Quinoa is one of those perfectly perfect foods: it’s high in protein (8 grams of protein per 185 gram serving – about 6 ounces), high in fiber (5 grams per serving), and best of all, it is a complete protein; it contains all amino acids necessary for life. All by itself. Compare that to an average white pasta which contains 7 grams of incomplete protein per serving, meaning that something must be added to it in order to complete the protein complement. Wheat plus dairy creates a complete protein, for example. Think Pasta Alfredo. Pasta contains just 2 grams of fiber per serving (am I safe in thinking we’re all clear on the importance of fiber in our diet?), though its carbohydrate content is comparable to that of quinoa – 42 grams for pasta vs. 39 for quinoa. But here’s the hitch: a serving size of pasta is considered 2 ounces. While that’s probably pretty reasonable, all things considered, who can actually restrict oneself to 2 ounces of pasta? Not I. It’s so good I just want more. And more.
For some time I thought that something as all-around perfect as quinoa just couldn’t be good. Remember the granola craze when it first became one? Please, I’d rather chew gravel. But I was wrong about quinoa.
As with practically any food, there is the right way to cook it and the wrong way. Overcook it, and it will taste like any overcooked grain: like mush. But cooked just enough, its texture has a subtle crunch that is enormously satisfying, similar to perfect al dente pasta. Only you can eat a lot more of quinoa, and be better to yourself at the same time.
Makes 6 to 8 cakes
First, a note about the quinoa. It is available in white, red, black, and a combination of all 3 known as “rainbow.”
I used the latter because it is so lovely. When quinoa first became a fad, it was recommended that it be thoroughly rinsed before cooking. The hulls are naturally coated with a substance called saponin which is bitter, hence, birds avoid it. In recent years, though, most quinoas are pre-polished which obviates rinsing. Nonetheless, I find that if I don’t give it a rinse in a strainer under cold water, there is a bitterness remaining after cooking it. So do give it a quick rinse.
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup quinoa
1/4 cup barley flakes
2 tablespoons buttermilk
8 mushrooms, thinly sliced, then diced
1/2 yellow onion, small dice
2 stalks celery, small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 whole eggs
Sea or kosher salt and pepper
Your favorite eggs, cooked
2 scallions, 1/4” slices
- Bring to a boil the water and salt. Add the quinoa, cover the pot, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 12 minutes. There may be some water remaining. That’s fine; simply pour the quinoa through a fine-mesh strainer and allow to cool while you prepare the vegetables. When you taste the quinoa, it should be a bit undercooked and have a touch of firmness to it. Remember, you’re going to cook it again after you shape the cakes.
- While the quinoa is cooking, measure the barley flakes into a large mixing bowl and add the buttermilk. Stir to blend. Warm in the microwave for 15 seconds, then allow to sit. Barley flakes are available in most any natural foods store, somewhere in the vicinity of rolled oats. If you can’t find them, feel free to substitute rolled oats, but be sure to avoid the instant or quick-cooking varieties. Along with the whole eggs, the barley (or oat) flakes will help bind the cakes together, and if you use instant ones, they will break down too much to be of any use.
- Film the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and warm it over medium heat. When hot, add the mushrooms and a touch of salt. Since they are diced small, they should shed their water relatively quickly, say in about 3-4 minutes. When you can’t see water boiling away any longer, add the onion and sauté until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the celery, garlic, and red pepper flakes; sauté until the garlic is fragrant. Don’t overcook the celery, as it wants to bring a subtle crunch to the mix.
- Transfer the vegetables to the mixing bowl containing the barley flakes and buttermilk. Add the cooled quinoa, and stir to blend everything together. Taste the mixture and season as you wish with salt and some grinds of pepper. Crack the eggs into the bowl and again stir to blend.
- Film the bottom of the same skillet you used previously with olive oil and again warm over medium heat. When hot, use a large spoon to drop batter into cakes about 3″ in diameter and 1/2″ thick. Don’t crowd them. Cook until each side is beautifully browned and forms a tender crust, about 3-4 minutes each, turning them over gently.
- Serve with one or two of your favorite type of eggs on top. I’ll take mine poached, thank you. Garnish with scallions.
If you have leftover batter, go ahead and fry it up. Wrap the cakes individually in plastic, then seal them in a zip lock bag before freezing them. What a wonderful surprise to discover on one of those nights when you need to pull a rabbit out of the so to speak hat.
Friends, it’s been a long hiatus. At times a difficult one, but ultimately productive on many levels, with lots of stories to come. In the meantime, it’s good to be back.