It’s high time we jumped on the buckwheat bandwagon.
The nutty pyramid-shaped grain has been around for about 8,000 years, popular in part for its high protein and mineral content. Thought to have been first cultivated in Southeast Asia, the grain quickly picked up fans around the world from Japan (soba noodles and tea) to India (kuttu ki puri: buckwheat bread) to France (galettes or buckwheat crepes).
But it’s probably the Eastern Europeans and Russians who fell hardest for buckwheat, becoming the world’s largest growers, and using the toasted form (kasha) in everything from porridge and stuffed cabbage to a Jewish comfort food dish, kasha varnishekes (toasted buckwheat, schmaltz-soaked caramelized onions and bow-tie pasta).
These days, buckwheat is gaining new fans in the gluten-free community. Despite the word “wheat” in its name, buckwheat is actually a seed, not a grain. Hence, you’ll find buckwheat in everything from gluten-free beer to noodles, even whiskey!
And I love it as a change from the usual grains in my pantry. Kasha cooks up in just about 10 minutes. Tossed with butter, it easily accompanies nearly anything you might be serving for dinner. It also makes a great bowl with leftover vegetables, some quick pickled cucumbers, an egg and some hot sauce.
Toss a handful into a frittata or your morning scramble to give it more structure. On its own, it makes a fantastic backdrop for summer’s great bounty of fruit and vegetables. Take my recipe for example: I make a zesty mint dressing and toss in some fresh stone fruit and roasted beets. Along with chunks of creamy, salty feta cheese and crunchy walnuts, it makes for a satisfying summer dinner, and a fantastic lunch at work the next day.
Start to finish: 1 hour
3 medium beets, trimmed and washed, but not peeled
2 cups water
1 cup toasted buckwheat groats (also sold as “whole-granulation kasha”)
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 large clove garlic, chopped
4 to 5 sprigs fresh mint, leaves and soft stems, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 medium plum, pitted and chopped
1 large nectarine, pitted and chopped
1 large peach, pitted and sliced into wedges
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
Heat the oven to 400 F.
Wrap the beets loosely in foil, crimping and sealing the edges so no steam can escape. Set on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes, or until the beets are tender. Remove from the oven to cool slightly, then peel. Slice into wedges.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over high, bring the water to a boil. Add the kasha, stir, reduce heat to low and return to a very gentle simmer. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 10 minutes, or until tender but not mushy. Remove from heat. Uncover, place a clean kitchen towel across the top of the saucepan, cover and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
In a blender, combine the lemon juice, sherry vinegar, garlic, mint and olive oil. Blend until smooth, then taste and season with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, toss the kasha, plum and nectarine with the dressing, then stir in the feta and walnuts. Taste for seasoning, then tumble onto a platter. Arrange the beets and peaches in concentric circles around the perimeter of the platter. Finely, finely slice several mint leaves and sprinkle over the top.
Nutrition information per serving: 400 calories; 230 calories from fat (58 percent of total calories); 26 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 290 mg sodium; 37 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 12 g sugar; 8 g protein.