Buckwheat: The groats that float my boat
Buckwheat joins the Jerusalem artichoke in the category of misleadingly-named foods. It’s not wheat–nor is it even technically a grain–but rather a plain old flowering plant whose seeds bear enough similarity to wheat grains so as to earn its name. Rest assured, my fellow gluten-intolerant friends: your intestines can’t read, so they won’t mistake this naturally gluten-free grain for a relative of the Wheat family. (Don’t ask me why we refer to the grains as groats. I have no clue.)
You’ve probably tasted Buckwheat pancakes, and possibly even eaten buckwheat crepes (Galettes de Sarrasin),which are the traditional way of preparing savory versions of this French delight. If you’re fancier than I am, you may also have encountered buckwheat in the blini served with your caviar. Recipes for pancakes and crepes using buckwheat flour–which is very easy to find at most supermarkets–abound online, so I won’t bother posting one here.
But there are many more everyday ways to include buckwheat in your diet, and many reasons to consider doing so.
- Buckwheat is a whole grain, and as such, offers the same benefits as other whole grains as far helping to reduce blood cholesterol levels, with an added benefit for cardiovascular health through its flavonoid content. Flavonoids are plant compounds that occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, teas, legumes, etc… and support health in a variety of ways. The one contained in buckwheat is called rutin, and it works in tandem with Vitamin C to enhance vascular health by maintaining the integrity of blood capillaries, preventing blood clots and as an antioxidant that prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which can lead to arterial plaque deposits in the blood vessels.
- Buckwheat is gluten-free, but less starchy and higher-fiber than more commonly-eaten GF grains like corn and rice. For example: 1 cup of cooked buckwheat groats has 155 calories and 34g of carbohydrate, of which 4.5g is fiber. By comparison, 1 cup cooked long-grain brown rice has 216 calories, 45g carbohydrate, of which 3.5g is fiber. This, by the way, makes it a smart substitute for rice in the diets of people with diabetes.
- Buckwheat tastes goooood. It’s a little nutty (not unlike teff, which I’m sure you’ve all tried by now), a little earthy…it has much more flavor than plain ol’ wheat flour.
Ways to prepare buckwheat
Groats (aka: Kasha)
Buckwheat groats are known as “kasha” among Eastern European people, and they are the star ingredient in two classic Jewish comfort foods: knishes and a dish called “kasha varnishkes.” The latter is a surprisingly delicious mixture of bowtie pasta, cooked kasha and some sauteed onions. My stepfather loves to make this dish, and he agreed to share his recipe with you all. Sadly for me, I have yet to find a company that makes bow-tie shaped gluten-free pasta, so I substitute gluten-free rotini instead, which allows the buckwheat groats to get all caught up in their spirals to similar effect as the bowties.
Recipe for Bill’s Kasha Varnishkes
- 1 cup Wolff’s kasha, coarse or medium (buckwheat groats)
- 2 cups broth-of-your-choice or water
- 1 TBSP butter (or your substitute of choice)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1-2 pinches pepper
- 1 egg
- 1/2 to one 16-oz box of farfalle (bowtie pasta)… or ridged gluten-free pasta of your choice (e.g., fusilli or rotini). (Amount of pasta you use should depend on your desired kasha-to-pasta ratio.)
- 2 large onions, thinly sliced
- 2 TBSP vegetable oil
- Make the kasha:
- In a saucepan, heat broth, butter, salt and pepper to boiling
- Beat egg in a bowl. Add kasha and coat it with the egg.
- In a separate non-stick skillet over high heat, add egg-coated kasha and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until egg has dried and kasha kernels start to separate. Reduce heat to low.
- Stir in the boiling liquid and cover. Simmer until liquid is absorbed and kasha is tender, about 7-10 minutes.
2. Make the pasta according to package directions
3. Sautee the sliced onions in oil over low heat. Stir periodically as onions soften and slowly caramelize. Cook for 15-30 minutes, depending on amount of onions and level of heat.
4. In a large bowl, combine the drained pasta and onions and mix. Then add the kasha mixture and mix. Serve
Unlike Japanese udon noodles which are made with wheat, traditional soba noodles are made of buckwheat. (Note that some brands are made with a mix of buckwheat and whole wheat, so if you’re eating out and avoiding wheat gluten, ask your waiter to check with the kitchen that the soba noodles you’re about to order are indeed 100% buckwheat.) Tasty soba noodles make a great meal when served as part of a noodle soup with vegetables, fish and/or meat; as the base for a stir-fry; or cold as part of an Asian noodle salad. The Eden Foods website has a ton of easy recipes featuring soba noodles… just search “soba recipe” and you’ll find them all. If you’re avoiding gluten, be sure to buy the 100% buckwheat variety, as they also make some varieties that use wheat.
Note: many Asian recipes using soba noodles will call for soy sauce, which is made with wheat and can be a problem if you’re avoiding gluten. No worries: look for the wheat-free Tamari variety of soy sauce… and try for the reduced sodium version while you’re at it. The brand I’ve seen most is called San-J.
Like rice cereal, naturally gluten-free cream of buckwheat cereal is a perfectly appropriate complementary food for infants and babies aged 4-6 months and up. It should be noted that unlike most infant rice cereals, cream of buckwheat is NOT iron-fortified. (Buckwheat has a decent amount of iron in it naturally, but it is not as bioavailable as the iron in fortified cereal.) Cooking the cereal with iron-fortified infant formula instead of water will certainly address this issue, but if your infant is exclusively breastfed and not taking an iron supplement, then unfortified cream of buckwheat cereal would not be a good substitute for iron-fortified rice cereal to meet an infant’s iron needs.
Of course, adults can eat Cream of Buckwheat cereal for breakfast, too. And they don’t need to cook it with infant formula to enjoy it. It tastes sort of like farina, and makes for a nostalgic winter morning breakfast.
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