“Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.” ~Henry Beecher

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nutrition and Versatility in Buckwheat

One of the keys to eating a balanced diet is to choose a diversity of foods. For example, including into the diet fruits and vegetables with lots of different colors helps us to get a wider variety of important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to stay healthy, alert and strong. The same can be said for whole grains. There are a number of nutrient dense whole grains that I regularly include in my diet, such as quinoa, millet, amaranth and barley; and another that I’ve been eating more frequently, which is buckwheat. There are so many benefits, that I can see, to buckwheat groats that they are quickly becoming one of my favorite “grains”.

Actually, they are not a grain in the usual sense of the word, such as wheat, rye, and barley, etc., but a fruit seed related to the rhubarb family. They are used to make traditional dishes, often referred to as Kasha, that are a staple in Russia and Eastern European countries.

So what’s so great about buckwheat groats? Well, although they cook up like grains, they contain no gluten, which means that they’re a great option for gluten sensitive individuals. They can be ground into flour and used to make baked goods, pancakes, and noodles. And the nutrition and health benefits of buckwheat make it an ideal food to add to everyone’s diet. Nutritionally, it has all the essential amino acids, making it a valuable protein source. It is also rich in fiber, it is abundant in B vitamins; and minerals such as magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, phosphorous and zinc. In addition, it provides the flavenoid rutin, which is known to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and it contains a compound called fagopyritol, which mediates the activity of insulin, suggesting that it may help manage type II diabetes. So with all it has to offer, of course I want to include it in my diet. And I’m happy to say that it is as versatile as other grains, which has made it easy and fun to prepare as both sweet and savory dishes, either for breakfast or lunch/dinner. Here are just two ways that I’ve been getting buckwheat groats into my diet:

A sweet(ish) recipe for breakfast: Just like steel-cut oats and legumes, one way to cut down on the cooking time of buckwheat groats is to pre-soak them. I soak them overnight in water, then rinse well (they will make the water slimy, so rinse, rinse rinse). Although I then cooked them in water for ~10 minutes, I’ve read that some people use them “as is”, essentially raw. By the way, they can also be sprouted, which I’ve read intensifies their flavor, which otherwise is very mild. I haven’t tried yet, but if you’re interested, you can check out the directions here.

1. Rinse and soak groats in water overnight.

2. Rinse well, then add enough fresh water to about an inch above groats, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for ~10 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and fluff. Excess liquid can be removed as well.

4. For a breakfast serving, I add a bit of milk or a scoop of yogurt, a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, and a drizzle of real maple syrup.

This a hearty and satisfying breakfast that keeps me full for hours. And the possibilities are endless here. You can substitute any type of milk, nuts, fruit, spices and sweeteners. I store the leftovers in the fridge and reheat the next morning.

Here’s a tasty savory recipe that can be used as a side dish or even as a main vegetarian dish. It is a variation on this basic recipe:

2 T coconut oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 cup mushrooms, chopped

1 cup buckwheat groats, rinsed

1 egg, beaten

2 cups vegetable broth, brought to a boil

½ cup frozen or fresh peas

2 cloves garlic, minced

sea salt and pepper to taste

chopped, fresh parsley

1. Heat 1T oil in medium pot. Mix beaten egg into groats, then add to pot and cook groats until they become dry and separate.

2. Add boiling broth, salt and pepper and stir well, bring to a boil again, then lower heat, cover and simmer 15-20 min, or until groats are tender. Pour off any excess liquid if necessary.

3. Meanwhile, heat oil in skillet, sauté onion and mushrooms until lightly browned, then add peas and continue to cook until they’re heated through.

4. Add onion mixture and garlic to pot of groats and mix well.

5. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

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