Buckwheat’s wild side

The Washington PostJanuary 30, 2013 

A little earthy, a little nutty, a little bitter: The flavor of buckwheat can be intense. But roast buckwheat seeds, or mix buckwheat flour with other flours, and the taste is tamed.

It’s a taste more of us are getting to know. The increase in the number of people eating gluten-free diets or more whole grains has been good for the buckwheat business.

“It’s unbelievable,” says John McMath, a director of Birkett Mills, one of the two major buckwheat-producing companies in the United States. “It’s growing by leaps and bounds.” He says the mill, in the Finger Lakes region of New York, has had to push farmers to ramp up production to keep up with the demand.

McMath, who also heads the National Buckwheat Institute, ticks off a list of selling points. Besides being gluten-free, buckwheat is a nutritional powerhouse; it helps lower cholesterol; it can fight adult-onset diabetes: “That’s a claim that has been scientifically backed,” he says. It grows well in poor soil and doesn’t need fertilizer, herbicides for weed control or insecticides for pest control. “Very often it’s grown organically. It’s a very ecological crop, a very unique crop,” McMath says.

It’s also not technically a grain or cereal, though it’s treated as if it is. Buckwheat is the seed of a plant that’s part of the rhubarb family.

At the grocery store, it comes in several forms. Buckwheat groats are the plant’s hulled seeds. Kasha is groats that have been roasted. Groats and kasha are sold in different grinds, from fine to coarse. Buckwheat flour, the finely milled seeds, can be dark or light, depending on how much of the strongly flavored hull is included.

We tried those permutations in a variety of recipes:

Buckwheat Pasta With Clams and Broccoli Rabe Pesto

4 servings

For the pesto

1 quart blanched, chilled broccoli rabe (from a 1-pound bunch; see NOTE)

2 tablespoons capers (preferably salt-packed), rinsed and drained

4 cloves garlic, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon Vitamin C crystals (optional)

4 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil


Freshly ground black pepper

For the clams and pasta


16 ounces dried buckwheat linguine or other thin buckwheat pasta

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus pared curls of the cheese for garnish

1/2 cup chanterelle mushrooms (stem bottoms trimmed), cut into 1-inch slices if large (may substitute cremini or oyster mushrooms)

3 cloves garlic, or to taste, minced

1 shallot, minced

Freshly ground black pepper

20 littleneck clams, scrubbed

1/2 cup bottled clam juice

1 scant teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 tablespoon chopped parsley, for garnish

For the pesto: Pulse the broccoli rabe in a food processor until it is finely chopped; transfer to a medium bowl.

Combine the capers, garlic, Vitamin C crystals and anchovy fillets in the food processor. Pulse to achieve a medium-fine consistency, then add the mustards and pulse just to incorporate. Return the broccoli rabe to the food processor and gradually add the oil while pulsing to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The yield is 2 cups; reserve 1 cup for this recipe. The remaining pesto can be frozen for up to 3 months.

For the clams and pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente; start checking after 4 minutes. Do not overcook, or the pasta will become mushy. Drain in a colander, then return the pasta to the pot (off the heat) and stir in 2 tablespoons of the oil and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano until evenly distributed. Cover to keep warm.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the chanterelles, garlic and shallot; cook until the mushrooms' moisture has evaporated, stirring frequently so as not to burn the garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the clams, clam juice and crushed red pepper flakes; cover and cook just until the clams open. Remove from the heat and stir in the reserved cup of broccoli rabe pesto.

Divide the pasta among individual wide, shallow bowls or plates. Arrange 5 clams on each portion. Spoon the pan sauce over the clams and pasta; garnish with parsley and with the Parmigiano-Reggiano curls, if desired. Serve right away.

NOTE: To prepare the broccoli rabe, slice off and discard the bottom 1 1/2 inches or so from the bunch's tough stems. Cut the remainder of the bunch into 3-inch lengths; use 4 packed cups for this recipe (best to use a 1-quart container for measuring). Reserve any excess for another use. Cook the 4 cups of broccoli rabe pieces in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 minutes, then plunge them into ice water, rinse and drain.

The recipe calls for Vitamin C crystals, which are available from vitamin and natural-foods stores. They will help the pesto retain its nice green color.

MAKE AHEAD: The broccoli rabe needs to be blanched, drained and chilled before being used for the pesto. Leftover pesto can be frozen for up to 3 months.

NUTRITION Per serving (using half the pesto): 840 calories, 29 g protein, 94 g carbohydrates, 40 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 740 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar

From chef Robert Wiedmaier of Wildwood Kitchen in Bethesda, MD.

Chocolate Chip-Mocha Scones With Cacao Nibs

Makes 12 to 16 scones

3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, plus more for the work surface

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup chilled (solidified) coconut oil

3/4 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup agave syrup

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon coffee extract (may substitute 1 teaspoon espresso powder mixed into 1 teaspoon just-boiled water)

1 cup vegan chocolate chips

1/2 cup cacao nibs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

Whisk together the whole-wheat pastry flour, buckwheat flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Grate or finely chop the chilled coconut oil, then use your fingers to gently, quickly work it into the flour mixture.

Whisk together the coconut milk, agave syrup, vinegar, vanilla and coffee extracts in a liquid measuring cup. Pour into the flour mixture and stir until barely incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips and cacao nibs until evenly incorporated; the dough will be quite firm.

Lightly flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the work surface; knead it just enough to shape it into a disk that's about an inch thick and about 10 inches wide. Cut it into 12 to 16 equal wedges. Arrange them on the baking sheet, spaced at least 1 inch apart. Bake for 15 minutes (on the middle rack); the tops and bottoms should be golden brown.

Buckwheat adds texture to these scones, which are not too sweet — and are substantial enough for dunking in coffee and hot chocolate. If they don't have to be vegan, use bittersweet chocolate chips.

MAKE AHEAD: The scones can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

NUTRITION Per scone (based on 16): 280 calories, 4 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 170 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar

Adapted from “Sweet & Easy Vegan: Treats Made With Whole Grains and Natural Sweeteners,” by Robin Asbell (Chronicle, 2012).

Warren Brown's Buckwheat Pancakes

Makes about 14 4-inch pancakes

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons lowfat or whole milk, or soy milk, at room temperature

4 to 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 cup whole-wheat flour, sifted

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

2 tablespoons superfine sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or vegetable oil, or as needed

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees, if desired, to keep the finished pancakes warm; have ready a heat-resistant plate.

Combine the milk and lemon juice in a medium bowl and let it sit for 5 minutes. Add the vanilla, if using, and the egg, whisking gently to combine.

Whisk together the flours, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

Gently fold the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture, but don't fully combine them. Let the mixture sit for 3 to 5 minutes; it will thicken.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Once the surface is hot, add 1 teaspoon of the butter or vegetable oil.

Give the batter one last stir to combine. For each pancake, pour a scant 1/4 cup of batter onto the pan or griddle, spacing the cakes so they do not touch. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes, until the bottoms are browned and the edges appear dry. Turn the pancakes over and cook for 1 minute. Repeat to cook all of the pancakes, adding butter or oil to the pan as needed.

Either serve immediately or transfer the pancakes to the heat-resistant plate and place them in the oven to keep warm while you cook more pancakes. Serve with the pancake topping(s) of your choice.

Buckwheat pancakes can be a little harsh and earthy, but these are made mostly with whole-wheat flour, which keeps them kid-friendly.

NUTRITION Per pancake (using low-fat milk): 80 calories, 3 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 2 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 230 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

Adapted from “CakeLove in the Morning,” by Warren Brown (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2012).

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