Thursday, January 26, 2012


The more quinoa I eat, the more I love it. Unfortunately, after an initial favorable response, A seems to like quinoa less and less every time I serve it, no matter how alluringly it’s prepared. He tolerates it, but unenthusiastically, and I’m stuck with all the leftovers. The man does love fritters, though, as do I, so when I saw this recipe for quinoa cakes at Annie’s Eats, I bookmarked it right away. In truth, I mainly fell in love with the photograph, which presented just the kind of colorful, healthy, light, simple-but-not-spartan food I feel like eating after ODing on holiday cookies. It didn’t hurt that the quinoa cake was crowned with a lovely poached egg, and after some early skepticism about them (I was a runny-yolk-phobe for years), I am becoming quite infatuated with poached eggs, to the point that I’ve started craving them. Never mind that I’d never made one before; it’s a new year and time to face new challenges! As a bonus, maybe I could interest A in quinoa if it was packaged in a different format, or at least placate him about the fact that I was trying yet another new quinoa recipe. (I presented them as “fritters” instead of “cakes” because I thought it would attract him more, but as you’ll see below, “fritter” also turned out to be the more accurate term for my rendition.)

I’m so glad I took the plunge, because first of all, quinoa tastes great when it’s formed into a patty with cheese, herbs, and seasonings and pan-fried until crispy and browned. A devoured his happily, declaring it to be his favorite quinoa preparation by far (this may be damning with faint praise, but I’ll take it), and even ate the leftovers the next day without prompting. I had a little trouble executing the original recipe as written; it said I should be able to form the quinoa mixture into patties before placing it in the skillet, but mine was so wet and loose there was no way that was going to happen. I noticed that a few of the recipe commenters had also encountered this, and some had increased the quantity of breadcrumbs to thicken the mixture, but I didn’t feel like making more (since the recipe didn’t specify whether they should be dry or fresh*, I had made fresh ones out of some stale bread). So I did what I always do with my troublesome falafel recipe and treated it like a fritter, dolloping the batter into the hot oil with a measuring cup. I’ll admit that little pieces of quinoa crumbled everywhere when I tried to press the dollops into rough patty shapes, and I thought for sure we’d end up eating some sort of pan-fried quinoa hash-like mess, but luckily the eggs worked their magic, and by the time the patties had gotten nice and brown on their undersides (probably overbrowned, as you can see in the photo, because I was so scared about what was going to happen when I tried to turn them over that I kept delaying the inevitable and letting them get good and firm, but luckily overbrowned quinoa still tastes good, maybe even better for all I know), the cakes were holding together well enough to be flipped over without coming apart. And the little scattered crumbs of quinoa in the pan made a great snack for the chef; quinoa develops the most addictive nutty flavor and crunchy-chewy texture when fried, which is what really makes this recipe wonderful.

*Just today, I looked back at the recipe comments and saw that someone had asked which kind of breadcrumbs to use, and Annie had replied that she used dried ones—specifically, panko. Perhaps if I’d done that, my patties would have been more like cakes and less like fritters, but I’m not sure how much I care, because once I’d overcome my initial anxiety that I’d bungled the recipe and made a giant mess, I liked them just the way they were, all blobby and unphotogenic—er, I mean, “rustic” and “free-form”—and most importantly, tasty. Next time I’ll try panko, though, just for comparison.

Also, poaching eggs turned out to be not as difficult as I’d feared, at least as long as you’re not a perfectionist. I’m not going to give you instructions on it yet, because I’m still honing my method—the first time I used this helpful tutorial from the Smitten Kitchen, but I’m not really coordinated enough to make that nice little whirlpool in the water and my eggs whites scattered a lot, so the second time I turned to Simply Recipes and employed canning jar rings (why not? I have so many!) to help the eggs stay in one place. This worked pretty niftily, but I didn’t really get that fluffy height so many of the best poached eggs have, plus the egg-encrusted rings are devilish to clean. Clearly more practice is needed, because I haven’t made a perfect poached egg yet; sometimes I overcook them a bit and sometimes I undercook them a bit, and most of the time they’re unsightly, but luckily, even an imperfect poached egg tastes great, so I’m not to worried. Once I’ve got it down to a science, I’ll let you know, but in the meantime, the experimentation is fun and tasty. I’m already daydreaming about other meals that could be topped off with eggs.

The original recipe directed you to make six patties, but I was pretty hungry, too impatient to go through frying two separate batches, and unsure how the quinoa cakes would reheat as leftovers (well, as it turns out), so I just made four. For us, one of these larger fritters turned out be the perfect quantity for one meal, so I’m sticking with four in the future. For a breakfast, brunch, or light lunch, you could serve the fritters atop some spinach or arugula; it adds some color and nutrients, and the egg yolk coats the greens delightfully. Since we were having these as a dinner entrĂ©e, I served a generous salad on the side instead.

½ cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup water
2 large eggs, plus 4 large eggs for poaching
½ teaspoon coarse salt, plus extra to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
⅓ cup minced fresh chives
2 large shallots, finely chopped
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup breadcrumbs (I used fresh, but just discovered that the original recipe used dried, so…whatever)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh arugula or spinach (optional)

1. Place quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer, rinse thoroughly with cold water, and drain. Place quinoa in a small saucepan with 1 cup water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until all liquid is absorbed. Spread quinoa on a platter or baking sheet and let cool to room temperature. (You can do this up to a few days before making the fritters, if you want; just refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.)

2. In a medium bowl, lightly beat two eggs. Add the quinoa, ½ teaspoon salt, chives, shallots, Parmesan, and garlic, plus pepper to taste, and stir to blend. Mix in the breadcrumbs and stir gently until evenly incorporated.

3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and swirl to coat. When the oil is hot, press about one-quarter of the quinoa mixture tightly into a ½ cup dry measuring cup (it will be a heaping ½ cup) and then drop it out of the measuring cup into the skillet, pressing down slightly with the back of a spatula to form a patty. Repeat with the remaining quinoa mixture, for a total of four fritters. Let cook until the bottom side is well browned. Carefully flip the patties with a spatula and let the second side cook until golden brown.

4. While the fritters are cooking, poach four eggs.

5. Serve each fritters atop a bed of greens, if desired, and top each patty with a poached egg. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve immediately.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: The fritters keep quite well in the refrigerator and, when reheated with a short zap in the microwave followed by a short stint in a dry skillet over medium heat to regain their outer crispness, are nearly as good as new. Poached eggs don’t keep at all, however, so if you plan to have leftovers, don’t poach the eggs for the leftover portions until it’s time to reheat the fritters.

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