Buckwheat’s not just for blinis. In recent months I’ve been enjoying this ingredient in several ways: as flour, in soba noodles and as the full ‘grain’. Buckwheat is wheat and gluten free (if that’s important to you) but the thing that makes me fond of it is its flavour. It has more flavour than wheat and takes a step towards rye but is not so strong that it overpowers other flavours. It makes an excellent background to zippy flavours in a buckwheat tabbouleh or umami flavours in a noodle pot. It also works well with sweet things: buckwheat flour is my staple pancake flour.
Buckwheat isn’t wheat. It isn’t a cereal crop although it is used as one. Traditionally, the Russian countries are the main producers and consumers of buckwheat but the seed has reached a wider market and are used in different ways all over the world.
In Japan, buckwheat noodles – soba – are eaten cold with a dipping sauce in summer. I have harboured a long dislike of cold pasta but cold soba noodles, dressed with a little sesame oil, some soya sauce, a little lime juice, and a pinch each of finely chopped garlic, ginger and chilli, makes a delicious and satisfying base for an Asian-inspired salad. They are also at the centre of my favourite dish: the ever-changing noodle pot. (I’m writing a separate post on noodles for autumn and will include my noodle pot recipe there.)
In Russia, buckwheat porridge is common. This is made not from flour but from the whole grains – when boiled vigorously and long they explode into a starchy mush with more flavour than that description may lead you to believe. The grains can also be used as a substitute for other starchy foods: rice, cracked wheat or quinoa. On a glorious summer’s day, tabbouleh inspired buckwheat salad is a great side or main. You’ll find a recipe below.
Tabbouleh is traditionally a bulgur wheat and parsley salad generously dressed with a tangy lemon and olive oil dressing. My take on buckwheat uses the traditional ingredients parsley, tomatoes, onion as well as the olive oil and lemon juice dressing but adds rather more grains than the original. When you can get big bunches of parsley, the traditional style is ever so tasty and good for you. (Green things are, I am told. Repeatedly.) My version serves 3-4 as a side or 2 healthy eaters as a main.
- 250 grams buckwheat
- 1 small onion
Alternatively 3 large spring onions or 5 small spring onions.
- 150 grams tomatoes
Use ripe ones, whatever the type. I like cherry plums, or beef, or plums, or anything bright red and aromatic.
- 1 bag flat-leafed parsley (around 30 grams)
- 0.5 bag mint (about 15 grams)
- The juice from 2 small lemons or one large (about 5 cl)
- 5 cl of olive oil
- Pinch of cloves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Rinse the buckwheat in running water.
- Boil 40 cl water.
- Add the buckweat to the boiling water and lower the heat to a slow boil.
- Let the buckwheat boil for 15 minutes, then take it off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes. If all the water evaporates, add a bit more. This is a little bit like cooking rice: the final result should be moist and neither burned to the bottom of the pan or wet enough to need sieving. As with rice, using 1 volume of buckwheat and 1 volumes of water usually works (1 tea cup buckweat to 2 tea cups water, for example).
- Remove parlsey and mint leaves from the stems (if you like some extra crunch and flavour, leave them).
- Finely chop onions, tomatoes, parsley and mint and put in a large bowl.
- In a small bowl or measuring jug, juice the lemons and mix the juice with olive oil, cloves, salt and pepper.
- When the buckwheat is ready, let it cool for a little while before mixing with the vegetables and herbs.
- Dress and mix thoroughly.
I like to serve this as a main meal with half an avocado and a dash of olive oil on top. It also works really well with lamb kofta or venison sausages. Any left overs are nice cold and if you’re into a savoury breakfast, there are worse ways of starting the day than having a bowlful of buckwheat tabbouleh-style.
Where to get buckwheat in Edinburgh:
- Real Foods and Earthy both sell Clearspring and King Sobasoba noodles.
- Real Foods also sell husked and roasted buckwheat.
- Doves Farm buckwheat flour is available from Sainsbury and many other shops, including the two listed above.