Once upon a time, Americans understood the importance of buckwheat in cuisine. For whatever reason, we have pushed it aside. Always interested in grains that usually are underrated, buckwheat was an easy target for me. It stared at me woefully in the store, ignored, shoved to the back of the shelf of grains. I was sure I heard murmurings of we are the chosen ones! when I slipped the vacuum-packed bag into my shopping cart.
Chosen ones indeed. Numerous countries over the world treat buckwheat with respect. Soba noodles from Japan are made from buckwheat. Russian and Polish families use it to fill knishes and blintzes. In the days of colonial America, people appreciated buckwheat pancakes. It is also gluten-free so anyone with celiac disease can enjoy kasha, buckwheat blinis, or a peasanty buckwheat porridge. For a number of reasons, buckwheat fell out of favor for mass production in the United States, replaced by more profitable crops. Food is not just about money, people! I’m here to bring back buckwheat to our kitchens.
This recipe is definitely non-existent in the meat, but heavy on flavor. The addition of the meaty mushrooms with the crunch of fennel and the surprising starring role of the parsley is satisfying and different than anything I’ve tried before. The ebullient food writer and blogger Melissa Clark has a knack for appreciating and transforming traditional dishes with a more modern take. This is a healthy version of her grandmother’s kasha varnishkes— better than any kasha I’ve ever had. Varnishkes refers to kasha served with onions, brown gravy, and pasta in Jewish culture. This is definitely a different spin.
Extremely hearty, you will not miss your meat for a meal. Make buckwheat your chosen one. This dish does well as a side to a tumble of steamed vegetables or light protein (eggs, tofu). As always, my hints are starred below.
½ pound each of shiitake and oyster mushrooms, stemmed, large caps quartered**
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 large scallions, thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, diced***
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water. Blanch all of the parsley leaves in the boiling water for 20 seconds.* With tongs, transfer the parsley to the ice water. Drain the parsley, squeeze out the excess water and pat thoroughly dry. In a blender, puree the blanched parsley with ⅓ cup of the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt. Keep the boiling water for the next step.
In a large skillet, toast the buckwheat groats over moderately high heat, shaking the pan often, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly, then transfer to the boiling water and simmer over low heat, stirring often, until just tender but still holding its shape, about 5 minutes. Drain the buckwheat, spread it out on a large rimmed baking sheet and let cool to room temperature.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the large skillet. Add the mushrooms and season generously with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their liquid, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden brown, about 5 minutes longer.
In a small bowl, mix all but 1 tablespoon of the parsley oil with the balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, garlic and soy sauce.
In a large bowl, toss the cooked buckwheat groats, sliced scallions, diced fennel with the dressing; season with salt and pepper. Mix in sautéed mushrooms and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of parsley oil. Serves 8 side dishes.
* I put all parsley in with oil, even though the original recipe called for just a cup in with the oil. Parsley is sometimes rather tough to chew so I let my food processor do the pre-chew for me. Important trick for getting the parsley out of the boiling water fast: keep it tied up in a bunch, dip into the boiling water with tongs for the 20 seconds keeping hold of it, then immediately plunge into the ice water. Cool slightly and drain (as described above). Using your hands, cleanly twist off the leaves from the thicker stems (and twist tie). No search-and-rescue operation needed to find all the parsley stems and leaves in the water.
** I cheated here. The quality of mushrooms at my go-to place for fun and funky mushrooms was reprehensible, more like bad funky, so I went with the standard white button mushrooms.
*** What? Not mandoline sliced?? I know I went on and on about the beauty of mandoline sliced fennel for another salad, but in this hearty buckwheat recipe, the fennel stands up well to being diced and paired with the hearty buckwheat. Slicing it too thin and mixing with the buckwheat might cause some heavy-weighted buckwheat to smash the delicate fennel. Not so pretty.