Buckwheat - Peasant Wonderfood.

Buckwheat use in cooking dates back almost 6000 years, yet it is considered a novelty food in the west. I grew up on it in Russia. It was and still is a staple Eastern European side dish or breakfast porridge that was commonly served at peoples homes, at school and work cantinas – everywhere. It was always a sort of cheaper alternative to rice in Russia as rice was more expensive. It is ironic how the tide has turned and what used to be a “peasant food” now is a health food at a hefty cost comparing to other whole grains.

Although it ends with “wheat” it is in fact wheat-free as it is not a grain, but a seed. And yes – it is very healthy. I still cook with buckwheat often, not because I care much about my heritage, but because I care about my health. Buckwheat seeds and leaves are one of the richest source of Rutin – the antioxidant glucoside. It is one of the best nutrients for healthy blood vessels and capillary walls. It is also quite rich in protein for a seed and contains Lysine and Tryptophan among other amino-acids. This protein also binds cholesterol much better than the one in oats. Buckwheat is rich in Iron, Zinc, Selenium and vitamins B1, B2 and B3.

For novices, buckwheat can be a bit tricky to cook. It must never be mushy. If it is mushy – it is overcooked! It will be edible alright, but probably not so nutrient dense and not good looking. It must be grainy and fluffy when cooked, like rice. Traditionally we would always buy toasted buckwheat in Russia – it is tastier and cooks faster. The raw buckwheat should be toasted in dry frying pan until it pops prior to cooking. As soon as it is lightly golden and fragrant, transfer it to a pan, cover with double the amount of boiled water or stock (mushroom stock or watered gravy if you eat meat goes very well with it), salt it if required and mix gently. Now you can either let it simmer for about 20 minutes on the stove top or cover it and put in the oven for the same amount of time. It is ready when all the liquid has been absorbed and the buckwheat is light and fluffy. To make it perfect, you just have to practice and taste it as it cooks. Once its very soft but the seeds are still intact – it’s ready. Always wash it carefully before use and remove any bad grains.

Buckwheat flour and noodles has been used in Eastern Russia and Japan for many years. Traditional Russian buckwheat pancakes are made with buckwheat flour and are usually savoury with filling inside. The original Soba noodles are made of 100% buckwheat and so are buckwheat dumplings that are used in Japanese soups and stews.

Here is my recipe of buckwheat and spelt bread, where I use buckwheat flour. Japanese soba noodles recipe and a  very good Russian recipe for you to try from my good friend Katrina of Russian Revels.

Some people may be allergic to Buckwheat but it is rare. Overall, buckwheat is virtually fat free, contains protein and is gluten free. It is tasty and perfect for a side dish or stuffing. Buckwheat flour is a healthy alternative to regular flour in baking, but due to the specific taste it works better in savoury rather than sweet recipes. So, give it a try – who knows, maybe you’ll discover a new favorite.

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