Mini Crab Quinoa Cakes

This image courtesy of Colin Ericcson

Earthy quinoa is the perfect foil for lemony crab. This sophisticated starter is deceptively easy to make, and the layered flavors will impress your guests.

NotesPreparing Quinoa

A significant part of quinoa’s appeal is its ease of preparation. It can be cooked several different ways to produce a tender, fluffy grain, or it can be toasted (dry or in a bit of oil or butter), yielding crisp, crunchy quinoa that can be used as you would chopped nuts. One constant, no matter how you plan to cook quinoa, though, is a quick rinse to remove any residual saponin coating.

Before You Cook: Removing Saponin

Virtually all quinoa that reaches consumers in North America and Europe has already had the saponin removed (this includes quinoa flour and quinoa flakes). Nevertheless, it is important to give quinoa seeds a brief rinse before use, to remove any saponin residue that may remain after processing. Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse thoroughly under cold water for 30 to 60 seconds. This ensures that the cooked quinoa will have a delicately sweet, pleasant flavor.

If you are uncertain whether the quinoa you purchased has had the saponin removed (for example, if you bought quinoa from a bulk foods container), soak it more thoroughly: submerge the quinoa in enough cold water to cover it by 1 inch (2.5 cm). Let stand, stirring once or twice, for at least 5 minutes or as much as 2 hours. Drain the quinoa through a fine-mesh sieve and rinse thoroughly under cold water for 30 to 60 seconds.

Quinoa Cooking Methods

To cook quinoa for a side dish or breakfast porridge, or for use in a recipe that calls for cooked quinoa, you can use the simmer method, the pasta method or the rice cooker method. All yield equally good results.

The Simmer Method

Simmering is the most common way to prepare quinoa, and the process is very similar to cooking rice: simmer one part quinoa with two parts water until the liquid is absorbed. However, it takes less time from start to finish than rice (a boon for busy cooks), and it is, I would contend, easier to produce consistent results.

To prepare 3 cups (750 mL) of cooked quinoa, combine 1 cup (250 ml.) quinoa and 2 cups (500 mL) water in a medium saucepan (see chart below for other amounts of quinoa and water and their corresponding yields). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes or until liquid is just barely absorbed. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand - 2 to 3 minutes for an al dente texture, ideal for salads; 5 to 6 minutes for a light, fluffy texture, ideal for side dishes; or 8 to 10 minutes for a softer texture best suited to desserts, breakfasts and incorporation into baked goods. Fluff with a fork.

Darker quinoa seeds - particularly red and black seeds - use the same quinoa-to-water ratio as the more common white quinoa. However, they do not always absorb all of the water in the designated cooking time. If excess liquid remains at the end of the cooking time, Simply drain it off.

Cooked Quinoa Yields

Uncooked Quinoa: 2 tbsp (30 mL)/ ¼ cup (60 mL)/ 1/3 cup (75 mL)/ ½ cup (125 mL)/ 2/3 cup (150 mL)/ ¾ cup (175 mL)/ 1 cup (250 mL)/ 1 1/3 cups (325 mL)

Water: ¼ cup (60 mL)/ ½ cup(125 mL/ 1/3 cup(150 mL)/ 1 cup (250 mL)/ 1 1/3 cups (325 mL)/ 1½ cups (375 mL)/ 2 cups (500 mL)/ 2 2/3 cups (650 mL)

Cooked Quinoa: 1/3 cup (75 ml.)/ ¾ cup(175 mL)/ 1 cup (250 mL)/ 1½ cups (375 mL)/ 2 cups (500 mL)/ 2¼ cups (550 mL)/ 3 cups (750 mL)/ 4 Cups (1 L)

Note: The pasta method and the rice cooker method produce the same yield ratios; for uncooked and cooked quinoa as the simmer method.

The Pasta Method

The easiest way to cook quinoa is to boil it like pasta. This method is particularly good for individuals who detect residual bitterness from the quinoa saponins. It is not necessary to rinse the quinoa before using this method.

Fill a large pot with water, add salt if desired and bring to a boil. Add the desired amount of quinoa and cook for 10 to 13 minutes or until tender. Drain the quinoa through a fine-mesh sieve. Return the quinoa to the still-warm pan (off the heat), cover and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes. The moisture in the cooked quinoa will steam it slightly, producing a light and fluffy texture.

If using this method to prepare quinoa for a salad, do not return the drained quinoa to the pan. Instead, rinse it under cold water until cooled. Shake the sieve to remove as much water as possible, then transfer the quinoa to a bowl and fluff with a fork.

The Rice Cooker Method

Prepare the quinoa in a rice cooker using one part quinoa to two parts water. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cooking white rice. When the cooking cycle is complete, fluff the quinoa with a fork.

The Thermos Method

Quinoa (and almost any other grain) can be prepared with ease using this little-known method. Place 1 cup (250 mL) quinoa in a 4-cup (1 L) Thermos. Add 2 cups (500 mL) boiling water. Tightly close the Thermos and turn it upside down several times to combine the quinoa and water. Let stand for 6 to 8 hours. Remove lid, shake quinoa into a medium bowl and fluff with a fork. This method yields 3 cups (750 mL) cooked quinoa. You can use the quinoa immediately (it will still be warm) as a side dish or as part of a main dish. If prepared overnight, it is also a perfect way to have ready-to-eat quinoa for breakfast: simply drizzle the quinoa with milk or non-dairy milk and sprinkle with your favorite toppings. Alternatively, let the quinoa cool and refrigerate or freeze it for future use.

Makes2 dozen cakes

Cooking Methodpan-frying, sauteeing



Total Timeunder 4 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Cocktail Party, Family Get-together, Formal Dinner Party, game day

Recipe Courseappetizer, hors d'oeuvre

Dietary Considerationpeanut free, soy free, tree nut free


Taste and Texturecrisp, savory


  • ½ tsp fine sea salt 2 mL
  • ¼ tsp freshly cracked black pepper 1 mL
  • ¼ cup olive oil mayonnaise 60 mL
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard 30 mL
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest 5 mL
  • 1½ tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 22 mL
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa (see Notes), cooled 250 mL
  • ¾ cup panko or dry bread crumbs (GF, if needed) 175 mL
  • ½ cup drained roasted red bell peppers, chopped 125 mL
  • ¼ cup finely chopped green onions 60 mL
  • 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten 
  • 1 lb cooked lump crabmeat, drained 500 g
  • Olive oil


  1. In a large bowl, whisk together salt, pepper, mayonnaise, mustard, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir in quinoa, panko, roasted peppers, green onions and egg whites. Gently fold in crab, being careful not to break it up much.

  2. Divide crab mixture into 24 equal portions. Form each portion into a ½-inch (1 cm) thick patty and place on a plate. Cover loosely and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, until chilled, or for up to 4 hours.

  3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tsp (10 mL) oil over medium heat. Add 6 patties and cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until golden. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with the remaining patties, adding more oil and adjusting heat as necessary between batches. Serve warm.


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