Buckwheat: Big, Bad, Beautiful

Even the Italians agree there are times when their beloved semolina pasta just doesn’t cut it.  On those rare occasions, buckwheat pasta is one such alternative.  No meek stand-in, buckwheat pasta has attained its own cult status in the far northern region of Lombardy―where one-pot Pizzocheri is celebrated annually at a flurry of fêtes. Here, buckwheat is serious business. This robust stick-to-the-ribs concoction is made with buckwheat pasta, hearty greens, potatoes, and local cheeses.

Buckwheat may be an acquired taste for some―it certainly came later for me.  When I was growing up, I recall my mom making buckwheat pancakes for my father.  I was a pretty good eater, but even then they were harsh tasting and heavy. The big, strong flavors did not fit into my youthful expectations of bland, fluffy pancakes.

Buckwheat Groats

Buckwheat Groats

Somewhere along the line, I made peace with buckwheat and now thoroughly enjoy it.  I actually look forward to my morning muesli blend, which currently includes enough toasted buckwheat groats to provide the pronounced nutty, tobacco nuances I’ve grown to appreciate.  No question, roasting intensifies buckwheat’s bold flavors.  For those still on the fence, consider untoasted groats, a milder version.

Roasted Buckwheat

Roasted Buckwheat

Most of us are familiar with kasha varnishkes the Eastern European dish containing kasha, or toasted buckwheat, mushrooms, and bowtie pasta―a hearty combo with both buckwheat groats and pasta! The clever Ashkenazi Jews also realized that in preparing the toasted kasha, the addition of egg whites would keep the groats from sticking together.

Did you know that buckwheat is not related to wheat nor is it a grain?  Rather, it is the seed of a flowering plant in the rhubarb family.   Used much like rice, it is quick cooking, extremely versatile, and it has an affinity for onions!  It is a nutritional powerhouse for women: high in protein and lysine, it contains iron, phosphorus, potassium, and substantial amounts of vitamins B and E.

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This summer I’ve been dabbling in soba buckwheat noodles and especially love the brown-speckled strands in cool salad laced with plenty of crunchy vegetables.

Soba Noodle Salad

      Soba Noodle Salad

Accented with light, clean, Asian flavors, buckwheat’s boldness offers both balance and richness.  The shared nuttiness of sesame and buckwheat is a stellar example of how simpatico companions can blend beautifully together, creating an even better end result.

From a nutritional perspective, soba noodles are far superior to semolina pasta.  Although they both have a similar 73 grams of carbohydrates, buckwheat contains 10 grams of dietary fiber, compared to semolina’s 4 grams per serving.  Buckwheat’s high fiber content is a boon to appetite appeasement with a slow-release carbohydrate that provides a long lasting energy source.

When considering soba noodles, not all are the same. Read the label ingredients carefully to clarify the amount of buckwheat content as well as other ingredients included; avoid those with excessive filler and additives. The following Soba Noodle Salad only gets better with time.Soba Noodles with fork and spoon 2The noodles do not break down and the vegetables tend to take on a slight tangy pickle as they sit.  I change it up by topping it with whatever I have on hand:  shredded roast chicken, a fine-quality canned tuna, or generous slices of ripe avocado.  It’s all good!

Soba Noodle Salad

Ingredients
8 oz         soba, dried buckwheat noodles

Sesame-Soy Dressing
3 tbsp      soy sauce
3 tbsp      rice vinegar, or mild vinegar: apple cider or sherry vinegar diluted with 1 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsps    peanut oil
2 tsp       sesame oil
1 clove   garlic, grated or crushed
1 tsp       fresh ginger, grated
pinch      red pepper flakes or dash tabasco, to taste
pinch      sugar, or a dash agave or honey to taste

Assorted Vegetables
1            carrot, peeled, julienned or shredded
1/2         red pepper, seeded, julienned
1/2         medium-hot green pepper, Hungarian, poblano or other, seeded, julienned
1            small English cucumber, seeded, julienned or shredded
1            green onion, thin slivers

Optional Accompaniments
roast chicken shredded, fresh seared or canned tuna, arugula or other spicy lettuce
Garnishes:  sliced avocado, cilantro, sliced lime

Method

  1. For Sesame-Soy Dressing combine all ingredients, adjust seasoning and set aside.
  2. To cook noodles, bring large pan of water to a boil, add the noodles and simmer about 7 minutes.  Test after 4 minutes, they should be firm and not mushy.    Drain, rinse with cold water to cool.  Drain well, transfer to large bowl, drizzle with a little of the dressing to lightly coat, and set aside while preparing the vegetables.
  3. Add the julienned vegetables as prepped to the bowl of soba noodles.  Gently toss the noodles and vegetables together with a bit more of the dressing.  Reserve a little dressing for salad assembly.   Can be made ahead at this point and chilled.
  4. To assemble:   Line a large platter, or individual bowls or plates with lettuce; pile the noodles and vegetables in the center.  Arrange the chicken or tuna on top.  If desired garnish with avocado and cilantro.  Drizzle a little more of the dressing over the top.  Serves 4 or more.
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Denver-Asian Strip Salad

A couple of posts back I shared an entertaining YouTube video from Eugenie Kitchen on How to Make Tamagoyaki, the Japanese omelette roll.  Turns out, it was the perfect intro and segue into a full-on version of an Asian salad I have been working on which incorporates the julienne omelette concept.

You could say this crazy ham-and-egg strip salad is a cross between the Denver Omelette, sans cheese, and an Asian soba noodle salad.

Soba 1 redux

I’ve taken the mighty Denver Omelette’s leading players of robust ham, pepper and onions and finessed them with exotic elements of ginger, baby bok choy, Thai basil and soba noodles, then draped them all in shimmering ginger-sesame vinaigrette.

The omelette theme is reintroduced via the tamagoyaki style egg strips studded with green onion and cilantro. Showcasing the egg strips as a stunning topper also serves to maintain their delicate integrity since excessive handling can break these beauties up unnecessarily.

 

soba salad with forkNow, that would be a crying shame.

Ham and Egg Strip Salad

Ingredients

Ham and Vegetables

  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small clove garlic, flattened
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 cup ham, julienned (Canadian bacon is good)
  • 1 cup white onion, peeled and julienned
  • 1 cup red pepper, seeded and julienned
  • 1 cup poblano pepper, seeded and julienned (or other pepper with a bit of heat)

Noodle/Vegetables

  • 8 oz. Soba noodles or other noodle of preference
  • 2 heads baby bok choy, washed, cut into lengthwise pieces
  • 1 carrot, peeled and shaved into thin strips

Ginger-Sesame Vinaigrette

  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp sriracha sauce or dash tabasco
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar or Chinkiang vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Omelette Strips

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil, total
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tbsp water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, minced
  • 1 tbsp green onion, minced

2 tbsp Thai basil, minced plus garnish, 2 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Directions

  1. For the Vegetables  In a medium skillet heat the oil and garlic clove over medium heat and allow to become aromatic, for extra heat crushed red pepper flakes.  Add the ham and allow it to take on some color; remove the garlic.  Add the onion and peppers cooking briefly to soften the vegetables.  Set aside until needed.
  2. For the Noodle/Vegetables   Cook noodles according to package directions.  About 1 minute before being al dente, add the carrot strips and the bok choy to pot only long enough to shock the leaves and blanch the carrots.   Drain all and rinse with cool water.  Toss with a little vegetable oil if sticky.  Set aside until needed.
  3. For Ginger-Sesame Vinaigrette  Combine the ginger, soy, sriracha and vinegar, whisk in the sesame and vegetable oil and adjust seasoning.  Make ahead at least 15 to 20 minutes to allow flavors to develop.
  4. For the Omelette Strips   Beat the eggs with water, add the salt, pepper, cilantro and green onion. Heat a 10” skillet brushed or sprayed with oil over medium-low heat.  Evenly pour about 1/3 cup of egg mixture into the pan, swirling to make a thin, even layer. When the edges begin to separate from pan, carefully lift with wide spatula and turn briefly to the other side.  Remove to flat surface, allow to cool briefly and firmly roll up.  Repeat process until all egg mixture is used up. When cool, slice the rolls into ½” or thinner spirals and unfurl into strips.  Set aside.
  5. To assemble  the Salad  In a large bowl, lightly toss the noodle mixture, and ham/vegetables with about half of the the vinaigrette and part of the minced Thai basil.  Toss with additional dressing if needed.    Arrange the salad on a large platter or individual bowls or dishes.  Top with the omelette strips, garnish with remainder of the basil leaves and sprinkle with sesame seeds.