Brown Baggin’ It: The Gluten-Free Lunch

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Since becoming officially gluten-free, I’ve been pretty much living on quinoa. I keep a tub of it pre-cooked in my fridge, and am now trying to find ways of disguising it for lunch so that I don’t go crazy from boredom. Luckily, it’s a very versatile grain, and there have been many experiments to-date. My favorite thus far are these quinoa cakes, which taste good room temperature or hot, and keep just as well pre-made in the fridge as the leftover quinoa itself.

This particular version is kind of a deconstructed pesto. Instead of mixing all the elements together in a food processor to form a paste, each classic pesto ingredient–nuts, parmesan cheese, basil, and garlic–gets finely chopped or pulverized (see recipe headnote) individually and mixed in with the quinoa. The result is much more subtle, and the flavor of the ground nuts helps bring out the nuttiness of the quinoa grains itself once toasted in the skillet.

When it comes to brown bag lunch dishes, we take into consideration portability, the re-purposing of leftovers, and the ability to be made ahead or quickly the morning of. These cakes fit the bill completely. If you omit the eggs, the quinoa mixture can keep in the fridge for up to a week. You can cook the cakes the night before or in the morning before work, then reheat at the office. Almost every ingredient, aside from the basil, is pantry-friendly, so this is a recipe that will always be within your reach. Or, if you’re one of those new apartment dwellers just getting your pantry going, you won’t be disappointed by buying these ingredients for your lunch, and holding onto the excess in your cabinets for the months to come.

Phoebe is the co-founder of Small Kitchen College and Big Girls, Small Kitchen.


Nutty Quinoa Cakes With Basil and Parmesan
Makes 6-8 Cakes; 2 servings

This is a great recipe for putting your mini food processor to work. Instead of chopping your onion and garlic by hand, simply do so in your mini prep. Add to the bowl, and continue by pulverizing your Parmesan, followed by your nuts, and finally your bread crumbs. This will take a lot less time and work than doing it by hand, but of course you can do so as specified in the recipe.

1 cup cooked quinoa (from 1/3 cup dried)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
¼ cup nuts (pecans, pine nuts, or cashews), ground in a food processor or coffee grinder
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (from 1 slice sandwich bread)
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Mix together the quinoa, salt, herbs, onion, garlic, cheese, nuts, and bread crumbs in a medium mixing bowl. Add the eggs and fold until the mixture is moist and sticking together.

In a large cast iron skillet or non-stick pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Form the quinoa into rounded patties, about 2 tablespoons worth in each, and place as many in the pan as will fit without over crowding (if using a 15-inch skillet, you should be able to fit all of them. Otherwise, cook them in two batches, and add another tablespoon of olive oil after the first).

Cook the cakes for 5-7 minutes on the first side, until dark brown on the bottom. Flip the cakes and gently push down on each with your spatula so they flatten slightly. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for another 7 minutes, until dark brown on the second side and firm to the touch.

Remove to a plate to cool slightly. Then either serve, pack into a Tupperware container, or store in the fridge for a brown bag latter in the week!

Originally posted on Friday, July 15th, 2011

2 Responses to “Brown Baggin’ It: The Gluten-Free Lunch”

  1. Food Tips: CL Interview with Big Girls Small Kitchen : College Lifestyles

    October 9th, 2011

    [...] to stay healthy and still eat your comfort dishes. Some favorites include: Brown Rice Jambalaya; Nutty Quinoa Cakes; Moroccan Chicken Salad Sandwiches on Whole Wheat [...]

  2. Sonia

    March 19th, 2012

    I just made these for the first time, and they were absolutely delicious. Thanks so much. I doubled the recipe and made enough for one dinner for two, and a few lunches. Great recipe!

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