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Once upon a time Gourmet magazine ran a recipe for an appetizer of black-eyed pea cakes with jerk pork. I loved it as it was, but it occurred to me that we could conjure up a great vegetarian entrée by losing the pork, making the cakes bigger, and then topping the cakes with a tasty sauce. The use of canned black-eyed peas (they mash up better than the dried and cooked kind) and prepared mayonnaise makes the preparation of this dish a breeze. You could even cheat and use drained store-bought salsa. Suddenly, there it is on the table—a meatless weeknight entrée that even the die-hard carnivore will find satisfying.
For the cakes:
For the salsa mayonnaise:
For cooking the cakes:
To make the cakes, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeños and cook for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
Place half of the peas in a large bowl and crush them thoroughly with a fork. Stir in the other half of the peas, along with the onion mixture, cilantro, and cumin. Taste the mixture, season with salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce, then stir in the egg yolks. Starting with 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs, add just enough to form a mixture that will hold its shape. Cover and chill the mixture for 2 hours.
Meanwhile, make the salsa mayonnaise. Toss the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and drain in a colander for 15 minutes. Combine them with the onion, jalapeño, lime juice, cilantro, and cumin in a large bowl. Mix in the mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until ready to serve. (The salsa mayonnaise can be made up to a day in advance.) You should have about 2 cups.
Working with 1/4 cup of the pea mixture at a time, make 8 to 10 1/2-inch-thick patties. Coat the patties in the cornmeal and shake off the excess. Heat half the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Fry the patties in 2 batches, adding the remaining oil for the second batch. Do not flip until a brown crust has formed on the first side, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove the patties from the pan when uniform in color. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a 200ºF oven until ready to serve. Repeat until all the patties are cooked. Serve hot topped with the mayonnaise.
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