Who 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.
The 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.
When 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.