A funny thing happens every time I see a new quinoa recipe. I think: Maybe this will be the one.
You know, the one that ultimately persuades me to make this protein-rich grain (technically a seed) part of my weeknight rotation. Sure, I've dabbled here and there, and as a self-confessed quinoa skeptic, I've come to know which ways work best for me and my palate. Mostly, that consists of combining the quinoa with a larger grain, toasting it for a topping or putting it in soups and stews.
One of my favorite recipes was a quinoa and barley cake; the presence of that larger grain made up for the little stick-in-your-teeth quality that bugs me about quinoa. But when I saw another recipe for quinoa cakes in the new America's Test Kitchen book, "Cooking at Home With Bridget and Julia," I had to try it. I was confident that Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison wouldn't steer me wrong.
This is one of Davison's recipes, and the secret is all the good stuff she adds to the cooked quinoa, not only to hold it together (there's bread and egg for that), but also to flavor it: sun-dried tomatoes, lemon zest and juice, Parmesan and more. A good dose of chopped baby spinach leaves give it more color and heft, too.
After forming the mixture into patties, you refrigerate them for at least an hour to help them firm, making them easier to pan-fry. They're still a little delicate to flip, but it's nothing a flexible spatula and a little room in the skillet can't manage, and the result is, they get nice and crisp on the outside.
Davison includes a recipe for a cucumber-yogurt sauce to go with them, but I took an easier route and just dolloped plain Greek yogurt on top. The next day, when I went back for leftovers, I realized how good a recipe this is: The cakes are even better cold, which makes them that much more versatile. I think I found the one.
Quinoa Cakes With Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Yield: 4 servings
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped, plus 1 tablespoon of their oil 4 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped (white and green parts) 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped 2 cups water 1 cup pre-rinsed quinoa 1 teaspoon sea salt 2 slices hearty white sandwich bread 1 large egg plus 1 large yolk, beaten together 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus 2 teaspoons juice (from 1 lemon) 2 ounces (2 cups) baby spinach, chopped 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (1 cup) 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1/2 cup regular, low-fat or nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt, for serving
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Heat the tablespoon of oil from the sun-dried tomatoes in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the scallions and cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the water, quinoa and salt. Once the water starts bubbling, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the quinoa is tender, 16 to 18 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let the quinoa sit, covered, until the liquid is fully absorbed, about 10 minutes. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and let it cool for at least 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, tear the bread into large pieces. Pulse them in a food processor about 10 times, or until coarsely ground. Add the beaten egg/yolk and the lemon zest; pulse about 5 times, or just until the mixture comes together. Transfer to the bowl with the cooled quinoa and stir it in, along with the sun-dried tomatoes, lemon juice, spinach and cheese, until thoroughly combined.
To divide the mixture into 8 equal portions, use a spatula to first press it evenly into the bowl, then "cut" it into 8 wedges, scooping each one out as you work. Pack each portion firmly to form a 1/2-inch-thick cake that's about 3½ inches wide. Arrange them on the lined baking sheet as you work. Cover and refrigerate the cakes for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Gently lay in 4 of the cakes and cook until well-browned on the first sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Use a flexible spatula to gently turn them over; cook until golden brown on the second sides, 5 to 7 minutes.
Transfer them to a serving platter and tent with aluminum foil (to keep them warm). Return the skillet to medium-low heat and repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and remaining 4 cakes.
Serve with yogurt dolloped on top, or on the side.
Nutrition information per serving: 350 calories, 10 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 20 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 690 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar.
Source: Adapted from "Cooking at Home With Bridget and Julia," by Bridget Lancaster, Julia Collin Davison and the editors at America's Test Kitchen.