Buckwheat is cultivated in as different countries as Russia, Japan, France and Brazil. Japanese soba noodles and soba shochu, Russian blini гречневая каша, French “gallettes” or savoury pancakes, boûketes in Belgium, Polish “kasza gryczana” (hulled grains, usually roasted), Italian pizzoccheri,… All those are made from the same plant.
Belonging to the Fagopyrum genus, buckwheat is not a grass, nor a cereal, even though it looks like one. Its qualities are so numerous, it is surprising most of the Western countries never consume it. It is very rich in protein, minerals, antioxydants, iron and doesn’t contain any gluten, so can be consumed by people who don’t tolerate it. Apart from all these healthy sides, buckwheat grows very quickly and easily. That is why it can be cultivated in cold climate and crops can be easily multiplied in hot regions.
The older I get, the more I like buckwheat – based products, and especially buckwheat groats, e.i. hulled grains. They are a bit crunchy and a bit soft at the same time. They have a very pleasant nutty aroma and a tiny hint of bitter taste. I don’t know if it is due to my temporary deficiency of one of its healthy components or if it’s a simple food craving, but sometimes I want it so much, I must have it in the following hours. In Switzerland (like in most Western European countries) the only easily obtained buckwheat groats are not roasted and lack the nutty flavour the roasted ones have. Luckily Russian and Polish shops carry roasted groats and luckily they exist in most European countries, USA or Canada, where the buckwheat groats’ name (“kasha”) has Polish/Russian origins.
I usually have buckwheat groats as a side dish (they are perfect with pork roast and the Polish pork stew with allspice), but they also make a good ravioli or vegetable stuffing. I don’t know why, but I have never tried to mix them with Asian ingredients. However, a couple of days ago, I thought about the Japanese soba noodles, remembered I had a miso (Japanese soybean paste) dressing in the fridge and decided to combine them. It is difficult to describe how excellent this Japanese-Polish fusion proved to be. Needless to say, since that day miso has become the buckwheat groats’ best friend. (UPDATE: It’s not really a fusion dish… I have just learnt that buckwheat groats do exist in Japan where they are called “soba gome”; they are however not very popular).
The White miso dressing recipe comes from my beloved Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji (read more here). It keeps about 2 weeks in the fridge and is a good way to use up an egg yolk. If you don’t want to prepare the miso dressing, the buckwheat will be also good with miso alone (if you can add some mirin, it will be even better). This time, instead of pork, I had it with grilled chicken.
Update: Janet’s comment and cooking kasha experience made me think how buckwheat groats/kasha may be tricky to cook, especially for the first time. After two or three times it’ll become very easy. I changed a bit the cooking process description, more helpful this time – I hope – for a beginner.
Preparation: 30 minutes
Ingredients (serves two):
150 g roasted buckwheat groats
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons white miso
or White miso dressing:
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons white miso
1 tablespoon sake
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon mirin
(dashi, Japanese stock, 出し)
Put the buckwheat groats into a cup.
Measure the double of the buckwheat volume in water.
Pour the water into a pan. Bring it to boil, add the salt.
Throw the buckwheat into the pan and let it cook partially covered at medium heat for about ten minutes.
Lower the heat and let it simmer, covered, for about 5 more minutes.
The water should be completely absorbed by the grains. If it’s not absorbed yet, put the pan aside, leave the cover on and it will get absorbed without cooking too.
Prepare the miso dressing.
Combine the yolk with the miso in a small pan.
Add the remaining ingredients one by one.
Put the small pan into a bigger one, with boiling water and let the sauce thicken (and the egg yolk cook), delicately stirring for about 5-10 minutes.
(The miso dressing can be diluted with dashi stock. It keeps two weeks in the fridge.)
Taste the buckwheat groats. They should be still crunchy, but cooked. If they are not soft enough for your taste, add a bit more water and cook them longer.
Drain the groats. Combine them with one tablespoon miso or miso dressing.
Serve the groats with a big dollop of miso/ miso dressing on top.