Food in Russia: what's hot in a cold country
Why A Buckwheat?
I know you heard about buckwheat. It is a ‘healthy grain’ that doesn’t contain gluten, but is rich in protein and iron. You can find in organic cereals, bread and pastry. Raw folks sprout it and the French make their famous galettes. Blah-blah. You probably know it already.
By the way, do you know buckwheat isn’t a cereal at all? Wheat, rice, millet, oats, barley, corn and rye, they all are Monocotyledons (Poaceae family), while buckwheat comes from Polygonaceae family and is a Dicotyledon (together with amaranth and quinoa also known as healthy grains).
Now let us finish with botany and start some real talk.
Brown vs. Green
Buckwheat (‘grechka’ or ‘grecha’) is very common in Russia. You won’t believe me, but we even have a very popular monodiet where all you’re supposed to eat is plain cooked buckwheat (sometimes without salt)! Ha-ha. But that isn’t how you should use buckwheat anyway.
Let’s look how buckwheat looks like here – you gotta be surpised.
Yep, it’s brown – because it’s roasted.
This difference is familiar to every Russian who ever tried to buy buckwheat abroad. In healthy shops in Europe and America you probably see something like this:
Green (not roasted) buckwheat is actually very good too. You can sprout it which is impossible with roasted one. But it tastes differently, it’s not typisch Russisch and it’ll get mushy after cooking. Buckwheat we eat in Russia is nice and fluffy so you can see every little grain.
Don’t worry. Wherever in Europe/North America you are, there’re probably some Russians too. In that case, there are Russian shops somewhere. You can get a real stuff there.
Put On Your Apron
Cooking buckwheat is so simple even kids can do it. You only need to follow these rules:
#1. Stick to 1:2 (volume) ratio of buckwheat and water. That means you need to take 2 cups of water for 1 cup of dry buckwheat (you gonna have a BIG pot of it!). Put some salt in water.
#2. Put buckwheat in water only when it boils (not at the beginning!). Note: you need a pot with a tight lid.
#3. When you’ve done with #2, let the water boil for the second time, then reduce heat to very low.
#4. After that, forget about it for 15 – 20 minutes. If you still want to check, you should see fluffy grains on top and no water within view. After that turn the heat off and let the super-duper-grain stay covered for another 10 – 20 minutes.
You should see something like that then:
Fluff it slightly with a fork:
And now it’s ready to be eaten!
Note: it’s ok with buckwheat if you undercook it (leave some water on the bottom) if you let it stay with heat off. Some people even simply pour boiled water on the grains and let it stay overnight (or some hours). But it’s not how it’s commonly done.
Quick Note On Fats
Since buckwheat is so fluffy and a little dry you definitely want to put some fats in it. (Or sauces. Or both.)
First of all, olive oil came to Russia not that long ago. So I suggest you save it for other dishes.
I heard about idea that you can get real Russian taste of buckwheat porridge only if you add butter. I’d tell you I quite agree with it, although I usually add ghee (just because I mostly have ghee on hand). Or clarified butter. And you don’t even need much of it: 4 – 10 g per portion would work very well.
Note: animal fat (e.g. from poultry) pairs very well with buckwheat too.
Butter is probably the best option. But sometimes we dress it with oils too. It’s mostly those crappy plant-based and tasteless oils and they don’t add anything to a taste. What I personally like is another typical Russian food item – unrefined sunflower seed oil. It has very peculiar taste of roasted sunflower seeds and it’s really good paired with buckwheat. (Sounds interesting? I bet they have it in Russian shop!)
If you want to season your buckwheat with fats (I hope you get that you should), do it when you turn off the heat (so the butter would melt nicely), when fluffing or right in your plate.
Legit Ways To Eat Buckwheat
There are 3 most common ways to eat your awesome kasha:
1. On it’s own (purist way)
2. As a side (for meat, poultry)
3. As a milk porridge
Let’s dig into it.
Eating plain buckwheat is probably the oldest way. The minimum you need is a butter or oil, as I mentioned above. Other good options are:
– chopped greens (green onion, dill, parsley, basil)
– dried mushroom flakes (preferably Russian mushroom, of course) or sautéed fresh mushrooms
– some sautéed or caramelized onion (yum!)
– chopped hardboiled egg
– any gravy you happened to have
Awesome. Only some chopped greens on top could have made it even better.
Despite high class cooks educating about veggies being the best side, here in Russia thousands of people still believe in Soviet-style sides. Those are: mashed potatoes, rice, buckwheat and pasta. But I won’t lie, buckwheat goes very well with beef, pork and poultry as well as with meatballs and burgers from them. It’s not that good with fish though.
Buckwheat, homemade beef stroganoff, gravy and some veggies. Perfect combo.
Note: I won’t recommend cooking buckwheat pilaf-style (in one pot with other ingredients such as meat, veggies etc.). It gets soggy that way.
I’m firm believer in savory buckwheat, but many people do like their buckwheat sweetened (again, it’s Soviet heritage). Funny thing is you don’t need to cook buckwheat in milk for a porridge. You just heat a milk and then pour it over cooked buckwheat, as you do with any cereals. You may add some sugar or a piece of butter to it (I skip it).
Not the best pic, but hopefully you get the idea.
Of course, there are other ways to use of buckwheat. Sometimes it’s used for stuffing (e.g. pies) or you can use leftovers to make a bake or burgers. But it’s not that common on an average Jane’s kitchen.
Wow, this post turned to be kinda long, huh? Thanks for staying with me till the end. And if you have any suggestion or thoughts, feel free to contact me, I’d LOVE to have any feedback from my readers.
image credit (for green buckwheat): http://debbrunson.com