Few ingredients trigger such strong emotions as buckwheat. At a recent discussion at the Archestratus Books in New York City, famed cookbook author and culinary instructor Sonoko Sakai and visionary grain farmer Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills are in violent agreement that most of us who purchase buckwheat seeds and milled grain are not getting the real thing.
Not only are many soba noodles not made with 100% buckwheat but, as Roberts insists, it is not a “shelf stable product.” It should be stored under refrigeration and then consumed quickly for us to enjoy the flavor and health benefits of this super-food.
How super is buckwheat? Pretty super!
In this age of gluten intolerance, the groats are the seeds of the flowering plant (and not a grain). So, no gluten. The plant is related to sorel and rhubarb (notoriously resilient plants that produce more in poor soils than good ones). As a result, the age of industrial agriculture has not been kind to this hardy plant. Commercial fertilizers smother its production (yielding strong plants but little flower). As a result, in places like Brabant in the southern Netherlands, its decline inspired local farmers and food activists to nominate the local buckwheat for the Ark of Taste.
The people of the region used to make a local specialty named balkenbrij consisting of pork leftovers, broth, buckwheat and a mix of spices, baked into a cake shape, and served with bread. Sounds like good comfort food for winter months? Yes, it is; however, considering how high in protein is buckwheat (10g per 100gr), it also makes it an ideal ingredient for Meatless Monday recipes.
(serves 4-8, depending upon the size and filling)
One simple recipe to prepare is your version of the classic buckwheat crepes from Brittany, France, also known as Galettes Bretonnes. Chances are, you will recognize these distinctive golden brown crepes. They are popping up everywhere. I recently enjoyed one in the Jean Talon Public Market in Montreal, Canada. Served on a plate, knife and fork, with the sides folded over, it is a complete meal. Mine was filled with market eggs, Quebecois cheese, winter greens and local maple syrup.
In truth, you can fill them with almost anything (which makes this a perfect Meatless Monday meal). Make the batter the night before, stick it in the refrigerator and let ferment overnight. Since there is no gluten in the batter, the crepes turns quite brittle as it browns. After all, with no gluten, there is little elasticity in the batter. Never mind, the crunchiness is pleasant.
1 cup (120g) buckwheat flour
¾ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup (227g) milk
1 tsp (14g) melted unsalted butter
¼ to ½ cup (57g to 113g) water
Cook with what you have; however, here’s what I do at home.
1 egg each
1 slice of Emmentaler cheese per person (28g)
4-6 leaves of chopped and boiled or steamed winter greens (kale, cabbage, collards, etc.)
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the batter. You can use a blender, hand-mixer or even just a mason jar to mix. Since it is such a thin batter with few ingredients. I have found to shake the ingredients in the jar the easiest (less to wash up). Pour everything but the water into a jar, close the lid and shake it until it blends into a grey batter. Pop in the fridge overnight. When you are ready for Monday evening’s dinner, take it out of the fridge and add ¼ to ½ cup of water to make the batter thinner. This way it is easier to pour out onto the skillet.
Prepare the greens. Plentiful in the winter from local sources, maybe even from your garden, clean and then chop the leaves finely. Place the greens in a pot of boiling salty water for a few minutes (long enough to turn dark green and get soft). Remove from heat, drain and set aside when ready to add to the crepes.
Cook the crepes. You can use a number of different shallow skillets/pots to cook the crepes. You want the sides to be low enough that you can easily put a long knife or spatula beneath to turn them over to brown on both sides. Heat the skillet to a high flame, coat the surface with butter or vegetable oil — just enough to prevent sticking. Once sizzling, pour the batter onto the skillet. It should be thin enough to pour easily. Once you’ve got a puddle of batter, quickly swivel the skittle around so as to make a round crepes that is large enough to fill a plate and thin enough to turn crunchy.
Heat it for 2-3 minutes, using a spatula or knife to loosen it from the surface around the edges.
Once it turns noticeably stiff and free from the skillet, flip it so that the other side can brown too. At this point, break and egg over the crepes, maybe even covering it for up to a minute with a lid to accelerate the cooking of the egg. Add cheese and greens to cook, salt and pepper too. Once the crepes begins to brown, fold in on four sides to make a square.
Remove from heat and serve immediately. Repeat this process for each crepe, adding butter or oil to keep the batter from sticking. Alternatively, you can cook the crepe 75% of the way complete, store in a warm oven to serve up and cook each portion in a more timely fashion. Depending upon appetites, eaters may want to eat more than one. However, one is pretty filling.
Sourcing your ingredients. Meat the Change asks all of us to examine the impacts of our food choices. Industrial meat is a major cause of the climate crisis.
This, among other reasons, is why we reduce our dependence upon it. This Meatless Monday meal utilizes animal products: eggs, cheese. What are your sources for these products? Fast or Slow? To be quite honest, egg carton labels are confusing. This guide is a good start to unscramble the meaning behind the labels; however, your best bet is to forge a relationship with a farmer via a farmers market or a store that has direct relations with farmers. The same goes for cheeses.
The Slow Food Switzerland supports efforts to grow the commercial viability of the Emmentaler Presidium: Look here and here for Slow sourcing. Meat the Change! Print it out and bring it to your local cheesemonger. As for the buckwheat flour, Holland & Barrett is one European source. In North America, Anson Mills is a reliable supplier and advocate for biodiversity. There are, of course, others.