More humble grains: Buckwheat

three forms of buckwheat:  dark-seeded Japanese for green manures, light-seeded Common Gray kasha groats, and buckwheat flour

Shchi da kasha pishcha nasha:  A Russian proverb loosely meaning “We need nothing more than cabbage soup and porridge for our food.”

So, this local eating thing has boosted my decades-long interest in la cucina povera (peasant food).  By looking at my own little warm patch of lakeland-Michigan soil, I have often wondered how colder, less sunny climes have fed their people.  Onward to Russia, my friends.

When I was a poor grad student, my boyfriend and I trolled the Polish and Russian eateries in our Chicago neighborhood.  These places, of the banquet hall, all-you-can-eat variety, were true vendors of stick-to-the-ribs hearty fare.  It was in one of these places that I discovered buckwheat kasha, cabbage soup, and borscht.  (Oh and pierogi: those little savory pies would really tip you over the edge to gluttony.  We were always thankful we had no car and were forced to walk home.)

Kasha simply means porridge, and it does not necessarily have to be made of buckwheat.  Buckwheat is a small pseudograin (unlike other cereal grains it is not a grass, but instead part of the polygonaciae family, which includes bindweed, rhubarb and sorrel) that’s fairly easily grown because of its short growing season.  I plant buckwheat in my gardens to act as a green manure; it’s a tap-rooted, fleshy plant that’s easily frost-killed and is actually rather pretty with its white flowers.  The name “buckwheat” comes from the seed’s resemblance to miniature beech nuts:  Buchweizen, in German, or “beech wheat.”  Its botanical name is Fagopyrum (fagus=Latin for beech, puros=Greek for wheat).

Like most cereals, though, buckwheat groats (grains) have a tough shell that is usually removed before making flour.  The shell is removed by crushing with a roller and sifting/blowing the remainder to separate the seeds from the shell before milling.  Some of the dark shell usually cannot be removed and shows up as the darker flakes in buckwheat flour.  One doesn’t have to remove the shells to make kasha, though.  (Thankfully.)

To make savory buckwheat kasha: In a deep skillet, lightly toast 1 cup of buckwheat groats (the caramelizing process of browning the groats adds a nice taste to them) over medium heat for about 3 minutes.  Remove from pan, and brown a medium chopped onion in about a tablespoon of butter.  Add 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 cups vegetable, beef or chicken stock and salt/pepper to taste; cover and bring to a boil.  Add the buckwheat, stir well and replace the lid.  Cook over medium/low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 7-10 minutes.  Remove from pan onto a platter and fluff with fork; taste for seasonings and adjust.  It starts out kinda sticky but when it cools it separates.

To make buckwheat crepes: Combine in a blender 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup buckwheat flour, and 3 tablespoons melted butter; blend until smooth.  Remove lid and scrape down sides and blend some more, about 5 more seconds.  Cover and set in the refrigerator to rest:  I make mine in the morning then use in the evening; the all-day rest gives the flour a chance to absorb the liquid; I rebuzz the batter before using.  Heat a small nonstick skillet (up to 10″) or crepe pan, then brush with a little oil or butter; when it sizzles, it’s ready.  Pour about a scant 1/8th cup of batter into pan and swirl immediately to coat the bottom of the pan.  Cook until golden on bottom (about a minute) and flip, carefully, with your fingers or a flexible pancake spatula; cook another 30 seconds or so until finished.  Remove, stack on plate and keep warm and repeat; you will have about 14-18 crepes when finished.  Fill with anything:  melted cheese, sautee’d spinach or beet greens, leftover meats; drizzle with some lovely sauce.  Crepes are mutable, crepes are infinite.  Make a crepe cake!

Thank you Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone for the backbone of these recipes.

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11 responses to “More humble grains: Buckwheat

  1. ah buckwheat crepes…a french friend made it for us…it was a dinner party focused on buckwheat crepes. I had it with my favourite nutella (sp?). I think it is a specialty of some region in France maybe Britagne…not sure. now you show it …I might give it a try.

    do you eat rice at all? I agree with you …I find rice/grains, salt and oil will never allow me to be totally self-sustaining on food. Dairy I could see doing at the house on a smaller scale.

    Thats okay though : ). we do what we can.

    btw, did you study Louis Kahn at school? I just learned that he designed our parliament building and was curious.

  2. WF: I saw your pics of the parliament building! There is an absolutely fabulous documentary about Kahn that came out about 5 years ago: it was made by his son, and it is called My Architect. He didn’t know his dad all that well; this movie was a way he was trying to get to know him (after his death, of course). It is a really beautiful tribute, and the parliament building has probably the biggest role in it. Try to find it; if you guys do Netflix I know they have it.

    Yeah, rice: I am not doing it for the Challenge, and I suppose we don’t eat nearly as much of it as we do other grains. The kid sure loves it though. Considering how versatile it is and how easily it is shipped and stored we do always have rice in the pantry. But unlike most grains, it’s not easily grown in Michigan!

    And everyone loves Nutella, right? 😉

  3. Ah, there you go saying rhubarb again…dernit.

  4. Oh yeah, I know this isn’t local, but if you’re looking for some good ole USA grown rice, try Ellis Stansel’s rice. http://www.stanselrice.com/

    It’s grown in Louisana and is very tasty. I just ordered white and brown. They are a bit more pricey than your average rice in the store, but definitely worth it. Very fragrant and very tasty. Maybe when I get mine, I could send you a baggie full to try?

    The prices on the website are a bit off, so if you are interested, just give them a call and they’ll give you the newest information.

  5. I wonder if there is wild rice in Michigan (?). When I lived in Minnesota – that seemed like a local grain….not sure.

  6. I was planning on growing buckwheat next year and that was a very helpful post for me. Thank you.

  7. I have a Russian friend that insists on cooking all kinds of food whenever I come to visit her (which is fine with me!) and the last time I was there she made buckwheat. I have to admit, I did not care for it much. Most everything else she fixes is wonderful but I had trouble with the buckwheat. 😦
    Maybe because it is SO different from most southern foods.

  8. Jules: Rhubarbrhubarbrhubarb! Thanks for the rice link. I like a nuttier, more flavorful rice so this is a great idea. Plus I like getting non-California rice.

    WF: Oh yeah on the wild rice thing here. Not a fan though. I do make a big heap of it for Thanksgiving but that is about it.

    OG: You are welcome. I get my buckwheat from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

    Ann: Like most grains buckwheat is a bit boring so you need to sex it up a bit. I find a topping of caramelized onions cures most of what ails a boring dish. But just like Southern foods, it’s what’s readily grown in E. Europe and Russia so it’s just as comfort-foody as cornpone…to natives, that is.

  9. I had no idea buckwheat was easy to grow, groovy! The hulls and stuff make nice stuffing for pillows and toys too, but they are expensive to buy.

  10. when I make buckwheat crepe, I prefer to use only buckwheat. Does not have the same consistency than when using wheat flour, but it works! ( I make mine in the evening and let rest overnight – then cook for breakfast)

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