It’s early in the morning and everyone is still asleep at my home. I’m up early, sipping tea from a small gourd filled with yerba mate, a South American beverage that I’ll have to write about some time in another post. Now, it’s time to focus and seize this opportunity—quiet time for me to write and share my recipe for this quinoa cake. Soon, my apartment will be filled with the pitter patter of little footsteps and a sweet voice that has quickly learned to make lovely sentences. “Goo morny my yuv”, he will say to me with a sweet smile, and just like that, I won’t be able to think of any other way I could start my day more beautifully.
Since my son started eating solid foods he’s had a vegetarian, mostly vegan, diet with limited amounts of refined sugars and processed foods. He now loves an array of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains and eats almost everything we give him. He never asks for ice cream, cookies or candy because he doesn’t yet know what they are. Yes, I realize the operative word is “yet”. But for now, I’m happy they’re not yet part of is vocabulary. At 22-months old, he’s a healthy little boy who is not a picky eater and has a healthy love of whole foods. People often remark on how he’s such a happy, sweet, calm and engaging little boy. Although some of this has to do with genetics, environment, and just pure luck, my husband and I suspect that a healthy and sugar-free diet also contributes to his calm and happy nature.
One day he will be old enough to make his own dietary choices. He may choose to eat meat and/or add more dairy into his diet and either will be fine with me. For now though, my responsibility is to give him the healthiest start I know, and for me that’s the opportunity to fall in love with whole foods early in life.
When I recently picked up fresh peas at the market, I handed him a pea pod and said “peas”. Knowing peas as little green balls, he was confused. I gently pulled open a pod and he quietly watched in anticipation of what lay inside. Once opened, he excitedly reached for the pod and with a bright smile he said, “ge-en peas mama, like it!”
I sautéed the fresh peas along with fava beans and asparagus, a variation of my Asparagus with Edamame and Peas, to use as a topping for a quinoa cake I’ve been wanting to make for a while. If you can’t find peas and/or fava beans, feel free to try this cake with your choice of sautéed greens. It will be packed with goodness, no matter which greens you decide to use. The quinoa cake, made not only with quinoa but also creamy and nutritious polenta, is what some would call the epitome of comfort food. Satisfying in many ways and is both vegan and gluten free.
The cake is dressed with a vibrant green coat, a purée made of basil and cilantro. If you’d prefer, you can try using only basil or substitute fresh mint or parsley for either of the herbs listed. For added color, texture, flavor and moisture I topped it off with a generous serving of diced tomatoes.
Quinoa-Polenta Cake with Fava Beans, Peas and Cilantro-Basil Purée
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained
1 cup polenta
6 cups water or low sodium broth, divided
1/3 cup dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 cup kale, finely chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/3 cup basil, finely chopped
watercress leaves for garnish, optional
Sautéed Fava Beans and Peas
1 leek, cleaned and sliced thinly
2 shallots, chopped
2-3 garlic scapes or cloves, minced
1 cup peas, shelled
1 cup fava beans, shelled, blanched and peeled
1 bunch asparagus, peeled and cut in 1″ pieces
1/4 cup water
mint, a few leaves
parsley or chives, a few sprigs
salt and pepper
1 cup basil, fresh and lightly packed
1 cup cilantro, fresh and lightly packed
2 garlic scapes or cloves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2-1 teaspoon salt
pepper, freshly ground
To make the quinoa, put quinoa in 2 cups water and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
To make the polenta, bring 4 cups of water, sun-dried tomatoes and a pinch of salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Using a large wooden spoon, slow stir in polenta. Decrease heat and continue to cook for about 25 minutes, stirring the polenta every few minutes to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Taste and adjust for salt. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400F. Add kale, cilantro and basil leaves to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
In a large bowl, combine quinoa and polenta. Add kale, cilantro, basil and salt. Mix well.
Oil a 10″ springform pan and evenly distribute quinoa mixture inside. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush the top of the cake with a layer of the purée. Allow to cool in pan for about 5 minutes. Then, using a small knife or cake spatula, gently release any portion of the cake that might be stuck to the side of the pan. Release cake from springform pan and allow to cool.
Make the Sautéed vegetables
In a medium saucepan, sauté leeks, shallots and garlic in oil for about 2 minutes. Add peas, fava beans and water and cook until water is absorbed. Toss in herbs (mint, parsley or chives). Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with lemon zest before serving.
Make the Basil-Cilantro Purée
Add basil, cilantro and garlic to a food processor and pulse until well combined. While the motor is still running, pour in the oil and process until you have a nice purée. Add salt and pepper, pulse to combine then taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and chill until ready to use.
To put it all together
Gently and carefully transfer cooled quinoa cake on to a serving dish. Decorate top and sides of the cake with sautéed vegetables, tomatoes and watercress leaves. Drizzle with basil-cilantro purée and serve.
Note: If you can take heat, a few dashes of hot sauce or chili pepper would be an excellent addition to the sautéed greens. However, if you’re planning to feed this dish to children, don’t even think about it.