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Saturday, November 12, 2011


Buckwheat is not, as its name suggests a true grain, being the seed of a fruit; as such it is gluten-free and can safely be eaten by people with an intolerance to gluten which is found in cereal grains such as wheat. Buckwheat is a member of the Polygonaceae family of plants which makes it a relative of sorrel, rhubarb, Yellow dock, Red dock and common dock among others. It is a native of Asia and spread along the ancient trade roots into Pakistan and Afghanistan where a weedy species of tartary buckwheat (still grows wild in fields of oats, barley and rye. Tartary buckwheat (Fagopyrum tatoricum ssp. potanini) is a weedy variety which grows in the Indus Valley area and is called braw or brow in the local language of Baltistan.
   Buckwheat is rich in the flavonoid, rutin, a phytonutrient also found in the herb rue which is known to dilate blood vessels, so reducing capillary permeability and lowering blood pressure. It extends the action of vitamin C so to use buckwheat to its full health potential eat it with foods rich in vitamin C such as broccoli, brussel sprouts and carrots. Because it lowers blood pressure, buckwheat is a heart-healthy food and can help reduce the risk of cardio-vascular disease. It also assists in the treatment of varicose veins.Buckwheat also seems to help regulate blood sugar levels according to some studies.
  Apart from rutin, buckwheat contains all eight essential amino acids including lysine and ten others, and is rich in the minerals potassium, phosphorous and magnesium, and also contains selenium, zinc, copper, calcium and iron, as well as sodium. Vitamin B -complex vitamins are also present and these include B1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. It is also a source of Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. These substances have potent antioxidant properties so can help fight the scavenging free radicals in our bodies which can damage healthy cells and lead to cancers. Buckwheat is high in dietary fibre, so it works to keep the digestive system healthy too.
  Buckwheat has been cultivated in China since the 10th century and was introduced to Europe and Russia in the 14th and 15th century, when it was known as ‘Saracen’s corn’ as it is believed to have come to Europe when the Crusaders returned from the Middle East. It was introduced into the US by the Dutch at some time during the 17th century.
  In Eastern Europe it has been used to make porridge or ‘kasha’ and blinis which are small buckwheat pancakes eaten with caviar. (They are good with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, chives and crème fraiche too.) In Italy buckwheat is sometimes used to make gnocchi and pasta too, as it can be ground into dark or light flour. In France crepes are made from them.
  The name buckwheat comes from the Dutch ‘bockweit’ which means beech wheat, so named because of the shape of the seed which resembles a beech nut. The seeds are triangular in shape and can be any colour between tan-pink and dark brown. They can be roasted in which case they have an earthy, nutty flavour or unroasted, these seeds have a more subtle flavour.
   To cook buckwheat you should rinse it thoroughly under cold running water, and then use one part of buckwheat to two parts of liquid, either stock or water. This makes a good porridge or soup if you add some of the vegetables mentioned above, or any others rich in vitamin C. You need to bring the liquid, with the buckwheat in it, to the boil and then turn down the heat and simmer it far half an hour until the buckwheat is tender.
  Buckwheat has been used as flour mixed with buttermilk to promote a nursing mother’s milk flow, but there is a problem with it as it can cause light-sensitive dermatitis and itchiness.
  I first came across buckwheat in the early 1970s and this is a recipe I loved then

2 cups buckwheat groats soaked overnight in 3 cups of water
2 -4 peeled grated carrots, depending on the size
1 large onion, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 oz ground, hulled sunflower seeds or melon seeds
1 beaten egg to bind the mixture
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
oil for deep-frying

Drain the buckwheat and blend it a little, still retaining fairly large pieces, with the rest of the ingredients.
Mix in the egg and make into small balls.
Heat the oil to the same temperature needed to make French fries or chips, and drop the balls in one at a time.
You need to cook them for two or three minute, then remove from the oil, drain on absorbent paper and serve. (They should look like onion bhajis.)
These have Taste and are a Treat.

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