At the beginning of the year, one of my students brought me a test sample of a vegan crab cake she had made. The texture was amazing and super flaky, though she hadn't quite gotten the flavor where she wanted it. She had had an ingenious idea to use one of my favorite vegetables as the basis for her cakes. It was so simple and yet totally inspired. It prompted a long conversation about crab and crab cakes. She is from Maryland, and grew up with crab, but I've never had real crab, or even artificial krab made from fish. I always assumed crab cakes were very firm and dense, but apparently I was wrong.
Our conversation stuck with me, and a few months later, when I had some thawed frozen tofu I needed to use, I decided to try making a vegan patty and seasoning it with Old Bay. This is NOT what my student used. Her vegan crab cakes were completely different, but she did inspire me to try my hand at making something similar.
I think these grump cakes have quickly become a favorite for us, though I haven't quite figured out the best way to serve them. Leftover grump cakes are nice in pita pockets with plenty of lettuce.
I really enjoy the texture that masa harina gives grump cakes. I tried a batch using all purpose white flour, and it just tasted like raw flour. It also made the dough gummy, and I had to add a lot of flour. The masa soaks up a lot of liquid, and adds a sort of roasted flavor. Make sure to use masa harina and not cornmeal, or cornflour.
JD is usually a staunch advocate of calling a spade a spade. When I make a vegan cheesecake and offer a piece to someone, he is always quick to point out that it's not real cheesecake, even though most people who know me know I don't eat or cook with animal products. So I was surprised when JD asked why I called these "Grump Cakes"( "Because they're not crabby.") instead of crab cakes or krabby patties.
by Christina Terriquez
1 lb firm tofu, frozen, then defrosted, liquid squeezed out
1/4 medium beet, optional
1--2 medium carrots
1/2 medium onion
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4" slices
1/4 cup walnuts
Old Bay seasoning
safflower or sunflower oil for frying
Crumble tofu and process it in food processor. Set tofu aside in a bowl.
Process beet, carrots, onion and celery, until all vegetables are minced. Add walnuts and process once more.
Combine vegetables with tofu and mix well. Add 1/4 cup of masa harina and 2 teaspoons of Old Bay and mix. Adjust seasoning to taste. Add masa harina until mixture can easily be rolled into balls and hold their shape. Mixture should be slightly sticky.
Roll tofu mixture into golf ball sized balls, then coat in panko or additional masa harina. Flatten balls into 2" diameter circles, and gentle pat to remove excess masa harina or panko.
Heat 1/2" of oil in the bottom of a heavy pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, fry grump cakes for approximately 90 seconds on each side, or until golden brown.
The beet is optional, but I love the color and sweetness that it adds. If you'd like your grump cakes to be a lighter shade of pink, add less beet.
I really pulverized the tofu for this particular batch, but you can keep it slightly bigger pieces if you like, that why you process it first.
We like the texture and flavor of 1/4" pieces of walnut studded throughout the grump cakes. If you or your family does not, you can process the walnuts more. Try adding the walnuts and pulsing them with the vegetables. You could also omit the walnuts completely if you have a nut allergy.
Panko will make the outside crunchier, but masa harina will keep these gluten-free.
Skip the Old Bay seasoning and flavor these with your favorite seasonings, herbs or spices. Smoked salt or smoked paprika might be a nice addition.