If quinoa gets any more popular, I think Iowa will scrap its Corn Belt for a Quinoa Belt. (Although winters might be tricky for a South American crop.) Seems like every grocery store stocks quinoa; every magazine features it in recipes. But quinoa really does deserve the hype: it’s a whole grain, it cooks in ten minutes, it’s a complete protein — a rarity in the plant world — and it looks incredibly cute when you simmer it and the outer bran starts to curl away from the center each grain. I think of quinoa as “the curlicue grain.” And quinoa even grows in three different colors: black, red, and a creamy tan. You just can’t ask a grain to be any more festive or convenient. (It’s worth noting here that quinoa is actually an edible seed, not a grain. Since it’s prepared the way grains are typically prepared, though, it falls into the grain category in mainstream cuisine. Kind of like tomatoes are commonly considered to be vegetables even though they’re biologically fruit.)
These crispy cakes are easy to make, easy to reheat, and make a great snack or a base for a meal. The critical part is letting them cook undisturbed for a full 10 minutes (or perhaps eight if you have a scorchingly hot stove) so that the egg and cheese can set into place and stick the quinoa together. Feel free to use two egg whites rather than one to give yourself more stick-together power. (The majority of the protein in an egg is in the white, and protein is what solidifies and sets. Yolks have protein, too, but not nearly as much — that’s why the yolk in a sunny-side-up egg is still runny even though the white is firmly set.)
Quinoa Cakes with Broccoli & Tomatoes
Makes about 12 cakes.
About 2/3 cup raw quinoa (quinoa roughly triples in volume when cooked)
1 heaping cup almond flour, either store-bought or homemade (whirr sliced almonds in a small food processor for a few seconds)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or more if you like)
1 egg, preferably from pastured hens
1/2 tsp. sea salt
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Extra-virgin olive oil
Bring 1 1/3 cups water to a boil in a medium pot. Stir in quinoa and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until quinoa has absorbed all of the water and you see those cute little tails. Remove from heat and stir in almond flour, Parmesan, egg, and salt.
Heat a dab of ghee or butter in a large skillet over medium heat until ghee is melted. (Ghee is clarified butter; not only does it handle heat beautifully, it makes for a gorgeous golden-brown sauté and has a very rich flavor.) With a heat-proof measuring cup — I used a metal one — scoop out 1/4 cup of the quinoa mixture and gently press it into the cup, adding more if necessary to fill the cup. Tap the quinoa out of the cup and onto the skillet, being very careful not to mar the skillet with the edge of the cup. If you’re stuck with a plastic cup, do NOT touch the skillet with the cup at all. Use the bottom of the cup to gently flatten the quinoa, pressing it into a round patty.
You can cook as many cakes at a time as you like, but leave them some breathing room since you’ll need to flip them over. (I have a square griddle pan that easily accommodates 4 cakes.) Let cakes cook undisturbed for at least 8 minutes before you gently lever one of them up to peer underneath. When the cakes are golden brown, flip them over and cook another 5 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack or serve immediately.
To embellish my cakes, I simmered some broccoli florets in water for about 3 minutes while the cakes were cooking, then topped the cakes with the drained broccoli, halved tomatoes, and a drizzle of vinegar and oil.
Leftover cakes can be refrigerated for up to a week. They reheat quite nicely in a toaster oven.
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