It’s not wheat at all, not even vaguely related to the grain, other than by its misnomer, nor is it even a grass.
Believed to have first been cultivated in China, buckwheat spread eastward to Japan, and westward to Russia and the Middle East, before eventually coming to Europe and the Americas.
The most familiar buckwheat dish in the United States is buckwheat pancakes, a perfect breakfast served simply au naturel or with a little maple syrup and butter.
One close relative is the authentic Russian blini made with buckwheat flour (perhaps mixed with wheat flour), delightful paired with caviar, particularly red (salmon) caviar or smoked salmon, and a dot of sour cream. (By the way, inauthentic blini, made with wheat flour alone, are not bad at all!)
Another is the French crepe, particularly popular in Brittany, and usually served with savory filllings like ham and cheese. Watch for the French word, sarrasin, on the menu for this treat. To read more, check out “A Crepe-s Salute to Bastille Day” http://wp.me/p1VQOz-of .
A relatively obscure dish from Northern Italy is Pizzoccheri, buckwheat noodles, often cooked with Swiss chard or cabbage, potatoes and cheeses, Taleggio and/or Fontina and Parmesan. Recipes abound on line, each reflecting someone’s grandmother’s approach, all in varying degrees of deliciousness.
But, making buckwheat noodles is not easy, so myMEGusta suggests taking a shortcut by way of Japan, substituting dried Japanese soba noodles, broken into shorter pieces rather than in long strands.
Japanese soba is a myMEGusta favorite, whether hot in a soup or cold with a dipping sauce, perfect on a hot summer day. Both are traditionally served with garnishes, like wild mushrooms or tempura for hot soup or grated yam or nori seaweed for cold. In a really authentic setting, the waiter brings a pitcher of hot buckwheat broth at the end of a cold soba meal to mix with, and be sipped, with the remaining dipping sauce.
A favorite Manhattan destination for authentic Japanese soba is Soba Nippon, sister restaurant of Nippon, a few doors away, owned by a soba aficionado who has his own buckwheat farm in Montreal, Canada. The noodles are made twice daily at Nippon, losing nothing in the translation as they cross Fifth Avenue.
Buckwheat is a great gluten free food for people with Celiac disease, but read the label on any prepared food, or ask in a restaurant, as it could contain a mixture with regular wheat flour, as most soba noodles (including Soba Nippon) do.