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I found my way to a widely loved Heidi Swanson recipe via Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More, where a photo of crispy-edged, quinoa-studded patties made my stomach instantly growl, urging me to read on. The recipe’s notes led me to Heidi’s site, where I discovered a couple variations of the recipe: one loaded with herbs and garlic and another with edamame and kale. Both included eggs, onion, bread crumbs, and feta, but as Ottolenghi’s recipe—made with ramps, cottage cheese, and green chilies—suggested, the format appeared adaptable.
The cakes proved to be a nice outlet for the several bundles of purple-veined mustard greens I recently picked up at my market. I followed Heidi’s instructions for getting the “batter” to be the right consistency, adding eggs as needed until it held together, then cooked the patties two ways: baked, the method Heidi favors, and fried, an alternative she provides.
Each method has its advantages. Baking frees you from standing over a skillet and uses less oil, making the patties slightly lighter. Frying produces an irresistibly golden crust and takes less time. When baked, the cakes taste eggier, almost like mini frittatas, and they’re a touch drier. For these reasons, I prefer frying, which requires only a modest amount of finesse and attention (see notes below).
The patty format, I should note, does not perhaps showcase the peppery flavor of the mustard greens as well as a raw salad or a gentle wilting in olive oil would. But the flavor is by no means lost. These very green, vegetal patties could be served as an appetizer with a squeeze of lemon or as a main course with naan, cilantro, and a yogurt-tahini sauce. They are hard to resist hot out of the skillet, but hold up well at room temperature, too, and aren't bad straight from the fridge either. It’s no wonder love for these crispy cakes spans continents and won the hearts of chefs and home cooks alike.
Here are some tips to help you fry with ease:
- Fry a small portion of the batter before forming all of the patties to check for both seasoning and structure.
- Keep the patties on the small side, using no more than ¼ cup of the mixture per patty.
- Have patience—the less you move the patties around in the skillet, the better. Let them cook undisturbed for at least 2 minutes, then take a peak before flipping.
- Make a sauce: A simple squeeze of lemon will work in a pinch, but if you have Greek yogurt and Sriracha (or other chile sauce) on hand, the two together make a tangy sauce that nicely complements the earthy greens and smoky cumin. An even better condiment, if you have the time, is this slightly sweet tahini-yogurt sauce.
- Vary the components to your liking: Kale, broccoli rabe, or chard could be substituted for the mustard greens. Herbs, like cilantro or parsely, could be added. Many cheeses (cheddar, Gruyère, feta) could be used in place of the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bread crumbs could be replaced with flour or gluten-free options, such as almond flour, gluten-free flour, or ground flax seed.
- 3/4 cup dried quinoa
- kosher salt
- 1/2 pound mustard greens, rough ends trimmed and discarded
- 2 teaspoons cumin seed or ground cumin
- 1 cup diced red onion
- freshly cracked pepper to taste
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, see notes above
- 4 eggs
- grapeseed or other neutral oil, for frying
- lemons, cilantro, naan, tahini-yogurt sauce for serving, optional, see notes above
Would you bake or fry these cakes? Tell us in the comments below!