When is wheat not a grain? When it's this nutritious, versatile seed that adds texture and substance to hearty bowls of goodness.
What is buckwheat?
Despite its name, buckwheat isn't a wheat at all. It's the seed of a flowering fruit related to sorrel and rhubarb. This little triangular seed is rich in nutrients and very high in fibre, and has a strong, somewhat bitter flavour. Buckwheat sold as kasha has been toasted, which brings a toasty, hoppy flavour to proceedings. Activated dehydrated buckwheat is sold as buckinis in health-food shops.
Why do we care?
Buckwheat has come to prominence of late thanks to its nutritional qualities and gluten-free status, but we love it for its nutty flavour and texture - when cooked it still retains a little bite, which works well in porridge and risotto. It cooks quickly and also adds bulk to a roast vegetable salad or hearty winter soup.
Where can I get it?
European delicatessens usually stock buckwheat, as do health-food shops. You can buy it raw or toasted - toasted has a stronger flavour, but either form works in these recipes.
How can I use it?
Buckwheat adds bulk to winter salads and soups, as well as giving a nutty flavour to porridge. Try it in place of oats, barley or other grains you usually turn to.
Roast carrot and buckwheat salad
Preheat oven to 200C. Toss 3 bunches scrubbed and trimmed Dutch carrots and 1 Spanish onion cut into thin wedges in a roasting pan with 1½ tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp cumin seeds. Season to taste, then roast until tender and beginning to caramelise (15-20 minutes). Drizzle with juice of ½ orange and roast until very tender (15-20 minutes). Meanwhile, dry-roast 200gm buckwheat in a frying pan over medium-high heat until toasted (1-2 minutes). Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the toasted buckwheat and cook until tender but still with a little bite (15-20 minutes). Drain well, then combine in a large bowl with the roasted vegetables and any pan juices. Add 2/3 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 80gm crumbled feta, 2½ tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp red wine vinegar and the juice of ½ lemon, season to taste, toss to combine and serve warm.
Mushroom and buckwheat risotto
Place 5gm dried porcini mushrooms in a saucepan with 500ml chicken or vegetable stock, 3 thyme sprigs and 100ml water, bring to a simmer, then set aside to soak. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil and 30gm diced butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add 1 finely chopped onion and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves, and sauté until translucent (4-5 minutes). Add 200gm thickly sliced mixed mushrooms (such as flat, pine and Swiss brown), sauté until just tender (1-2 minutes), then add 200gm buckwheat and stir until coated and toasted (1-2 minutes). Add stock mixture, a ladle at a time (discard thyme), stirring continuously until it's absorbed before adding more, seasoning to taste as you go, until all the stock has been absorbed and buckwheat is tender but still with a little bite (20-25 minutes). Stir in 50gm finely grated parmesan and a handful of coarsely chopped parsley, and serve.
Buckwheat and banana porridge
Cover 200gm buckwheat in 250ml boiling water in a saucepan and soak for 5 minutes. Add 350ml milk or almond milk, 1 sliced banana, ¼ tsp ground cinnamon and a pinch of salt, bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to thicken (10-15 minutes). Add another 250ml milk and simmer until thick and buckwheat is creamy (10-15 minutes). Serve topped with extra sliced banana, cinnamon and maple syrup.
Buckwheat and beetroot soup
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add 1 finely chopped onion, 1 diced carrot and 1 diced celery stalk and fry, stirring occasionally, until beginning to caramelise (6-7 minutes). Stir in 3 coarsely grated beetroot and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves, then add 1.2 litres vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer, season to taste and cook until vegetables are almost tender (15-20 minutes). Meanwhile, dry-roast 100gm buckwheat in a frying pan over medium-high heat until toasted (1-2 minutes), add to soup and simmer, stirring occasionally, until buckwheat is just tender (15-20 minutes). Add 3 tsp red wine vinegar, season to taste and serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and a scattering of coarsely chopped dill.