By Anna Stockwell, Epicurious
Grain cakes are “really the most frugal and beautiful thing to make.” That’s Maria Speck speaking, author of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, and Simply Ancient Grains, which comes out this month. I couldn’t agree with her more: turning leftover cooked grains into pan-fried cakes is a super cheap and delicious way to make a new dinner out of things you already have in your kitchen. The bonus? You don’t need a recipe to make them.
Even Speck, who has some excellent recipes for creative grain cakes (or “fritters”, or “burgers,” or whatever you want to call them) in both of her books, admits that, really, recipes aren’t necessary. If you open your fridge and see leftover cooked grains, you probably also have everything else you need for grain cakes. Just follow Maria’s guidelines:
1. GATHER YOUR GRAINS
Any cooked grain will work: quinoa, rice, millet, oats, barley, farro, or even a mixture of a couple different grains. Measure how much you have on hand—you’re going to build the rest of your ingredient ratios around how much cooked grains you have. For reference, know that about two cups of cooked grains will make enough to serve four people.
2. ADD SOME SHREDDED VEGGIES AND ONION
Any veggie you can shred on box grater will work: beets, carrots, zucchini—even sweet potato. You need half the amount of shredded raw veggies as you have of cooked grains. (So, if you have two cups of grains, add one cup of shredded veggies.) Eyeball this. Or measure it. Whatever makes you feel better. While you have the box grater out, grate a bit of onion too. You don’t need much—use about half the amount of onion as raw veggies. No onion? Chop up some scallions or chives or a shallot. Just make sure to grate/chop your onion into small pieces, because larger pieces of raw onion won’t have a chance to fully cook in your cakes. (Got some time on your hands? Sauté the chopped onion for some nice, caramelized sweetness.)
3. ADD CHEESE. OR HERBS. OR SPICES. OR ALL THREE.
Fresh goat cheese, feta, Monterey Jack, blue cheese, cheddar—all of these will add richness, flavor, salt, and protein to your cakes. Use as much cheese as you did shredded veggies. Not into cheese? Add a handful of chopped, fresh herbs, a spoonful of dried herbs, or any spice you have on hand: anything from cumin to chili powder (or, even better, finely chopped fresh chili peppers).
4. ADD EGGS AND ROLLED OATS TO BIND THE MIXTURE TOGETHER
Beat an egg or two (you want to use one egg for every cup of grains) and add it to the bowl along with a spoonful of quick-cooking or instant rolled oats. (If you don’t have quick-cooking or instant rolled oats, throw rolled oats in the food processor or blender and process a bit to break them down.) Mix together the grains, veggies, cheese, eggs and oats with a spoon or your hands. Squeeze a handful of the mixture in your hands; if it holds together, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t, add another spoonful or two of oats.
5. FORM YOUR CAKES
Squish the mixture between your hands to form a tightly-packed patty. The cakes can be any size you want—smaller if you want to eat them dipped in a sauce, bigger if you want to turn them into a sandwich. Don’t worry about being gentle—you’ll have better luck if you’re not. Place the patties on a tray and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. They may seem a little fragile before you refrigerate them, but don’t worry, they’ll glue themselves together in the fridge. (That said, they really need at least 30 minutes chilling to fully bind together, so don’t skip this step!)
6. FRY AND SERVE
Heat a generous swirl of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering, then add your chilled grain cakes. Cook, flipping once, until golden brown and crisp on both sides, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. (The cooking time will depend on the size of your cakes and the heat of your stove; check often to make sure they don’t burn.) Eat the patties hot, let them cool to room temp or save them for tomorrow’s lunch. Whatever you do, pat yourself on the back—you’ve just put some leftovers to very good use.
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PHOTOS BY CHELSEA KYLE, FOOD STYLING BY ANNA STOCKWELL