This week's Vegan MoFo Iron Chef Challenge item was another ingredient that I am very familiar with, quinoa. I love quinoa, and I use it a lot, especially in the summertime, when its quick cooking time is particularly nice.
My mind immediately went to some of my typical quinoa dishes, like gluten-free cake or cupcakes, a timbale of quinoa and fall vegetables, a quinoa salad, or a pie with a gluten free quinoa crust. I actually had a really hard time trying to figure out what to do for this week's challenge, because I wanted to make something that I hadn't made before that was, well, challenging, but I've used it so often, and for many different types of things, I was kind of stuck into my routine way of thinking.
I ended up making a lot of quinoa in case things didn't work out......it's a really good thing I did. I thought about trying scones, but I wasn't in the mood for scones. I thought about trying to make a custard with quinoa, but that didn't strike my fancy, either. Finally, it hit me, pancakes! Pancakes are perfect for Sunday morning brunch. And I thought I could do it pretty successfully.
First, I scoured my quinoa really well and rinsed it until the water ran clear. Then I dry toasted it in a plain cast iron skillet. Then I boiled it. This made some perfect quinoa. the kind of perfect quinoa that would great as is or in a really simple grain salad. but I had bigger plans for it.
Once it was cooked, I chilled it overnight. This morning, I blended the cooked quinoa with some soymilk, a touch of sweetener, and some baking powder. The batter tasted great, with no bitter bite, but I could still see some whole grains. Oh well, I figured, it might give the pancakes some body and texture.
The first pancake looked perfect and beautiful, with a perfect, golden brown skin on one side, and it flipped nicely, too. I should have known better. I couldn't get the second side off the skillet. And for the next 4 attempts, I couldn't even get the first side off. I tried letting my skillet cool, I tried oiling it between each side, I tried cleaning the spatula between each flip (really a necessity, because they were sticking like crazy) but nothing was working. The bits that I could pry off tasted good, like a buttery skillet cake, with a soft, barely-cooked center, and a crisp, outside.
So I decided this batter would just not work. I thought at first that it was just too much sweetener. I added a little white spelt flour. This helped. The pancakes where sticking like mad, but if I could turn them, they came out okay. I ended up with a bunch of little crushed looking wads of dough.
The third batch was the charm. I realized that the batter needed a binder. I added some flax seeds, a little more water, more white spelt flour, and a little bit of lemon zest. As soon as the first pancake hit the skillet, I could tell that this batch would be good. I immediately saw the telltale bubbles coming to the surface. Then, I tried to flip it....no resistance! It worked! As soon as it was flipped, it puffed up even more. It was already about twice as fat as my first two batches, but now it was about four times as tall. I cooked the rest of the batter, and tasted them. They were good!
The third batch did deflate a bit after it cooled, but they look like perfect little pancakes. Add syrup, and you can clearly see why the word "cake" is a part of their name. The second side got super bubbly while the first side cooked, and when you pour on the syrup, the tiny little holes make each pancake a sponge for syrup, which they completely soak up.
The flavor is amazing when the pancakes are hot; the quinoa lends a buttery flavor, and an eggy texture, which I've never had in any pastry since I've been vegan. The taste does change a bit when they cool, though. I've been eating as I type this, and the pancakes are starting to taste like more robust cooked grains, like rye or something. I would definitely try this again if I made too much quinoa and had leftovers, but I probably wouldn't make quinoa just to make pancakes.
For the rest of my brunch, I made garlic sautéed spinach, sausage-style tempeh, and rosemary sweet potato hash. It was heavenly.