Better Bar Snack: Vegan Hearts Of Palm "Calamari"

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If you're eating from the new Crossroads cookbook by acclaimed chef Tal Ronnen, you're eating some of the best, most inventive, freshest and satisfying vegan food on the planet. Naturally tender and briny hearts of palm (with a hole poked through, of course) make for startlingly realistic "calamari," but honestly you won't miss the shellfish in this hearty shellfish-free rendition. 

Much of the Crossroads philosophy is about taking classic, familiar dishes and giving them new soul as plant-based renditions. Here hearts of palm are sliced into rounds that look like rings of calamari. They are lightly coated in a batter seasoned with Old Bay and nori seaweed and fried to golden perfection. The cooked palm rings look like calamari and taste like calamari, and if you tell your guests the dish is fried calamari, they'll likely believe you.

The cashew cream for the batter needs to be prepared a day in advance, but all of the components can be made ahead of time, so frying and serving happen quickly. The cocktail sauce and lemon-caper aioli are dipping sauces typically served with calamari. For an Italian spin, you could also serve Scoty's Marinara Sauce. After hollowing out the hearts of palm, you can cut up the unused centers and toss into a salad.

Excerpted from Crossroads by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Lisa Romerein.Reprinted with permission from Crossroads

Better Bar Snack: Vegan Hearts Of Palm "Calamari"
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  • 2 14-ounce cans hearts of palm (12)
  • 1 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal or polenta
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Expeller-pressed canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons filtered water
  • 1 tablespoon toasted nori flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups whole raw cashews
  • filtered water
  • 1 cup organic ketchup
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup vegan mayonnaise
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. :::cashew cream:::
  2. Put the cashews in a bowl and pour in enough cold filtered water to cover. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 1 day.
  3. Drain the cashews in a colander and rinse with cold water. Transfer the cashews to a blender, preferably a Vitamix, and pour in enough cold filtered water to cover them by 1 inch, about 3 cups. Blend on high for 2 to 3 minutes, until very smooth and creamy without any trace of graininess. The cashew cream should be smooth on the palate; add more water if necessary. If you’re not using a heavy-duty blender, you may need to strain the cashew cream through a fine-mesh sieve to get rid of any grittiness.
  4. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. It will thicken as it sits, so blend with ½ cup or so filtered water if needed to reach the desired consistency. It can also be frozen; see the headnote.
  5. :::batter and hearts of palm:::
  6. To prepare the batter: Put the cashew cream in a bowl and add the water, ground nori, salt, and pepper. Stir the batter to combine; it should be smooth and not gloppy in the slightest. Set aside at room temperature to let the flavors meld while you prepare the hearts of palm.
  7. To prepare the hearts of palm calamari: Trim both ends of each heart of palm to expose the center; this will make it easier to see and remove. Working from the narrow end, gently push out the insides of each cylinder, using your pinkie or a chopstick. Some pieces will be easier to gut than others — don’t worry if a few split. (Reserve the insides for another use — see the headnote.)
  8. Using a paring knife, carefully cut each hollow spear into four 1-inch-wide rings. You should end up with about 48 pieces.
  9. Add the hearts of palm to the cashew cream batter, gently turning the pieces over with your hands until thoroughly coated. Set aside.
  10. Put the cornmeal in a food processor and process to a fine powder. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, add the rice flour, Old Bay seasoning, salt, and pepper, and toss to distribute the ingredients evenly.
  11. Using a slotted spoon, working in batches, scoop the hearts of palm from the batter, letting the excess drip back into the bowl, add to the cornmeal mixture, and toss with your hands until evenly coated on all sides. Transfer the breaded hearts of palm to a strainer set over a bowl, or work over the sink, and shake off the excess cornmeal. This is a key step to ensure that the cornmeal crust is light and not clumpy whatsoever. (All of this can be prepared up to 2 hours in advance. Arrange the breaded hearts of palm in a single layer on a baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered. Allow the hearts of palm to come to room temperature before frying.)
  12. To deep-fry the hearts of palm calamari: Heat 2 inches of oil to 325°F in a cast-iron skillet or heavy saucepan. Working in batches, add the hearts of palm to the hot oil and fry, carefully turning with tongs, until golden brown and crispy on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the cooked pieces to a paper towel–lined platter to drain. Season the hearts lightly with salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of Old Bay seasoning while still hot.
  13. Pile the hearts of palm on a large platter and serve with the cocktail sauce and lemon-caper aioli for dipping.
  14. :::cocktail sauce:::
  15. Combine the ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, and Worcestershire in a small bowl. Gently whisk until well combined. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes. The flavor of the cocktail sauce gets better as it sits, and it keeps in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  16. :::aioli:::
  17. Put the vegan mayonnaise, lemon juice, parsley, capers, and garlic in a small bowl and gently whisk until combined. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the oil until the aioli is thickened and smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  18. The flavor of the aioli gets better as it sits, and it keeps in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Stir in 1 tablespoon water or lemon juice to thin it if needed.
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