Building a good grain-based veggie burger is a challenge, not only for flavor, but also because they tend to fall apart.
So instead we tried a seed — quinoa, to be specific — and were delighted with the results. The texture and size make it better-suited than rice or other “grains” for forming into patties, and pan-frying gives them a crisp crust that contrasts with the tender interior.
For this recipe from our book “COOKish,” which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor, we bind the quinoa with beaten egg and panko breadcrumbs, which soak up the egg to keep the inside moist and the patties together. A quarter-cup of tarragon and chopped scallions give them an herbal fragrance, and a pungent cheese like Gruyère or Gouda punches up the flavor.
The recipe makes four 3-inch patties, which can be made into burgers by tucking them into buns with toppings. Served on their own, they make a nice side dish that’s a departure from a typical salad or pilaf.
To cook just enough quinoa to make the cakes, in a large saucepan bring 1½ cups water and ½ cup quinoa (rinsed and drained) to a boil. Stir in 1 teaspoon kosher salt, then cover, reduce to low and cook until the water has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, uncover, drape a towel across the pan, re-cover and let stand for 10 minutes.
Fluff with a fork, spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cool to room temperature.
Quinoa Cakes with Gruyère and Herbs
Start to finish: 30 minutes
2 large eggs
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1½ cups cooked quinoa, room temperature
2 scallions, finely chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh tarragon OR dill OR a combination
3 ounces Gruyère cheese OR Gouda cheese OR smoked Gouda cheese, shredded (¾ cup)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons neutral oil
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then add the panko and mix until moistened; set aside for 15 minutes to hydrate. To the panko-egg mixture, add the quinoa, scallions, tarragon, cheese, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Mix by hand, then form into four 3-inch patties, pressing firmly so they hold together. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the patties and cook until well browned on both sides, flipping once.
Optional garnish: Mayonnaise mixed with chopped fresh herbs