Spinach pecan cakes

Ahh, spinach cakes. My oldest, and possibly dearest, recipe. Somehow I managed to cobble this together before I really knew what I was doing in the kitchen. These were my attempt to veganize the ‘Popeye’ burger served at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company. The result blew me away, and I decided to get serious about cooking. For a very long time, this was my dish to make whenever I wanted to impress. It ain't easy, and I’m not going to dumb it down for you. Think of it as a culinary challenge, and enjoy them all the more for your hard work and determination.

Spinach pecan cakes

This is a complicated one, made manageable by breaking it into multiple steps, most of which can be done ahead. I recommend making the ‘parm’, preparing the pecans and roasting the garlic for the aioli ahead of time. You could also make the aioli ahead, but don't mix it all together until you're ready to cook off the cakes.

½ c + 2 T pecans

Toast pecans, then chop into small pieces by hand.

Parm

¼ c almonds, toasted

2 T nutritional yeast

½ of a small clove of garlic, minced

¼ t salt

Pinch of pepper

Grind all this together in a food processor until reduced to fine crumbs.

Aioli

1 c raw cashews, soaked 2-8 hours

½ c diced onion, sauteed in a little olive oil

About ½ a head of roasted garlic (4-6 cloves)

2 T fresh lemon juice

2 t dijon mustard

1 t salt

about ½ c water

Drain cashews and put everything in a blender. Start pureeing on low speed, gradually moving to a faster speed. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides a few times to get it all incorporated. You want to get this mixture as smooth and creamy as possible, while adding as little water as necessary. Try not to add any more than the ½ cup, but if you do need to add more, only add a tablespoon or so at a time. You really need a high speed blender for this. If you don't have one, or this just sounds like too much, you could substitute a commercial vegan mayo. If you do, use about 1 ¾ cup, and do mash in some roasted garlic.

Vegetables

Olive oil

⅔ c diced onion

Salt

1 lb spinach (you can sub in a bit of chard if you wish)

Pinch nutmeg

1-2 T fresh dill

Warm the oil over medium heat in a big pan. You will need a pan big enough for all that spinach, so plan accordingly. Saute the onion until softened and starting to brown. Sprinkle in a bit of salt and a pinch of nutmeg. Turn up the heat a little and add about a third of the spinach. Quickly stir the onions and the hot oil onto the top of the spinach. As soon as it's starting to wilt, add another third, stirring hot, cooked stuff from the bottom of the pan onto the top of the raw spinach. Repeat with the remaining spinach. You want to cook the spinach quickly, so that it doesn't let out too much water and end up swimming in its own juices. Remove from heat once the spinach is almost entirely wilted. You're still going to mix it up with a bunch of stuff, and then cook it some more, so you don't want a pile of mush! Gently stir in the dill. Let cool. If quite a lot of liquid has collected, you should pour some of it off, but a little liquid is ok.

¼ c chickpea flour

¼ c dried breadcrumbs

OK! Now combine the cooled vegetables, pecans, parm and chickpea flour in a large bowl. Add the breadcrumbs and aioli and mix it all up well. Pat it out into a smooth mound. Let the mixture sit for about 15-30 minutes to let the breadcrumbs soak up the moisture. Decide whether you want to bake or pan fry the cakes. They're good either way. If you want to bake them, preheat your oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and oil the paper. If you use a scoop, you should be able to form about 8 reasonably neat cakes onto the parchment that just need a slight flattening by your hand. If using your hands, it will be pretty messy. It's best to grab a bunch of the mix and toss it back and forth from one hand to the other and kind of just plop it, if you will, onto the oiled parchment. Generously oil the tops of the cakes with a spray oil or oiled pastry brush. Bake 15-20 minutes. The cakes are done when somewhat browned and firm. I test them by cupping my hand over a cake and slightly shaking it with my fingertips. It's ready if it shakes loose from the parchment, or just needs a slight nudging from a spatula. If pan frying, get a cast iron or your preferred pan hot, pour in a bit of oil and let it get really hot. When you plop your cake down in the hot oil, it should sizzle and start to form a crust right away. Once you think the cakes have browned and set, carefully slide a spatula under each cake and flip. Serve once cakes are brown and a bit crispy on both sides.

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