I made a batch of pierogi once. Years passed, and I didn’t make them again, even though I adore them. So I bought a pierogi press thinking it would help. It didn’t. The press has been in my kitchen tools drawer for years now, forgotten behind the cherry pitter and candy thermometer, still in its package.
It’s not that I don’t love delicate little appetizers wrapped in dough. I do. It’s just that those kinds of items are far too fiddly for my nature.
It’s too bad too, because so many good foods are wrapped in dough – empanadas, ravioli, potstickers, samosas, sambusas…. And I don’t make any of them from scratch – more than once.
In my pre-vegan life I’d eat another dough-wrapped item whenever I went to a Chinese restaurant in Des Moines, Tsing Tsao. Crab rangoon are fried pouches that are loaded with cream cheese, green onions, and a dotting of flaked crab meat. (Crab rangoon are also called crab puffs or cheese wontons.) The deep fried appetizer came with all of their combo meals, but if you bought them on their own as an appetizer, they were much more generous with the filling. On the side was a little cup of sweet and sour sauce for dipping.
If a cream cheese-filled appetizer doesn’t sound like a typical dish from an area where cheese is far from standard, that’s because the crab rangoon is not actually from China. (The majority of East Asians are lactose intolerant.) Crab rangoon originated at a restaurant in San Francisco called Trader Vic’s. Since then, many Chinese restaurants in America have started selling them. It’s somewhat similar to the history of fortune cookies. Long story short, you won’t find fortune cookies or crab rangoon in Beijing.
I’ve been vegan for over 9 years now and vegetarian for 11. So it’s been a long time since I’ve cracked through the fried pastry to the softened cream cheese inside of a crab rangoon. And a vegan version isn’t something that I ever see in restaurants.
So what’s a lazy vegan to do?
Vegan wonton wrappers are hard to find. Yes, I could make the dough from scratch, but that’s never going to happen (see anti-fiddly nature above). And then there’s the task of filling but not over filling them, getting them to seal properly, and finally, deep frying.
So when I was walking down the freezer aisle at a local grocery store, I had an aha moment when I saw some miniature filo shells. The filo shells just so happen to be vegan. I’d still get that crisp shell without any of the detail work of making dough and folding it into the shape of Columbus’ hat.
I used non-dairy cream cheese for the filling, added green onions, a bit of lemon juice for tang, and a splash of non-dairy milk to make the filling extra creamy and light.
(I usually make my own cream cheese using Miyoko’s recipe in Artisan Vegan Cheese. But to maximize the efficiency of the dish and to make sure that the results were repeatable for readers, I chose to use packaged vegan cream cheese instead. If you’d rather use homemade, you may need to adjust the amounts of non-dairy milk and lemon juice that you include.)
Finally, I added a helping of Gardein’s crabless cakes that I’d chopped small and browned in a skillet. Gardein’s crabless cakes come 10 to a bag, and so you’ll only need half of a bag for this recipe. Some of the crabless cake went into the cream cheese mixture, and then I set aside some to garnish on top of the cream cheese-filled cups. That way you get crab cake flavor in each bite. Plus, it emulates a bit of that deep fried feeling by getting extra crunch in every mouthful. Serve them with jarred sweet & sour or sweet red chili sauce.
The appetizers look surprisingly fancy for something that’s so easy to put together! They would be great for a dinner party, game night, or watching the big game if you’re into that sort of thing.
If you have any leftovers, they keep well if you put them in a single layer in a covered container and freeze them. (The filo cups soften too much in the refrigerator.) Then when you’re ready to eat them, move them directly to a parchment paper covered baking sheet, and pop them in a preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. They reheat beautifully, and I daresay may be even better that way because the filo becomes extra crispy. It’s great for having appetizers in an instant or if you want to make everything ahead of time for a gathering.
Disclaimer: Post contains Amazon affiliate links.