Buckwheat: Love it or leave it? Buckwheat has a strong flavor, it's true. But I suspect it's the way the pseudo-cereal is cooked that has led many Americans to eat it only in pancakes or pasta. The quickest way to cook buckwheat is to buy it raw and roast it.
Most of us have encountered buckwheat boiled like rice, or cooked the Eastern European way, sauteed with a binding agent such as egg, called Kasha Varnishkes. Perhaps you've had buckwheat noodles or pancakes made with buckwheat flour, with a flavor similar to other whole grain flours. While these are all good cooking methods for buckwheat, roasting is a better way, and it yields a crunchy, golden-brown kernel with many uses.
Buckwheat is a pseudo-cereal, because while it is eaten as a grain, botanically it is not a grain or a cereal. However - stay with me - the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) classifies it nutritionally as a whole grain because the entire seed or kernel is intact. This means buckwheat is filled with the nutrients that keep your gut humming along nicely, such as fiber, protein, and beneficial fats.
The pseudo-grains are usually gluten-free and many are also heart-healthy ancient grains (see my previous post for a list of gluten-free ancient grains). Buckwheat is nutritionally superior to some other grains. For example, cooked buckwheat has a higher amino acid profile and more fiber and iron, but less carbohydrates than brown rice.
Buckwheat is gluten-free, and a nutritious source of fiber, iron, and folate for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and gluten allergies. Many gluten-free flours are devoid of these nutrients. However, buckwheat allergies are not uncommon in Asian countries, and wheat grown for U.S. export to Japan are advised not to be grown alongside wheat.
What to buy
To quickly roast buckwheat, make sure you buy the raw version, usually called buckwheat groats, or raw groats. Then refrigerate the raw kernels, as the fat content may become rancid. The type most often found in a box and roasted is called kasha, but you will still need to boil or saute the semi-prepared grain. The boxed kind is fine for recipes, but roasting it yourself has many advantages.
Roasting only takes 3-4 minutes, the kernels are crunchy, and the color is a deep, golden hue. You do not need to boil the buckwheat once it's roasted. You're done! Toasted buckwheat can be prepared by dry roasting, or in pan with a little oil. The toasted nuggets will keep at room temperature in a sealed jar for a few days.
After roasting, I like to use it as tiny, flavorful croutons atop salads, or in cooked stews for that extra crunch we all want. They are preferable to croutons made with white flour, as they add fiber and nutrients not found in the stripped white flour.
Many ways to cook buckwheat
Raw kernels have a greenish hue, while toasted buckwheat becomes the color of toasted nuts (see photo above). But there are many other ways to enjoy raw buckwheat.
There is no need to cook buckwheat first when stuffing vegetables and baking.
Bake the kernels for a different kind of roasting flavor.
Boil buckwheat for about 10-15 minutes for a quick side dish.
Soak buckwheat overnight and enjoy a nourishing breakfast (my favorite way).
The Oldways Whole Grains Council has recipes from Buckwheat Mushroom Kreplach, and Buckwheat Pumpkin Muffins, to Kimchi Soba (buckwheat noodles). Below, I made a easy-to-prepare Buckwheat Edamame Salad, filled with protein and fiber.
The following is a recipe for the quickest way to cook raw buckwheat groats. Once toasted, sprinkle it on yogurt, salads, soups, and oatmeal.