Two Amber Cakes of Grain: Quinoa and Semolina Couscous

2013 0405 IMG_1157 quinoa cakes detailWho wouldn’t like crispy crunchy little “pancakes” that are good for you? Shaped like mini-burgers, they are based on nutritious cooked grains like quinoa or semolina or millet or …. All the ones I’ve made have “special” ingredients that make them sing: tangy feta cheese is at the top of the list, but currants and chopped herbs are right up there.  The couscous cakes are infused with saffron, which gives them a golden color. These cakes are great topped with smoked fish as an appetizer, served with a vegetable stew for supper, pocketed for breakfast, or packed for lunch on a trip.  They’re more substantial than the mini vegetable frittatas that bake in muffin tins so they’re good for the road. And you can make them any size: mine were under 2 inches in diameter so they were basically finger food.

2013 0405 IMG_1151 quinoa and semolina cakesThe quinoa version, the way I made it, is gluten-free. The semolina version is obviously wheat-based. Since I’m working on my own recipes, I might not have posted these two – one from Becky Selengut’s Good Fish, and the other from Yotam Ottolenghi’s column in the Guardian – but I had so many requests that I couldn’t resist sharing this discovery. I made Selengut’s quinoa cakes the way the recipe was written. Ottolenghi used barberries, which we don’t have here, so I substituted lemon-soaked currants as he suggested. I also halved the Ottolenghi recipe and converted it to American measurements. Because of the characteristics of semolina couscous, those cakes were drier and denser than the quinoa version.

2013 0405 IMG_1150 Semolina and saffronWhen I first served the quinoa cakes, I topped them with smoked trout, sour cream and chives. The second time, when they accompanied the couscous cakes, I used that amazing Moroccan tomato jam from last summer. I also served the couscous cakes with an aromatic root vegetable stew.

Quinoa Cakes adapted from Becky Selengut, Good Fish

2/3 c quinoa, rinsed and drained

1 1/3 c water


¼ c minced shallots

1 tsp olive oil

¼ c flour – all-purpose or superfine brown rice or white rice flour

¼ c tangy feta cheese, crumbled

¼ c finely chopped Italian parsley, or a combination of parsley and chives

1 egg and 1 egg yolk (or use 2 eggs)

Freshly ground black pepper or a little red pepper sauce

Vegetable oil for frying

Selengut’s garnishes: smoked trout flakes, sour cream or Greek yogurt, chives

Cook the quinoa and set it aside to cool. (To cook quinoa, place the rinsed grains, water and a little salt in a saucepan, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot and let cook for 10-15 minutes.)

Cook the shallots in the olive oil until translucent and set them aside to cool.

Combine the quinoa, shallots, flour, feta and egg and add a little additional salt and the pepper. Form into small cakes (wet your hands if the grains stick) and fry them lightly in the vegetable oil over medium-high heat, until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes, turning them once.

Crispy Couscous and Saffron Cakes adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi, The Guardian

¼ tsp saffron threads

1 c boiling water

¾ c semolina couscous

1 tbsp dried currants

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp sugar

1/3 c Greek yogurt or sour cream

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tbsp chopped chives

¼ c crumbled feta cheese

Salt and black pepper

Butter and vegetable oil for frying

Place the saffron in a heatproof bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Let is infuse for a few minutes and stir in the couscous. Cover the bowl and let it stand for about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, soak the currants in lemon juice for 20 minutes.

Fluff up the couscous with a fork and combine with the other ingredients.

Form into small cakes (wet your hands if the grains stick) and fry them lightly in the butter and vegetable oil over medium-high heat, until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes, turning them once.

Categories: Gluten-free, Grains, PancakesTags:

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