Buddying Up to Buckwheat: What Is It? How Do We Cook It?

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In my campaign to learn more about an entire food category too many of us know little about, whole grains (see Whole Grains: Let Start at the Very Beginning), it's been two weeks and -- dare I say? -- I have little to report. No, that's not true.

The truth is, I have nothing to report. Nada. Nothing. The barley I intended to experiment with is still in the pantry -- except that when I last checked, um, about five minutes ago, it's not even barley, it's another food that gets lumped into the grain category, it's buckwheat.

And that's the thing about forays into more-healthful eating, isn't it? Life's busy. Work prevails. Kids call. Even armed with (1) knowledge that our diets could use more whole grains, (2) a natural curiosity and fearlessness about trying new foods, (3) a well-developed habit of cooking at home nearly every night and (4) good intentions, I made zero progress in two whole weeks. Not once did I look up recipes. Not once did I figure out what I COULD do, say, with other ingredients already on hand. Not once did it become a priority.

No crying over spilt milk, they say. So I'm getting on with it, starting with buckwheat since -- yep -- that's what I've got, a lovely package of nutty-brown triangular kernels that make me think of brown rice (that is, if brown rice, you know, were actually brown in color).

So -- for buckwheat too, let's go back to the very beginning.

First, buckwheat is not a grass so is not related to other cereal plants such as wheat and oats and rice. We have several choices to consider.

BUCKWHEAT FLOUR -- Buckwheat flour is a nutty-tasting flour and because it's gluten-free, a favorite among those who live with celiac disease. It's the favored flour for blini, the tiny Russian pancakes and in buckwheat crepes in northern France. For anyone new to buckwheat, this is a good place to start. You won't likely find buckwheat flour alongside the all-purpose, however. At least in my groceries, it's in a special section with other less common flours, or in the bulk aisle, or in the 'natural foods' aisle. (Ever wonder what a grocery store is doing with all that 'unnatural food' they sell? Yeah, me too.)

BUCKWHEAT GROATS -- Here, the hulls are removed, leaving the 'groats'. Buckwheat groats can be purchased raw or roasted. Some times, the hulls are made into pillows. I happen to have one, the twin to the one I giofted my father who suffers from arthritis in one shoulder. The buckwheat pillow is flexible and helps evenly distribute his weight. I like mine too, for its coolness. And I slept on it last night -- does that count for buckwheat progress? No. Um. Of course not.

KASHA or KASHI -- This is the name that buckwheat groats has acquired in the U.S., a confusion, however, since outside the U.S., the term kasha or kashi refers to a hot porridge made from any grain, wheat, oats, millet and others. So really, the term 'buckwheat kasha' is more accurate than just 'kasha'.

BUCKWHEAT NOODLES -- If you like Japanese soba noodles, you've eaten noodles made from buckwheat!

WHAT DOES BUCKWHEAT TASTE LIKE?
Buckwheat has a strong and distinctive flavor -- this is code for "it might be an acquired taste" which implies, of course, we should be prepared to not like it. It's described as 'bold' and 'toasty' and 'earthy'.

HOW TO COOK BUCKWHEAT

I'm going to suggest just a few recipes. These are basics, good ways to get started with buckwheat. And as the last two weeks have proven, getting started isn't all that easy. Let's not complicate it, it's hard enough the way it is. ONE of these, I will make and report back. Promise.

The Perfect Pantry ~ Kasha Varnishkes, a great starter recipe from all accounts, the 'first way' to cook with buckwheat groats
Nami-Nami ~ Warm Buckwheat & Mushroom Salad
Dinner for One ~ Buckwheat Curry
101 Cookbooks ~ Grandma's Grain Recipe

BlogHer food editor Alanna Kellogg maybe hasn't gotten to buckwheat but she's a fiend for brown rice baked in the oven.

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