Buckwheat is a powerhouse of B vitamins and antioxidants. There’s even a type that food scientists are abuzz about because of its unique nutritional—and potentially therapeutic—value. It’s a nutty, tasty, gluten-free and incredibly versatile grain, and we want to tell you why you should be enjoying it and, more importantly, delicious ways to enjoy it…
COMMON AND NOT SO COMMON
“Buckwheat is part of the resurgence of ‘ancient’ grains. Although such grains have been around for thousands of years, they’re being rediscovered because people are realizing how healthful and delicious they are,” says Ellie Krieger, RD, a dietitian and best-selling author of Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less.
Botanically, there are two types of buckwheat. Common buckwheat, the more readily available, is high in protein, B vitamins and soluble fiber, which helps you feel full and helps regulates blood sugar. It also contains rutin, a particular bioflavonoid that has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anticancer properties. And it’s gluten-free!
The less commonly known tartary buckwheat, however, has a nutritional edge over common buckwheat. It has 40 to 50 times the amount of rutin of common buckwheat and is also rich in quercetin, an antioxidant bioflavonoid with anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic qualities. Tartary buckwheat isn’t sold outside of the Far East because it is too bitter for Western tastes. But scientists are now exploring how to make good-tasting, highly antioxidant gluten-free breads and pastas with it and even looking into whether it has a therapeutic use preventing liver cancer.
Tartary buckwheat can be found online through Amazon.com and in Asian markets as a tea, sometimes called soba-cha. It has some of the same health benefits as the buckwheat grains—also called groats—because the tea is simply the steeped groats.
How does it taste? Nutty and slightly like coffee. It can be purchased in tea bag form or loose groats. If you want to prepare it from loose groats, use one heaping teaspoon per one cup of boiled water. Steep for eight to 10 minutes.
EATING AND LOVING BUCKWHEAT
What about uses of more widely available buckwheat products? Here are some tips…
- Buckwheat flour. Because it’s gluten-free, it is best combined with an equal or greater amount of another type of flour when used in leavened baked goods such as pancakes, muffins and breads. I think the easiest way to get the most out of buckwheat flour, though, is with traditional (unleavened) French buckwheat crepes. Here’s what you’ll need…1¼ cups of buckwheat flour
3 large eggs
¼ cup of vegetable oil (plus additional oil to coat a crepe-making skillet)
¾ cup nonfat milk
1¼ cups of water
¼ teaspoon of salt
Put the flour in a mixing bowl, and whisk in all of the other ingredients. Then oil and warm a 10-inch crepe skillet over medium heat. Ladle about one-quarter cup of the crepe batter into the skillet. Cook the crepe for 30 to 45 seconds on one side or until golden, flip using a spatula, and cook for another 30 seconds.
I especially like to fill my crepes with ham and Swiss cheese or a sauté of mushrooms and asparagus.
- Buckwheat noodles. Soba noodles, as they’re called in Japan, are served cold with a soy-based dipping sauce or hot in a bowl of rich broth. Find them in the Asian-foods section of larger supermarkets. Wheat is mixed with buckwheat in some brands of soba noodles. If you are looking for a 100% buckwheat noodle, try Eden Foods brand, which can be found in the natural-foods section of many supermarkets and through various online sources, such as Eden Foods.“I love to make cold noodle salads for people who find the taste of buckwheat to be too strong…the taste of buckwheat is much milder cold,” Krieger says. Easy recipe: Rinse cooked soba noodles in cold water, then toss with tender herbs, such as cilantro and basil, and vegetables, such as thinly sliced red peppers and snow peas. Season with an Asian vinaigrette of grapeseed oil, lime juice, grated fresh ginger, a touch of honey, salt and pepper and, if you like spice, a dash of chili garlic sauce, such as sriracha. Top it with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.
- Buckwheat groats. Buckwheat groats are cooked just like rice…one cup of groats to two cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cook for 10 to 12 more minutes and then let stand for five additional minutes. As a change from rice, grits or mashed potato side dishes, cook buckwheat and season it just as you would any other grain or potato side dish.It’s not uncommon to see buckwheat sold in supermarkets in the form of kasha. Kasha is the name for toasted groats. It has a richer, nuttier flavor than untoasted groats and cooks up in half the time. Or try a new take on this classic kasha recipe…kasha varnishkes.
“I grew up eating kasha varnishkes, which is kasha with sautéed onions and bowtie noodles,” says Krieger. “I did an updated, healthier version for my book Comfort Food Fix. It uses whole grain bowties and, instead of my grandma’s recipe using chicken fat, I cook the onions in a little bit of olive oil.” Here’s Krieger’s recipe, which is highly nutritious, delicious and has about half the calories, saturated fat and salt of the original recipe!
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 large egg
¾ cup kasha
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
1 cup whole-grain bow tie (or gluten-free) pasta, cooked according to package directions and drained
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until softened and so that the edges are slightly browned (10 to 12 minutes). Transfer the onions to a plate, and set the pan aside. Then, in a medium bowl, beat the egg. Add the kasha and stir until the kasha is well-coated. Place the kasha mixture in the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the egg is absorbed and the kasha separates into individual grains (three to four minutes). Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until all the liquid is absorbed (about 10 minutes). Remove from the heat, stir in the sautéed onions, pasta, salt and black pepper and allow to sit, covered, for five minutes before serving.
- Buckwheat honey. Buckwheat honey has a rich, malty flavor and contains more antioxidants than many other varieties of honey. Use it just as you would use regular honey, such as in tea, oatmeal, yogurt and in baking.Want a sweet baked treat made with buckwheat honey? After you’ve feasted on Krieger’s kasha varnishkes, indulge your sweet tooth with this delicious Ukrainian Honey Cake. To make it you’ll need:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
1 cup of buckwheat honey
4 beaten eggs
Sift the flour, baking powder and cinnamon and set aside. Warm the honey in a microwavable bowl in the microwave for 15 seconds. Then, using a hand mixer, beat the honey at a moderate speed until it becomes frothy. Add the beaten eggs to the honey, and then add the sifted flour. Pour the mixture into a greased eight-inch baking pan, and bake at 375°F for about 20 minutes. (Keep an eye on it—you don’t want it to overcook or burn.) You’ll know it’s done when it shrinks a little bit away from the pan). Bon appetit!