A Spicy Twist On A Classic Finger Food: Cilantro Crab Cakes

We all know that when you're hosting a party or even just a small get-together, it's important to have a decent array of snacks. You'll probably have the requisite meat-and-cheese platter, a bowl of party mix, a tray of pinwheels sandwiches and maybe -- if you're like me, a 20-something year-old junk foodie with other 20-something year-old junk foodie friends -- a punch bowl filled with Doritos. Sure, it's convenient to load the kitchen table with store-bought snacks, but it's nothing compared to homemade treats. I like to offer a mix of both grocery goodies and home-cooked fare -- and this cilantro crab cake recipe from Marcela Valladolid is perfect for parties. It's easy to prep and cook, too: simply mix the ingredients in a bowl and quickly fry the small cakes to golden goodness. They're crabby, they're spicy, and, laced with lime juice and cilantro, they even have a Mexican flair.

Serves: 4-6 crab cakes Prep time: 20 minutes

Ingredients Cakes: 12 oz canned crab meat (usually 2 6-oz cans) 3 tablespoons mayonnaise 1 medium egg, beaten 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs 1/4 cup chopped scallions 1/4 cup finely chopped chopped cilantro leaves 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice Salt and pepper, to taste 1/2 teaspoon habanero hot sauce (optional) Guacamole (optional)

Breading: 4 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 cup panko bread crumbs 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves

1. Mix the ingredients for the cakes in a bowl. Separate the resulting mixture into 1/2-3/4 inch patties.

2. Brush a thin layer of vegetable oil on each patty, then coat both sides of the patty in pank bread crumbs and cilantro leaves.

3. Heat a drizzle of vegetable oil in a pan and fry each patty until medium golden brown, about 2-3 minutes on each side.

My Notes Extra mayo and less egg. Marcela's recipe calls for a touch less mayonnaise and a large (rather than medium) egg. I added the dash of extra mayo to make the crab cakes creamier, and I went with a smaller egg in order to make the end result less, well, "eggy." Some crab cake recipes don't use egg at all -- but it's important. Egg serves as an adhesive so that the cakes will be more pliable and won't fall apart.

Why habanero hot sauce? The first time I made this recipe I didn't have habanero hot sauce in my pantry; instead, I settled for Cholula. Though it didn't adversely affect my crab cakes, there was no spice. Habanero hot sauce, on the other hand, is strong enough to withstand the cooking process. But if you prefer, you can skip the hot sauce altogether.

Store-bought guacamole? In this dish, the guac serves as a garnish rather than as the star of the plate. While you could mash your own batch of it, it may be a better use of your (limited) time to buy a carton at the store. When I do this, I usually sneak in a squeeze of fresh lime juice and pinch of garlic paste to give the flavor more depth.