This week, I was invited to attend a special dinner featuring Chef Tal Ronnen, vegan visionary and owner of Crossroads Kitchen here on Melrose, who presented a spectacular four-course dinner featuring Gardein (rhymes with protein) delectable meatless products.
Having been a fan of Gardein since it hit supermarket shelves in 2009, I was excited to taste what Ronnen could do with it. Though a devout carnivore might find any meat analog a rather sad substitute for a savory chicken cutlet or juicy steak, I knew Ronnen, with his classical training and pitch-perfect technique, could transform a hunk of soy protein into haute cuisine.
At Gardein’s groovy Marina del Rey tasting kitchen, the feast began with small bites: Crabless Cakes with Granny Smith Apples, Beets, and Horseradish Aioli; Sweet Chili Chick’n Satay with Julienned Cucumber; Ponzu-Glazed Crystal Rolls with Gardein Chick’n, and Kite Hill Cheese.
Now I’ll be honest…anything called Chick’n makes me think of a mysterious nugget made of questionable parts of an ill-fated bird. But I knew Gardein’s products were a far cry from junk food. Made from non-GMO soy and only a few other wholesome ingredients, the vegan line has impeccable pedigree: its creator, legendary meatless maven Yves Potvin, founder of Yves Veggie Cuisine, was the original inventor of the tofu dog!
After schmoozing with a tony group of entrepreneurs and fashionistas, we sat down to an elegantly-appointed feast: a rich Roasted Cauliflower Bisque with Fried Capers, a gorgeous Baby Beet Salad with Candied Walnuts, Almond Cheese and Balsamic Gastrique; a luxurious Chick’n Scallopini with Chanterelles and Braised Romaine, and an addictive Carrot Cake Ice Cream with Toffee Brittle.
Seriously? Domestically-grown, mercifully meat-free and good for you, too? No one could believe the entire meal was plant-based. This recipe was one of my favorites. It packs all the savory goodness of a crab cake and even tastes of the sea (thanks to the clever addition of toasted nori powder). I’ve simplified Chef Ronnen’s restaurant version so you could easily make a double or triple batch for Superbowl nibbles.
By the end of the swanky soirée, there wasn’t one disbeliever in the house. So for those of you who are trying to eat less meat, try Gardein. Dine at Crossroads. Get yourself a copy of Tal Ronnen’s beautiful cookbook. And see how easy it is to go vegan…even just for one delicious meal.
Slightly adapted from Chef Tal Ronnen
Makes approximately 24 (1-inch diameter) cakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup sliced green onion (white and green parts)
1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
2 tablespoons minced ginger root
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 sheet nori
½ cup kimchi, drained & squeezed
1 (14.5-ounce) jar hearts of palm, drained
1 (10-ounce) bag Gardein Chick’n Scallopini, thawed (optional – the recipe works without it)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
Juice of ½ lime
1 cup homemade whole wheat bread crumbs, panko or gluten-free crumbs
¼ cup avocado oil or an organic vegetable oil (or more — the oil should cover the bottom of the pan)
Whisk together in a small bowl:
½ cup Vegenaise or your favorite mayonaise
1 teaspoon Sriracha, or more to taste
Juice of ½ lime
Sea salt, to taste
1. In a small sauté pan over a medium flame, heat the oil. Add the onion and carrots and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic, and sauté for 1 minute longer. Set aside to cool.
2. Holding the nori sheet with tongs, toast it by fanning it over a low gas flame or electric burner, being careful not to burn it and turning it so that all of it get toasted. Crumble the nori in pieces into a coffee grinder and blitz to powder.
3. In the bowl of a food processor, place the onion mixture, nori powder, kim chee, hearts of palm, Gardein, cornstarch, Old Bay seasoning, yeast flakes and lime juice to the food processor and pulse until well-combined but still chunky. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4. Place the bread crumbs in a medium bowl. Using your hands, form the mixture into mini “crab” cakes, about 1-inch in diameter and ½-inch thick. Coat each cake in the breadcrumbs. Place the cakes on a tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm.
5. Place a sauté pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the bottom with a pinch of kosher salt and heat for 1 minute (this will help create a non-stick surface). Add the oil and heat for 2 minutes, being careful not to let it smoke.
6. Sauté the crabless cakes until browned on both sides and heated through, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove the cakes to a baking sheet and keep warm. Alternatively, once cooked and cooled, transfer the cakes to an airtight container to freeze them.
7. Serve warm, topped with a dollop of Sriracha Aioli.
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