Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Quinoa Croquettes with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce (or The Sodium Saga--Can This Recipe Be Saved?!)

Having some leftover cooked mixed red and regular quinoa, I saw this recipe for Quinoa Croquettes with Cilantro Sauce in June's Natural Solutions magazine and thought it sounded like a good healthy recipe to try. When I went to make the sauce, which "rests" in the fridge before serving, I happened to glance down at the nutrition info at the bottom and noticed the sodium number and then nearly had a heart attack. Although no exact serving amount is given other than "Serves 6" the sodium was listed at 1483 mg per serving! When you consider that the recommended sodium for the average person per day is no more than 2300 mg, one serving of this dish was well over half that amount. A closer look at the sauce recipe revealed the culprits--one I was aware of and planning on cutting down anyway--soy sauce, which even in it's low sodium form is about 700 mg per tablespoon. The second culprit and a bit of a surprise to me was the ume plum vinegar that I had purchased for another recipe and never looked at the label. This condiment comes in at 1050 mg of sodium per teaspoon! Holy salt lick people! With a 1/4 cup of each in the sauce it was enough to make what should be a healthy, vegetarian dish a cardiologist's nightmare. Could this recipe be saved?

I don't know about you but if I am going to indulge in a dish that gives me that much of a sodium wallop, it isn't going to be quinoa cakes. (It will most likely include large amounts of sausage or bacon.) ;-) I decided to change it up and bring the sodium way down. I started by reducing the bad and just putting in 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 2 teaspoons of the ume vinegar. Next, to keep some of the flavor complexity and the sweet/sour taste the ume brings to the party, I added garlic, the juice of 1 lime and some mirin, or rice wine vinegar. Since I didn't make the original recipe, I can't tell you whether my revised dressing is as good as the original but it tasted great to me and at about 397 mg of sodium per serving (I just added up my sauce numbers, added in the teaspoon of sea salt I put in the quinoa croquettes and divided by 12 since the recipe says it makes double the sauce for the servings), I was able to come in at about 27% of the sodium in the original recipe. Mission accomplished! Moral of the story--if the recipe has nutritional counts, read them and especially read the labels of your condiments so you don't have any hidden surprises. I'll use up my ume vinegar but it will be a teaspoon at a time. ;-)

Quinoa Croquettes with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce
Adapted From "Easy Green Organic" by Anna Getty via Natural Solutions, June 2010
(Serves 6)

Cilantro Yogurt Sauce:
1 large bunch cilantro, stemmed
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce (reduced to 1 Tbsp)
1/4 cup ume plum vinegar (reduced to 2 tsp)
(added 1 Tbsp mirin (rice wine vinegar)
(added 2 cloves garlic)
(added juice of 1 lime)
1 small white onion, quartered
2 cups plain yogurt
1/3 cup olive oil

Quinoa Croquettes:
1 cup quinoa, washed thoroughly
1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
1 small zucchini, coarsely grated
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
6 sprigs parsely, minced
1 large egg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
grapeseed oil

Pulse cilantro, soy sauce, vinegar, and onion in a blender or food processor until smooth. Stop the motor and add yogurt and olive oil. Blend until creamy. Transfer to a lidded container, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Recipe makes double the amount of sauce per serving.

Combine quinoa with 2 cups water in a small pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, until water is completely absorbed. Remove from heat and transfer to a medium bowl to cool.

When cool, add carrot, zucchini, scallion, garlic powder, salt parsley, egg, and flour. Mix well. Using your hands, form mixture into patties about 1/2-inch thick and 2 inches in diameter.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, lay 5 to 6 quinoa cakes in the pan, and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes. When golden, turn over and cook until the second side is golden. (Check by lifting up a side with a spatula.) Add additional oil as needed, and remove any brown bits that accumulate in the pan.

Remove cakes from pan and place on a plate lined with a clean, recycled brown paper bag. Serve hot, drizzled with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce.

Nutritional Analysis: 248 calories; 11g fat; 2g saturated fat; 38mg cholesterol; 10g protein; 30g carbohydrates; 3g fiber; 1483 mg sodium. (Revised with above changes 397 mg sodium)

Notes/Results: The quinoa croquettes were excellent--crispy on the outside and that nice little quinoa "crunch" and chewiness within. They are substantial without being heavy and paired really nicely with the yogurt sauce (with my changes of course!) ;-) I thought that the quinoa mixture seemed fairly wet and I was worried that it might not hold together but it did perfectly. I ended up with about 12 cakes total, and although they taste best hot, they reheat well. They are tasty but fairly mild in flavor, so some kind of sauce or pesto works well with them--they were also quite tasty with some leftover spinach coulis from Sunday's soup. I will make the croquettes again, but will continue to play with the sauces to top them.


  1. oh wow that is high in sodium but deb to the rescue they look awesome

  2. ume as well as other japanese condiments do pack wallops of sodium, I'm glad you were able to save this dish!

  3. That much sodium is crazy! You might as well just drink a bottle of soy sauce! I'm glad you doctored it up. The finished product looks delicious.

  4. Wow, someone who reads labels! Awesome! In all the craziness over salt this is one of my biggest pet peeves and you conquered a recipe by using common sense and a great deal of creativity (no surprise there).

    This looks gorgeous and yes, if a salt overload is in order, bacon and scrapple are the way to go. With a side of salty fries. And a sausage...

  5. That is a lot of sodium! But these croquettes look so good especially with the cilantro sauce!

  6. What a beautiful recipe! The cilantro sauce is the icing on the cake :)

  7. Those croquettes look delicious!!! And with quinoa and veggies. I'm going to bookmark this recipe to try as an appetizer for my next party!

  8. This post is a huge reminder to me that I eat way too much sodium. It's definitely something I need to consider. You did a great job of recognizing the sodium levels in this recipe and lowering them considerably. I like the idea of quinoa croquettes and I bet they would be tasty with a number of other sauces.

  9. Looks amazing! I want to try this one. So I must admit that I am guilty of just "trusting" that a recipe is good for you because the magazine says so! I need to pay more attention to the nutrition facts at the bottom of the recipe! Thank you for your reminder: read beyond the recipe. :)

  10. Those are alarming levels of sodium. I'm glad you were able to deploy your expertise to develop a recipe just as good. I had to laugh when you said that you weren't going to blow your sodium budget on quinoa cakes.
    Nonetheless they certainly look scrumptious!

  11. Chow & chatter--thanks!

    Kat--for some reason I wasn't putting ume vinegar into that category in my mind! ;-)

    Joanne--thanks! The finished product was really good. ;-)

    Lisa--Well I try to read them but I am not always good about it. ;-)

    5 Star--mahalo--they were tasty!

    Tofuand collards--thanks so much!

    FamilySpice--hope you like it! ;-)

    Kim--thanks! They are a fun base to play with I think.

    Becky Sue--It's funny--there are certain magazines I check and others I just assume but I will be checking from now on.

    Christine--thanks! They were good but if I am going to be bad it isn't going to be with a dish that should be healthy lol! ;-)

  12. You did a great job of reducing the sodium without sacrificing flavor! These look fantastic - love the sauce!


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