Buckwheat. It’s not wheat. It’s not even a grain. Would you believe, it is actually related to rhubarb and sorrel? It is, in fact, a fruit seed and is a suitable substitute for grains for people who are sensitive to wheat or other grains that contain protein glutens. Buckwheat flowers are very fragrant and are attractive to bees that use them to produce my favourite, strongly flavored, dark honey. Most commonly it is used to make a porridge, a staple in Eastern European households. These days buckwheat flour is also available, so even our baked goods can be gluten free with a lovely, slightly nutty flavour.
I’ve had it as a porridge for breakfast for years. Then there’s my favourite Buckwheat Granola (you can search under Breakfast for it!) But then last year, I was on a detox for 6 weeks. Everything was forbidden to me: grains, dairy, sugars, alcohol (!) caffeine, etc. It was brutal, but worth it. Not only did it clean me out, recalibrate my digestive system, and help me shed a couple of pounds, it forced me to get creative with my cooking. Suddenly zucchini made wonderful spaghetti, I was drinking a coffee substitute that tasted pretty good (shocking but yes, I can totally recommend Teccino products, and no I’m not a representative!), and I was finding new ways to get something ‘carby’ with my eggs in the morning. One morning I was preparing quinoa as a bed for a poached egg, and I thought, if I could use quinoa this way, why not buckwheat? It’s no different than all the savoury oatmeal and granola dishes that were starting to pop up everywhere. So I simmered some buckwheat in chicken stock, added some seasonings, and there I had my own savoury porridge. It wasn’t a huge leap, as I was stirring up the buckwheat, to envision it becoming a risotto.
Risotto is as much a preparation as it is a dish. There’s is something quite calming and deliberate to preparing risotto. You are forced to focus on one thing: stirring. And because you are only adding simmering stock as needed, you really get to watch the magic happen as the rice (or in this case, buckwheat) becomes creamier and creamier. At first it seems like nothing is happening, and you will be stirring all evening long, but then suddenly the texture changes, and it all comes together. Remember, if there is risotto on the menu, and they can deliver it when they serve all the other people at your table their dishes, DON’T order it. It isn’t true risotto. You know you’re dealing with a good chef, when it is specified on the menu (or the waitress tells you) that if you would like to order the risotto, please allow time for the preparation. If it comes together too quickly, it’s just a cooked rice, not risotto!
So I went through the entire process of creating a risotto, just subbing the buckwheat for the arborio rice. I sauteed the onion and garlic. And then I added the buckwheat. Made sure it was well coated with the butter and onions and seasonings. Then I added a splash of white wine. And then I started the crucial step of slowly adding the stock. And I stirred. And I added some more stock. And I stirred. Eventually it became creamy, and the buckwheat was a nutty, chewy (but no longer tough) concoction. I added some cut up asparagus and baby zucchini. And then I added the parmesan cheese. And a touch of cream. Stirred it all up. And man, was it yummy!
Is it a five minute meal? No, but it isn’t a 60 minute meal either. Depending on how many you are feeding, it comes together respectably quickly. Just a bit of patience and your favourite tunes in the background, and the time will fly by. So worth it.
ASPARAGUS BUCKWHEAT RISOTTO
- 4 tbsp butter
- 6-8 shallots , diced
- 4 garlic cloves , minced
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock , brought to a simmer in a medium pot (have an extra 1/4 cup on hand to thicken if you find the final dish too thick for your liking)
- 1 cup toasted buckwheat (see notes below)
- 3 cups cut up veggies: fresh asparagus and baby zucchini. (if using larger zucchini, then quarter dice)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 4 tbsp cream (I use kefir- it gives the dish a wonderful, ever so slight tang)
- kosher salt
- fresh cracked pepper
In a large sauce pan, bring butter to a bubble over medium high heat.
Add the shallots and garlic and saute for 5-8 minutes, till softened, and turning golden.
Add the buckwheat and stir well to make sure all the 'grains' are coated with the butter and shallot mixture.
Add the wine and cook down to almost nothing. Drop the heat to med-low.
SLOWLY, 1/2 cup at a time, add the simmering chicken stock to the buckwheat. Stir regularly to ensure the liquid is going to all the grains. You want the heat to create a simmer, not a boil. When the liquid is almost entirely absorbed, add the next 1/2 cup of stock. Repeat these steps until all the stock has been used, or the buckwheat is now softened, and creamy.
Add the chopped vegetables to the buckwheat and stir to combine.
Add the parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
Add the cream or kefir and stir to combine.
Season with salt and pepper.
If you find it is a little thick or dry, then add some more stock or hot water.
Garnish with extra shaved parmesan cheese
I specify Toasted buckwheat for a reason. If you use plain, it cannot stand up to the long cooking time. It will turn into a mushy mess!
This dish is easily adapted to other veggies: baby kale or spinach; mushrooms, squash, celery, even just a simple lemon and cracked pepper. You could add some chopped nuts to increase the protein factor, although buckwheat is high in protein.
The time needed to prepare this dish will obviously depend on how many you are feeding. I have shown it for feeding 4 people. But this could mean 6-8 as a side dish. And it is easily cut in half or even quartered, if you just feel like making it for yourself!