real” because Hearts of Palm have a mild flavor base that picks up attributes of the ingredients added to it, similar to their shellfish counterpart. Look for local carrots if you can, and you’ll find canned hearts of palm in grocery stores around town (Natural Grocers sells them), tucked away near artichoke hearts and olives.
heart of palm crab cakes
Yield: about 12-14 crabcakes
- 2-14 oz. canned drained hearts of palm
- 1½ tsp. oil
- ½ cup finely chopped onion
- ½ cup finely chopped bell pepper or celery
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Pinch each salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley or other herb (thyme, oregano, etc.)
- 1 C. dried dill
- 1 tbsp. lemon or lime juice
- 1½ tsp. baking powder
- 1 C. Dijon’s mustard
- ½ tsp. spanish paprika
- pinch of salt
- a few pinches of black pepper
- ⅓ cup vegan mayonnaise
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
For the frying:
1-2 tbsp. oil
1. Cut each piece of palm into thirds lengthwise, then chop briefly in a food processor or by hand until it looks “shredded” (but not mushy).
2. In a small saucepan, heat 1½ tsp. oil over medium heat; add onion, bell pepper or celery, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook until softened and lightly browned. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
3. In a large bowl, combine the chopped hearts of palm, sautéed vegetables and the rest of the ingredients. Mix well.
4. Pour breadcrumbs into a shallow bowl or plate. With a large serving spoon, small measuring cup, or cookie scoop, form patties just under ¼ cup each. Coat with breadcrumbs; make sure the cakes have a good layer on both sides. Set them aside until they are all formed.
5. Heat ½ tsp. oil over medium heat in a nonstick or cast iron skillet. Sauté the crab cakes a few minutes on each side until golden brown, being careful not to burn them. Wipe out the pan between batches, adding a little more oil for each new batch.
6. Serve with fresh greens and a vegan mayonnaise sauce of your choice or this crabcake dip recipe.
Crab cakes to share
- 3 tbsp. vegan mayonnaise
- ½ tsp. lemon juice
- ½ tsp. Dijon’s mustard
- ¼ tsp. capers, chopped
- Pinch of salt and pepper
Mix the ingredients and serve with the crabcakes.
- 2-4 carrots, sometimes more or less, depending on size
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. Choice of Braggs Liquid Aminos or soy sauce
- 1 tbsp. lemon or lime juice
- A few pinches of black pepper
- 1 tbsp. pure maple syrup
- ¼ tsp. smoked paprika
- a few pinches of dried dill
- ½ sheet of nori (seaweed), torn into small pieces or ground in a spice/coffee grinder
- 1½ tsp. apple cider vinegar
- ¼ tsp. hot sauce (optional)
1. Wash and peel the carrots. Continue peeling until only the lean core remains, slightly thicker than a pencil. (Reserve the core for another use.) Measure out 2 cups loosely packed peels; put in a bowl.
2. In a quart mason jar, combine remaining ingredients. Put the lid on the jar and shake well to combine. (Alternative method: Combine ingredients in a bowl and whisk well.)
3. Pour the marinade over the carrots, mix well; return to the jar. Using a rubber spatula, transfer as much of the marinade as possible into the jar. Store the sealed container in the refrigerator.
4. Shake carrots and marinade well before use. Serve as you would traditional lox. They are also perfect on a sandwich, in a salad, in a wrap or as part of a bowl of vegetables and cereals.
Katy Meyer is the chef/owner of Trumpet Blossom Cafe, a plant-based restaurant with an antique bar and a custom-built stage for live entertainment. She has called Iowa City home since 1999.
For questions or comments regarding the Eastern Iowa vegan community, email [email protected] or visit the website at www.veganeasterniowa.org. Everyone is invited to join the VCEI on Facebook and MeetUp.