Quinoa (keen-wa) is the so-called ‘supergrain’ that is a staple across Bolivia, and now amongst hipsters and the health conscious across the UK, US and beyond. Quinoa is popular – not just because Gwyneth Paltrow once did a blog about it (sheesh, anyone can write a blog!) – but because it is a brilliant combination of amino acids and protein, making it a star element of any plant–based diet (see my post on vegetarian protein sources for more). So I can’t be a serious food lover or writer if I don’t bang on about my love for quinoa now, can I? On a more serious note, the plight of Bolivian quinoa farmers is now more commonly known, and it’s sustainbility is being questioned (I’ll highlight though it has nothing on the meat market). More British and European farmers are beginning to cultivate the grain, which should hopefully take the strain off the South American market. And as with all imported food groups, it is important to be aware of where your food comes from, and how, and to try and make as sustainble choices as you can afford. Preach over.
I wasn’t instantly sold on quinoa: boiled (badly) it firstly tasted like the smug lovechild of soggy pasta and half-cooked cous cous. I could feel it taunting me with it’s ‘you must like me to be healthy’ vibes. But I persevered my way through my first bag (it’s too pricey to abandon in the cupboard wedged between my lentil collection and a box of long-forgotten risotto rice) and it slowly became a staple in my kitchen. I recently decided to branch out into more inventive ways to cook it, leading to the two recipes below. They are similar but I wanted to share both to show different combinations and cokking methods. I also followed a bit of a see what works mentality, especially for the second, so I urge you to try vairous recipes and adapt them in line with your available ingredients, prefered flavours and cooking method.
The first – quinoa and cannellini bean cakes – is a take on a recipe from Oh My Veggies. I wanted something light, versatile but fairly simple, and most importantly packed with protein – of which these have a double hit of: cannellini beans and quinoa.
The second recipe – the quinoa and kale pesto balls – were a bit of a mishmash made at 10pm when I suddenly decided I wanted to make something for a picnic the next day, and needed to use some leftover bits and pieces.
And if these whet your quinoa-coated whistle check out this BuzzFeed story on more exciting quinoa dishes.
Quinoa and cannellini bean cakes
- 1 can of cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
- ½ cup of quinoa, cooked
- ½ a medium courgette, thinly julienned
- ½ a carrot, thinly julienned
- 2 tbsp of pesto (homemade or from a jar)
- 1 tsp chilli flakes
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 egg
- ½ cup of breadcrumbs
- 16 cherry tomatoes
- 4-6 fresh basil leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
Mash the cannellini beans in a bowl then add the cooked quinoa, carrot, courgette, pesto, chilli and basil. Ideally you want the beans to be quite well ground down, but with a few lumps still remaining to give it a bit of texture.
Stir in the egg and the breadcrumbs, and any seasoning to taste. The mixture should easily form into cake/patties and not be too sticky. I made these before I was on my vegan challenge, and whilst I haven’t tried to make them without the egg I reckon they would bind ok without as the cannellini beans have the moisture required. There are lots of vegan binding agents but I don’t want to recommend anything specific without trying it first.
Brush a little olive oil on a baking tray and make the mixture into about 12 round patties. Coat in a little plain flour if they are too sticky. Cook for 25-30 minutes. Turn them halfway through cooking – they should now be brown on the underside. If they stick to the baking tray add a tiny bit more oil.
At the same time put the halved cherry tomatoes on another tray and cook until soft and a bit browned. Then serve three cakes as a portion with the tomato and fresh basil. You can also add any side salad to this dish as I have done below.