What's your standby side dish? Pasta? Rice? Couscous? Bulghur? Potatoes? While these figure most frequently in our kitchen as well, then we also have buckwheat about once a fortnight or so. It's easy to cook and the slightly nutty flavour of this pseudo-grain complements quite a few dishes nicely.
Despite its name, buckwheat is not a wheat nor a cereal grain, but belongs to the same family with rhubarb and sorrel. The flavour is hearty and earthy, and it's quite a health food, being nutritionally high in all eight amino acids, calcium, vitamins B and E, and low-GI.
Just some years ago, the buckwheat meant just three things to most people - the Japanese soba noodles, Russian blini and the Breton crepes - all made with buckwheat flour. The hulled and roasted buckwheat kernels - buckwheat groats (kasha) - didn't figure at all, unless you lived somewhere in the Northern and Eastern outskirts of Europe. The Flavour Bible (2009), an excellent compendium of what-goes-with-what written for the American audience, doesn't even mention buckwheat. Heidi Swanson briefly mentions buckwheat flour in her Super Natural Cooking (2007), and suggests combining it with buckwheat honey and tart berries (cranberries, cherries, and such like) - there are no recipes in her book, though you'll find many on her excellent blog, 101 Cookbooks.
And then recipes started popping up here and there. Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours has a great choice of buckwheat recipes, though all using the flour, not the groats (her buckwheat-poppyseed sablés were lovely!). Estonian-American food writer and nutritionist Marika Blossfeldt has several buckwheat recipes in her Essential Nourishment, including kasha casserole and vegetable soup with kasha. Oh, and yours truly has been sharing her favourite buckwheat recipes over the years - see links below :)
2013 seems to be the year of the buckwheat, at least the year of the buckwheat becoming more and more mainstream.
The Wall Street Journal started the year with Buck-Wild for Buckwheat, including a recipe for San Francisco's Tartine Bakery's buckwheat hazelnut sablés (January 4th, 2013). The Kitchn praised it recently (Buckwheat: The New Baking Star, January 15, 2013, and Buckwheat for breakfast! 5 stunning ways to fall in love with buckwheat, February 26, 2013). The Guardian followed suit - one of the hottest chefs in Britain Yotam Ottolenghi shared his recipes for buckwheat polenta, and polenta and rice salad with dried cherries and hazelnuts (March 15, 2013). I'm sure more will follow.
Here's a simple buckwheat dish I love making for myself and the kids. Great way to use up leftover cooked buckwheat, though I admit I often cook buckwheat in order to have some left over for this particular dish. Note that it's vegan - and if you use tamari soy sauce, then it's also suitable for those avoiding gluten (buckwheat itself is gluten-free, despite the name).
Buckwheat with leeks and soy sauce
Source: L. Virkus, A. Kang, H. Ilves "Wok-toidud" (2002, in Estonian), slightly adapted
2 Tbsp oil
1 large leek, white and pale green part only
400 g cooked buckwheat (just under a pound)*
3 Tbsp soy sauce, or to taste
Halve the leek lengthwise, rinse off any dirt, if necessary. Cut into thin slices.
Heat oil in a large non-stick frying pan/skillet over moderate heat. Add the leeks and sauté for a minute.
Turn up the heat, add the cooked buckwheat and fry, stirring constantly, until the buckwheat is heated through. Season to taste with soy sauce and serve.
* To cook the buckwheat groats, heat some oil in a saucepan, add the groats and give them a quite stir for a few minutes. Add boiling water (the ratio is 2 parts groats to 5 parts water) bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and fluff up with a fork before serving. NOTE that I prefer buying raw groats - if you only have that dark kasha available, you can skip the toasting bit.
More buckwheat recipes here on Nami-Nami:
Buckwheat with beets and dill
Cabbage and buckwheat kasha
Buckwheat kasha with mince
Warm buckwheat and mushroom salad
Buckwheat with beef liver
Buckwheat and mushrooms casserole