Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wa) is having its moment in the sun, so to speak. Ranked highly in the healthy foods hall of fame, creamy-coloured, crunchy quinoa has gone from ‘keen what’ to ‘keen wow’. This ancient Andean staple is used like a grain but it is in fact a seed (scientific name Chenopodium quinoa Willd. Yes, it is two ls). And, unlike cereal crops such as wheat, oats, rye and barley, quinoa is a gluten-free complete protein, making it invaluble to vegans and coeliacs alike.
Its fabulousness doesn’t stop there: quinoa is lower in sodium and higher in calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and zinc than wheat, barley or corn. Full of satiating fibre too. I don’t want to be a nutrition geek, so if you want to know more about this versatile, tasty and nutritious seed, click here.
I will be a prep geek, however: rinse the grains well before cooking and ignore your packet’s cooking instructions. Trust me, unless you want quinoa porridge (which is actually quite interesting, cooked in apple juice), keep your fast simmering time to ten minutes and, with the lid still on, kill the heat and steam for a further five minutes. The ratio of quinoa to liquid that I use is 1:2. Should be perfect. When cooked the tiny buff coloured beads swell delicately and sprout a tail. That’s when you know it’s done. Quinoa has its own harmless bitter tasting natural pesticide on the surface. So, before you cook the quinoa pour your measured grains into a fine-mesh sieve and rinse for about 20 seconds, rubbing the grains between your fingers. Although much of the bitterness is removed during processing it’s still wise to give it a good rinse. Those who complain that quinoa tastes weird probably haven’t rinsed first. Sorry about the bossiness – you can tell I am a mother.
The recipe below is a low GL take on fishcakes, with the added bonus of affordable smoked mackerel in place of more expensive crab or salmon. I make the cakes with cold leftover quinoa but you can of course make some up specially, cooling it before making up the cakes. I have used capers in this version but a heaped teaspoon of grated horseradish (English Provender Co. is good) and little dinky cubes of pickled or grated beetroot taste great and look pretty too. I use quinoa quite a lot so I hope to post some of our family and Maggie’s Centre favourites in the near future. This is my daughter’s favourite.
Quinoa and Smoked Mackerel Fishcakes
What You Need
300g/10.5 oz cooked quinoa (or use 150g raw quinoa and boil with 300 ml water, as directed above)
200g/7 oz smoked mackerel, skin and any hard end bits removed
1 medium carrot, grated
1/2 courgette (zucchini), grated and squeezed of excess moisture (optional)
3 heaped tbsp capers (rinsed if in salt), chopped
zest and juice of one lemon (preferably unwaxed)
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill, or 2 tsp dried dill
about 75g/3 oz (+) maizemeal, polenta or cornmeal (they are all more or less the same thing – dried, ground corn)
rapeseed oil, to fry
What To Do: I usually do this in a food processor, quickly pulsing the mixture so as not to get a sticky mush, but you can certainly do it by hand – literally, squidging it all up with both hands. Pop the mixture into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for half an hour. This cooling time makes it easier to form into cakes.
Now, form little cakes – mine are usually about 9 cm/ 3 in in diameter and 4.5 cm/1. 75 in thick but it’s up to you. If you do them my way you should get about eight or nine cakes. Pour the maizemeal onto a plate and, as you form each cake, pat it into the maizemeal, gently rolling it on its side to completely coat. Place the coated cakes on a cool baking sheet or plate. Now, heat up enough oil to coat the bottom of a large frying pan generously but not more than a few millimetres. Sprinkle in a few grains of maizemeal and, if they sizzle, you’re good to go. Put some of the cakes into the hot oil, making sure not to crowd them as this reduces the heat and makes for soggy cakes. Cook the cakes until they are very golden brown; turn carefully to prevent them breaking. Because the fish and quinoa are already cooked you don’t have to go too dark. When this batch is done pop them onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet and into a warm (120C/250F) oven. Cook the remaining cakes. Serve with a sharp green salad, some oven-baked sweet potato wedges and the following simply-prepared sauce.
Dill Cream Sauce
200ml/7 oz half-fat crème fraîche/sour cream
juice of half lemon
1 tsp grated horseradish or wasabi paste
100g/3.6 oz cucumber (English/hothouse), finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill or good pinch of dried dill
Mix well and serve with fishcakes.
This is my first post of my first blog (late adopter!). Thanks for visiting and I hope you come back soon to see if I get any better. I think I’ll do a late winter soup next. Until then, make it homemade.