salad with buckwheat
Arugula salad with dates, glazed eggplant, chickpeas, feta, and tahini yogurt dressing, topped with toasted buckwheat and hemp hearts


For the uninitiated, buckwheat can be a puzzling grain. Not even related to wheat at all, these pyramidal shaped kernels are often underutilized outside of Northern and Eastern European cuisines. While you may have encountered buckwheat in soba noodles, blinis, or countless gluten-free pancake mixes, it is the grain’s minimalist, no-boiling-needed treatment that has spurred the most culinary creativity in my kitchen.

My first foray into buckwheat cookery started where I’ve begun many whole grain explorations: in the pages of Maria Speck’s beautiful cookbook, Simply Ancient Grains. Following step-by-step instructions for her Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Hazelnut Buckwheat Stuffing, I mixed the kasha (roasted buckwheat) with hazelnuts, garlic, herbs, and spices, ready to fill the mushroom caps.

I hesitated. Did I forget to first cook the buckwheat? I certainly wouldn’t stuff a mushroom with raw or toasted brown rice without a liquid, for fear of breaking a tooth. But my instincts told me to follow Maria’s lead, and I’m glad I did. The result was delightful and crunchy in the best way possible, no emergency appointment at the dentist needed.

Since then, I’ve explored more uses for enjoying buckwheat raw or toasted, rather than boiled and cooked soft. Toasting equal parts raw buckwheat and hemp hearts over a warm skillet has become one of my favorite go-to salad toppings (see above), contributing a warm nuttiness that no crouton can rival. The grains are not rock hard, as a toasted wheat berry would be. Rather, they share the same pleasant bite as hazelnuts or almonds. The toasted buckwheat and hemp heart mixture is also a game-changing topping for simple pureed soups (such as butternut squash or asparagus).

For the breakfast aficionado, uncooked buckwheat can be soaked in milk overnight, then blended, topped with fruit, and enjoyed as a breakfast porridge, in the spirit of the popular “overnight oatmeal”. This simple base recipe can be easily customized to your tastes, by adding in a dollop of peanut butter, berry jam, or even a dusting of cocoa powder.

We’d gladly wax rhapsodic about our favorite whole grain sides and salads, but if buckwheat is in your pantry, don’t let a simple pilaf be your endgame. Take a walk on the raw side, and you may find that less (cooking) is actually more. (Kelly)

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