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Caviar of Grains - December 2016

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Caviar of Grains - December 2016

by Ron Skaar

Buckwheat was one of the earliest crops to be domesticated, some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, in Southeast Asia. Its cultivation spread to Central Asia and Tibetan plateaus, where it grew at the worlds highest elevations. 

From Asia it reached the Middle East and became a staple in Europe. During the later part of the Stone Age, when agriculture was beginning to evolve, buckwheat was being harvested throughout the Balkans and Scandinavia.  

The Russian term for buckwheat means “little Greek” due to its introduction by the Byzantine Greeks in the 7th century. Russia soon became a world leader in buckwheat production for it was well suited to grow at the high latitude of northern areas.

Buckwheat was one of the first crops introduced by Europeans to North America. Dutch and German immigrants brought the plant with them. By the 17th century large quantities of the hardy and easy-to grow crop were being sown. During the American pioneer days, buckwheat pancakes were a universal provision. 

Buckwheat is not a true grain, but rather the fruit of a leafy plant belonging to the family of sorrel and rhubarb. It is often referred to as a pseudo-cereal, since the grain is used in ways similar to cereal grains. Its name comes from a Dutch word associated with the plants triangular fruits, which resembled beechnuts.

In the northeastern United States buckwheat was a prevalent crop during the 18th and 19th centuries. Production declined sharply in the 20th century due to the use of nitrogen fertilizers, which favored the cultivation of maize and wheat. Buckwheat’s consumption in this country is improving now, due to its beneficial nutritional value. 

Buckwheat is rich in complex carbohydrates and has significant amounts of the amino acid lysine, which is lacking in most plant foods. Buckwheat flour is a rich source of protein, potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin E and dietary fiber. And it contains no gluten.

The “resistant” fiber found in buckwheat, lowers blood sugar after meals, helps weight loss by reducing food cravings and can help improve diabetes. The bioflavonoid in buckwheat strengthen small blood vessels, aids in preventing bruising, blood clots, hemorrhoids and varicose veins while lowering LDL cholesterol. 

In the United States buckwheat flour is most often encountered in pancakes to which it contributes tenderness and a nutty aroma. The Japanese make buckwheat noodles, called soba. The Russians use it to make small yeasty pancakes called blini and toast the groats to create kasha. In Italy’s region north of Milan they make buckwheat tagliatelle and mix it with corn meal in polenta. In Paris they make foamy pancakes called “galettes” and in Brittany,   buckwheat flour is used to create unique earthy crepes.

For a festive holiday breakfast serve these crepes with butter, jam and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar. Or for brunch embellish with ham, cheese and a fried egg.


BUCKWHEAT CREPES makes 8

 1 cup buckwheat flour

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 ½-3 cups water

2 large eggs, beaten

Unsalted butter

In a medium bowl, combine the flours and salt and whisk well. Add the water and egg and whisk until smooth. Cover the crepe batter and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Heat a 10-inch non-stick skillet. Brush with butter. Pour in 1/3 cup of crepe batter and swirl the skillet to distribute the batter evenly over the bottom before it begins to set. Cook over moderately high heat until crepe is lightly browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. With spatula, carefully flip the crepe and cook on second side for about 1 minute. Stack and wrap in foil and keep warm in oven before serving.