Winter seems the perfect time to enjoy food with hearty flavors, so I chose buckwheat as my “grain” to prepare three different ways this week. My grandfather owned and operated one of our country’s only buckwheat mills, so buckwheat has always been dear to my heart. Although no longer in the family, I’m pleased to say that Birkett Mills is still in operation in upstate New York, and it produces many organic products, including the organic buckwheat hulls that I used to mulch my asparagus bed several years ago. To this day, many brand name buckwheat products one buys in this country are produced there – including Wolff’s, Pocono, Puritan, and the house brand itself, Birkett Mills.
I tried making buckwheat 3 ways – once as the flour in a pancake-style blini, once toasted & then cooked with stock to create the stuffing for grape leaves, and last boiled like rice and then used in three different recipes. I found buckwheat to be delicious and versatile, and by finding its way into our home, it worked its magic in my heart. The final recipe is my favorite of all – a salad of chopped veggies & buckwheat dressed with a fresh herb & spice vinaigrette.
Recipe #1 – Blini
Blini require either planning ahead or patience! Because I didn’t plan ahead (other than having the ingredients on hand), I had to be extra patient for breakfast on Sunday morning. Blini are yeast-raised, so after adding 1 tsp. active yeast to 3/4 c. warmed milk & 2 Tbsp. melted butter, one must wait an hour to allow the yeast to grow. A mini-whisk was indispensable in getting the yeast to dissolve in the liquids. After an hour, I stirred in 1 beaten egg, 3/4 c. buckwheat flour, and 3/4 c. whole wheat flour. The batter was a little stiff, so I splashed in a little water to thin, allowing the pancakes to cook through more quickly. I used a Tablespoon to scoop out the perfect amount for small pancakes, which I cooked in sizzling canola oil (butter would have been delicious, but canola is less saturated & has a pleasant flavor). Blini are often served with sour cream and very salty/savory toppings such as caviar or smoked fish. I substituted a sweet and sour combination – nonfat Greek yogurt, fresh blueberries, a candied hibiscus flower garnish, with its syrup drizzled over all.
Recipe #2 – Stuffed Grape Leaves
This was time-consuming to prepare, but my husband asked that it be added to our regular repertoire, so it was worth the trouble. This recipe is a terrific alternative to the traditional recipe that uses lamb/beef and rice. Much more flavorful and far leaner! Also, 1 jar of grape leaves makes enough to fill my large crock pot and freeze enough to serve in the future with very little effort.
I cooked 1 lb. ground bison (extremely lean!) in the crock pot for 4 hours in 1 quart of chicken stock, adding 2 diced carrots, 2 diced celery stalks, and 2 diced fennel stalks & fronds. Next I stirred 1 c. barley groats into a beaten egg, and after letting it rest 5 minutes, I toasted in a skillet on the cook top. When they were browned, I added 2 c. chicken stock and simmered 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I diced 3 cloves of shallots and 1 large, sweet onion and caramelized in some extra virgin olive oil. Then I used a slotted spoon to remove all the meat & veggies from the crock pot (leaving behind the stock), and stir the meat & veggies and the caramelized onion/shallot mixture into the cooked buckwheat, adding 1 tsp. dried mint and 1/2 c. minced fresh parsley.
Wrapping and cooking:
A large cutting board is the perfect place to assemble the grape leaves. The grape leaves come vinegar-pickled in a jar and are rather challenging to remove. This needs to be done over a bowl or sink to allow the brine to drain. Thankfully, the leaves are sturdy and are carefully rolled, so they were undamaged despite the tugging. The leaves get more tender during cooking, but there may still be some fibrous areas. I removed any visible stems, as I selected the leaves. Each dumpling requires about 2 leaves and 1/4 to 1/2 c. stuffing. Since the leaves are different sizes, the dumpling size will also vary. No big deal!Overlapping the leaves and folding in the ends, burrito-style was the best way to assemble.
I added each dumpling to the juices in the crock pot as I prepared them. When done, there was a very tightly-packed single layer with juice to just cover. I put on the lid and let it simmer until kickoff (about 4 hours). By that time, the liquid had disappeared, but the leaves were still moist – any longer, and they may have dried out. (The remaining dumplings were packed & frozen – they will need to be placed in a cassarole or crockpot with stock to just cover in order to finish their preparation.)
Recipe #3 – Stirfry over Buckwheat Groats
Reading our assignment more carefully, I realized that we were supposed to make a large quantity of 1 grain and then use portions in three different recipes. So I made a large batch (1 c. dry with 2 cups water expands to 4 c. cooked) for use with 3 recipes.
Cooking buckwheat Groats
When preparing buckwheat groats, The Joy of Cooking recommends pre-toasting the groats to optimize flavor & firmness using 1 of 2 methods to optimize the flavor: either by soaking in beaten egg for 5 minutes, then heating while stirring for 5 minutes or by heating in a skillet with 1-2 Tbsp. of oil. I decided to make a quantity without first toasting – this allowed me to compare flavor and firmness with the batch I made for recipe #2 (the filling for stuffed grape leaves). The Joy of Cooking also suggests that one can substitute stock for the water when preparing buckwheat groats – to enhance flavor and nutrition. Because I used stock in the grape leaves recipes, I opted to use water this time.
I was very pleased with the buckwheat groats prepared untoasted using water. They cook in only 15 minutes, and left covered, they stayed nice & warm to serve with the stir fry.
Seitan Stirfry with fresh herbs & miso/ginger/garlic sauce
While the buckwheat was cooking, we sliced up 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, 1 head broccoli, and one large sweet onion. After frying briskly, we added in at the last minute: 6 halved cherry tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, fresh parsley leaves, 1 c. power greens with 1 package sliced seitan and the sauce. We cooked 1-2 minutes, stirring to wilt. Then served over buckwheat groats.
1/4 c. red miso paste, 4 garlic cloves, 2 inches grated fresh ginger – stir in some of the juice from the seitan, gradually to thin.
Recipe #4 – Buckwheat groats breakfast cereal
spoon out refrigerated portion of prepared buckwheat groats (see recipe #3 for cooking instructions). Top with desired fruit (I used fresh blackberries) & any desired toppings (I use 1 Tblsp. each of nutritional yeast, ground hazelnuts, cocoa, golden flax meal & wheat germ). Buzz in microwave 1.5 min., spoon on Greek yogurt & drizzle with maple syrup. ENJOY!
I will keep this in the arsenal for quick work-day breakfasts, since making it ahead saves time & is easy. Those who eat gluten-free could enjoy this with no issues – just leave off the wheatgerm topping!
Recipe #5 – Buckwheat salad with Jicama & Peppers
Each salad ingredient contributes a unique texture, color & flavor, making this salad a delight that is nutritious and unique.
2 c. cooked buckwheat groats
1 c. diced jicama
1/2 diced red pepper
2 minced shallots
2 stalks celery cut in crescents
Toss the above with the dressing:
1/4 c. walnut oil
minced fresh basil – 12 leaves
1/4 c. chopped jalapenos w/ brine
1 Tblsp white vinegar
2 Tblsp. freshly toasted cilantro seeds (put in covered pan for 2 minutes until they crack – bruise in mortar & pestle)
Serve garnished with freshly toasted walnut halves – this completes the protein of the buckwheat, making it a main dish salad. Soooooo good!