After a year or two of nutritionists and endurance sports magazines advocating the healthy benefits of quinoa, a high protein grain mostly grown and harvested in South America, you’ve likely tried the nutty, toothsome carbohydrate. Quinoa is a fantastic whole food to consume after a long training run, ride or swim (or combination), as its roughly 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio provides optimal recovery nutrition. Complete with all the essential amino acids and packed with lysine (helps promote tissue growth and repair), magnesium (relaxes blood vessels), iron, copper and manganese (protect antioxidants in the body), this superfood is best consumed after a hard workout because, although it’s easier to digest than many other proteins, its high fiber content could require a bathroom break if eaten prior to a training session.
If you haven’t tried quinoa, or if you’re looking for more unique ways of consuming it than as a boiled, salted alternative to brown rice, consider quinoa cakes: The contrasting textures and nutty, salty, fresh flavors provide a lovely accompaniment to grilled vegetables, a green salad or roasted asparagus.
Make sure to rinse the quinoa (put it in a mesh colander and rinse with cold water) before cooking to remove the somewhat bitter outer coating on each grain.
Quinoa Cakes with Creamy Cilantro Sauce
1 1/2 cups quinoa, cooked according to package directions and cooled
1/3 cup fine diced pancetta (or 4-5 strips of bacon, turkey bacon or veggie bacon)
3 teaspoons olive or grapeseed oil
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (any mix or type is fine)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 teaspoon dried herbs de provence
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon whole wheat (or all-purpose) flour
As quinoa cools, saute pancetta in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until crispy. Remove from pan and add 1 teaspoon olive or grapeseed oil. Add mushrooms to pan and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add garlic, red pepper, pine nuts, dried herbs, salt and pepper and saute for another 5 minutes. Tumble contents of pan into a large mixing bowl and top with the pancetta. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes. When the mixture is about at room temperature, add the cooled quinoa to the mixing bowl. Crack in the one egg and sprinkle in the flour. Combine with hands—the mixture should be only slightly wet. If the mixture is too moist, add a bit more flour and mix. Chill quinoa mixture in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, make the cilantro sauce.
Creamy Cilantro Sauce:
1/4 cup low-fat sour cream
2 tablespoons wheat beer (you can use water or stock in place of the beer)
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 small bunch of rinsed and dried cilantro (about 1 cup), with bottom stems removed
1/2 jalapeno, if desired
1 garlic clove
salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
Remove the quinoa mixture from the refrigerator and form into four to six equal-sized patties (depending on how big you want them). In a large skillet over medium heat, add 2 teaspoons of olive or grapeseed oil and, when the oil begins to ripple a bit, add the quinoa cakes. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until golden. Flip cakes and cook for 4-5 minutes on opposite side. Serve with a drizzle of the creamy cilantro sauce (the leftover sauce makes a great salad dressing).