“Eat it. It’s good for you.”
These words struck fear into my eight-year-old heart. That means it’s gross, because otherwise they’d have said to eat it because it’s yummy. Though I’ve left childhood behind me, when it comes to food, I suspect none of us have ever really let this youthful logic go.
Take quinoa (keen-wah) for example. Like its superfood siblings, media from all sides tout its phenomenal health benefits. For example:
- It’s a complete protein. This means quinoa is a source of all eight essential amino acids. Your body needs amino acids to build and repair muscles and tissues, and the only supply of the essential amino acids is through your daily diet. Quinoa is one of the only plant-based sources of all eight essential amino acids.
- It’s high in fiber. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 5 grams of fiber.1 Dietary fiber helps to reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and people with high intakes of dietary fiber appear to be at significantly lower risk for developing a number of serious health conditions, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Experts recommend that adults consume between 20 and 30 grams of fiber daily.2
- It’s a valuable source of heart-healthy fats. According to WHFoods, “about 28 percent of quinoa’s fatty acids come in the form of oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, and about 5 percent come in the form of alpha-linolenic acid or ALA — the omega-3 fatty acid most commonly found in plants and associated with decreased risk of inflammation-related disease.”3
- It’s rich in manganese. Manganese helps the body form connective tissue, bones, and blood-clotting factors. It plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation. Manganese is also necessary for normal brain and nerve function.4
- It’s a good source of magnesium. Every organ in the body, especially the heart, muscles, and kidneys, needs magnesium. This mineral is also necessary for strong teeth and bones and contributes to energy production.5
- It’s high in phosphorus. Together with calcium and magnesium, phosphorus is used in the body to build strong bones and teeth. Phosphorus helps filter out waste in the kidneys and plays an essential role in how the body stores and uses energy. Phosphorus is needed for the growth, maintenance, and repair of all tissues and cells, and for the production of the genetic building blocks DNA and RNA.6
All of us should be eating this stuff by the bucketful, and yet we’re not. We can’t seem to give up the so-called yummy stuff for the healthy stuff, believing, in some way, that the two are mutually exclusive.
Is this simply a case of childhood skepticism come back to haunt us?
Move over bacon; make room for something . . . quinoa-ier?
Years ago, I introduced my boss (he of the bacon delusions) to nutritious quinoa. Pay attention here: introduced is the key word. Notice I didn’t say converted. He had casually mentioned that maybe his eating habits needed to change for the better. I think I gave him some recipe for an “easy quinoa salad.” Clearly, I was thinking too much about the nutrition and not enough about the audience. Here was a self-proclaimed pork-is-the-meat-of-the-gods type guy. I should’ve realized that no salad — superfood or not — was going to go smoothly down his gullet.
A quinoa recipe that’s plate-lickin’ good
I’m older and hopefully a bit wiser now, and if I had to do it over, I’d encourage my boss to try this quinoa recipe: Crispy Cheesy Quinoa Cakes. As the name implies, they’re crispy and cheesy. They’re pan-fried. Actually, they taste like Happy Hour snacks.
So, without further ado, here’s your introduction (or re-introduction) to the wild and wonderful world of quinoa recipes you won’t hate. Boss, this one’s for you:
Crispy Cheesy Quinoa Cakes
Adapted slightly from Marin Mama Cooks
- 1 3/4 cups dry quinoa
- 1 1/3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 5 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese or Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 1/4 inch cubes (about the size of the eraser on a #2 pencil—remember those?)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper (optional)
- 4 green onions, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced
- 1 cup finely chopped spinach or kale (optional)
- 1 large egg
- 2 large egg yolks
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Place quinoa into a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under running water. Give it a little stir in the sieve while rinsing, and then drain. If you don’t have a fine-mesh sieve, never fear: pour the dry quinoa into a 4-quart saucepan and fill it halfway with water. Give the quinoa a little swish, then tip the water out of the saucepan, using your hand as a barrier to keep the quinoa in the pot while allowing the water to run out over the top of your hand. Quinoa has a naturally occurring, soapy-tasting coating that acts as an insect repellent, and this quick rinse gets rid of that.
- Next, we’re going to toast the quinoa to give it a nice, well, toasty flavor. If you used the sieve method, dump the quinoa into a 4-quart saucepan. Place the saucepan on the stove over medium-high heat. Stir the quinoa gently and constantly. After about 5 minutes, the quinoa will start to smell toasty and make a gentle popping, crackling sound.Once you’ve reached this stage, add the stock and bring it to a boil. This will probably happen fairly rapidly.
- Once the stock is boiling, cover the pot, and turn the heat down to low. Cook the quinoa, covered, for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the pot from the heat, but leave it covered so the quinoa steams for an additional 10 minutes.
- After the quinoa has steamed, scoop it out of the pot into a large mixing bowl and let it cool completely. (If you think you might be pressed for time, you can cook and cool the quinoa a day or two ahead of time. Just keep it in the fridge, tightly covered, until you’re ready to use it).
- Once the quinoa is cooled, add salt and pepper, flour, cheese, kale (or spinach) and green onions. Toss it together with your hands, being sure to separate any clumps of quinoa or any cubes of cheese that are stuck together.Note: if this is your first time using kale, any sort will do, including lacinato or Tuscan kale. Just be sure to remove the leafy portion from the thick, fibrous center stalk. Discard the stalk and chop the leafy bit to use in your recipe.
- Add the egg and the two yolks, and again mix thoroughly and gently with your hands, being sure to incorporate all the flour into the dough. The resulting mixture should be firm but sticky.
- Line a baking sheet with wax paper or baking parchment. Wet your hands, and scoop up a small handful of the quinoa mixture, packing it tightly together into a hockey-puck shape. If you find the mixture sticking too much to your hands, wet them again. Place the quinoa cake onto the prepared baking sheet.Note: I prefer my quinoa cakes on the larger side, say 2 inches across and an inch thick. This will result in a cooked cake that is crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. My kids, however, like them flatter (maybe ½ inch thick), to capitalize on the crispy pan-fried crunch. You should feel free to make them the size and thickness that appeals to you.
- Line another rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. This is for the cooked cakes.
- Get out a large non-stick skillet and pour the vegetable oil into it. The oil should generously cover the bottom of the skillet, roughly a ¼-inch depth. Heat the oil over medium-high heat.
- When the oil begins to shimmer, place 4 or 5 quinoa cakes in the pan. You will need to cook these in batches anyway, so be sure there is plenty of space around each cake. This will allow the cakes to become crispy instead of steamed. Cook the quinoa cakes for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and crisp on the bottom. Using tongs or a slotted spatula, carefully turn them over and cook for another couple of minutes, until the second side is golden brown.
- Place the cooked quinoa cakes on the towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Repeat with the remaining cakes. You may find that you need to add more oil as you go along. Just be sure to allow the oil to heat up again before adding more quinoa cakes to the pan.
- Serve right away or stash them in the fridge for a quick lunch or dinner later. They reheat beautifully in the oven or toaster oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or so.
1. “Basic Report: 20137, Quinoa, cooked,” United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Resource Service, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, last modified May 2016.
2. “Fiber: The Nutrition Source,” Harvard T. S. Chan School of Public Health, accessed February 19, 2017.
3. “Quinoa,” The World’s Healthiest Foods, accessed February 19, 2017.
4. “Manganese,” University of Maryland Medical Center, last reviewed May 31, 2013.
5. “Magnesium,” University of Maryland Medical Center, last reviewed August 6, 2015.
6. “Phosphorus,” University of Maryland Medical Center, last reviewed August 5, 2015.