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A friend introduced me to kani salad at a Japanese restaurant last year. My choices at Japanese restaurants are usually limited, since I avoid rice for multiple reasons and don’t care for the typical semi-wilted Japanese salad usually offered. (Maybe I just haven’t had luck with getting fresh salads at these places?) Finding an alternative starter to my usual hibachi or sashimi put a smile on my face!
Unfortunately, I later found out that the imitation crab meat used in almost every kani salad recipe is not gluten-free and often has added sugar. If you’re cutting sugar, or simply eating paleo or gluten-free, it turns out that a kani salad isn’t such a great option when going out, after all. How disappointing!
Imitation crab meat is actually made out of fish (typically pollock). I honestly don’t understand why adding starch and sugar is necessary. Then again, I’ve never tried making it myself. Maybe there isn’t an easy way to make the imitation similar to the real thing without the starches, but that’s not enough explanation for me to eat it.
The great news is, making your own homemade kani salad is incredibly easy! And, there really isn’t any good reason to use imitation crab meat.
My Japanese kani salad recipe uses real lump crab meat, which is so much healthier than the processed imitation stuff. You can use any crab meat, really, but I find that lump crab works best in a salad like this. The crab is the star here!
Traditional kani salad doesn’t use kelp noodles, but I thought they were a perfect fit for it. After all, kelp noodles are Japanese! And, they make this entire salad both filling and light at the same time.
If you don’t have kelp noodles, another option would be zucchini noodles, or even spaghetti squash, depending on the time of year. If you have a spiralizer (get one if you don’t – you’ll love it!), any vegetable that you can spiralize would make a great stand-in.
You can garnish this Japanese salad with sesame seeds for a little nuttiness, or fish roe if you’d like. I skipped them, since I ran out of sesame seeds and didn’t have fish roe on hand. I thought my Japanese salad was just as good without, but they do make nice additions if you have them.