Behind The Recipe: Quinoa Cakes

One of our food editors explains how she transformed whole-grain quinoa into a crispy, satisfying main dish.
quinoa cakes

Running a marathon was on my list of things to do in life. In 2006 I finally did it—and four marathons later, I still haven’t crossed it off the list for good. I’ve learned what foods fuel me on long runs, and there’s a big difference in how my body performs when I eat quinoa. I’m generally not a fan of whole grains—I can’t get into that whole chewy texture—but I happily down bowls of quinoa. In fact, I’m a little obsessed with it. I’m thinking of growing some in my yard this year.

So I had quinoa on the brain when it came time to develop this month’s Vegetarian Tonight recipe. When I was in Peru (where quinoa originated) last year, I didn’t see much of it, surprisingly, and when it was served it was always just on the side. But it’s so protein-rich that I wanted to turn it into a savory main dish—something different from the usual salad or porridge. I had developed a breakfast recipe for rice cakes a few years back and thought of making quinoa cakes.

What I didn’t think about is that rice is a lot stickier than quinoa and holds together more easily; I got lucky with my first cake, but the rest of them broke apart too easily. Adding an egg solved that problem, but they still might crack here and there when you flip them. Don’t get too worked up about that. It’s the crispy crust you’re after, so as long as you get that you can just put them back together on the plate if need be.

When it came to making the sauce, I initially thought of making ratatouille, but in the winter? Tomatoes in February just aren’t right. Grape tomatoes, however, are sweeter and have more integrity at this time of year. So I decided to work them into a ragù. The eggplant gets silky, and roasted peppers from a jar are a great time-saver. I added some fresh mozzarella for richness, but it was disappointing; it tasted flat. Executive Food Editor Kemp Minifie suggested smoked mozzarella, and that did it—I stirred some cubes into the ragù so that they would melt through and sprinkled the rest on top, and the smokiness really brought the dish together. Eating that lively ragù on a crunchy quinoa cake makes me happy, whether I have to run or not.

Try these energy-sustaining cakes for yourself.

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