My dirty little secret is that I didn’t become vegetarian for the animals. I didn’t even become vegetarian for the planet. I became vegetarian because I thought meat was gross (in taste and texture, not particularly in concept), and I realized one Thanksgiving that if I became a vegetarian no one could ever expect me to eat turkey again. I was a young teen at the time and my awareness of the world was far from sophisticated. As I got older I woke up to animal suffering and to the planetary hunger epidemic, and my detailed study of anatomy meant that a piece of meat would never again just look like “food” and not like “flesh.” In contrast, my decision to become vegan a little over a year ago was entirely grounded in ethics (and logic). But for the first several years of being mostly vegetarian, I still ate meat on the rare occasions when I actually wanted it, which would end up being a few times a year.
Even back when I still ate meat occasionally, I was particular about what forms it took. I loved sushi, my mother’s brisket, bagels and lox, pate de campagne on a baguette with cornichons, and Chinese potstickers – and that was pretty much it. Then at some point I discovered crab cakes (I’d previously been totally uninterested in all forms of shellfish) and a sixth “exception” was added to my line-up. There was something about crab cakes that made them irresistible – fried, breaded, served with lemon and a yummy sauce, what’s not to like?
It’s not really the crab that makes crab cakes awesome, though. I think crab tastes kind of gross and the texture… I don’t even like to think about it. It’s all about the breaded, the fried, the delicious pickly mayo sauce, but of course it’s been years now since a crab cake has passed between my lips. So when I saw that belle of the vegan ball Isa Chandra Moscowitz had posted a recipe for “Chesapeake Tempeh Cakes” on the Post Punk Kitchen website as a preview from her new book Vegan Brunch, I immediately started dreaming of them. You should click on the link right now and check out Isa’s photograph, where the tempeh cakes look exactly like crab cakes. Go ahead, I’ll wait. (And yeah, I don’t know why the cakes in my photo ended up looking like weird raisin-studded veggie meatballs. They didn’t look like that in real life, although they were nowhere near as crab-cake-esque as Isa’s.)
I made a triple recipe one night with a bunch of friends, and we were all in agreement that Chesapeake tempeh cakes are winners. We did end up adjusting a lot of the flavor proportions, but since we were using homemade vegan mayo and GF waffle crumbs instead of bread crumbs that isn’t too surprising. I would definitely make these again – for dinner, for brunch, for a party – and it’s nice to know that even though Mom’s brisket and pork potstickers are gone forever, all the deliciousness of crab cakes has come back into my life for good.