Buckwheat is a mysterious thing. I was always vaguely nervous about it, because of the name, BuckWHEAT, and because most (all?) mainstream American Buckwheat pancake mixes also contain wheat flour, making them off limits and uninteresting. But pure buckwheat is gluten free, so what is it, and why is it called buckwheat?
Despite the common name and the grain-like use of the crop, buckwheats are not grasses and are not related to wheat. . . The name “buckwheat” or “beech wheat” comes from its triangular seeds, which resemble the much larger seeds of the beech nut from the beech tree, and the fact that it is used like wheat. . . . The fruit is an achene, similar to sunflower seed, with a single seed inside a hard outer hull. The starchy endosperm is white and makes up most or all of buckwheat flour. The seed coat is green or tan, which darkens buckwheat flour. The hull is dark brown or black, and some may be included in buckwheat flour as dark specks. The dark flour is known (exaggeratedly) as “blÃ© noir” (“black wheat”) in French, along with the name sarrasin (“saracen”). (source: Wikipedia)
Pure buckwheat is completely gluten free, and is surprisingly versatile. I first had Buckwheat in a tasty, healthy gluten free cereal called Mesa Sunrise- one of the few “adult” cereals that I actually liked. It has a wide variety of traditional applications internationally, though- Buckwheat groats, the whole grain, are are popular in western Asia and eastern Europe, especially in Russia, Ukraine and Poland. In the 20th century, it was most commonly eaten in a dish called “kasha” where the roasted groats are simmered in broth until they resemble rice.
In Japan and Korea, Buckwheat is used in noodles respectively called soba and memil guksu. Unfortunately, while I can’t speak for Korean buckwheat noodles, almost all Japanese soba noodles also contain wheat. Luckily, while I was living in Japan I was able to find an exception: a 100% soba flour noodle, although it did contain a warning in Japanese that it is produced in a factory that also works with wheat products. Luckily, I never seemed bothered by it, and I was immensely happy to be able to experiment with at least one traditional Japanese ingredient. One of my most recent experiments with soba noodles was a spa salad, but I also enjoy using them in fox noodle soup, a dish that contains fried tofu and soba noodles in a rich, salty broth. Interestingly, while gluten intolerance is rare in Japan, serious soba allergy seems about as common as peanut allergies are in the states. I worked with several Japanese teachers who had a serious, life threatening allergy to buckwheat. Luckily I think this kind of allergy is far less common in western populations.
Buckwheat flour is also used in a variety of traditional pancakes, like buckwheat blinis in Russia, galettes in France (especially in Brittany), ployes in Acadia and boÃ»ketes in Wallonia. American pioneers also reputedly chowed down on their own variety of buckwheat pancakes. In Ukraine, yeast rolls called hrechanyky are made from buckwheat. Interestingly enough, I actually had my first buckwheat crepe in Japan at the French retail store, Carrefour. (Sadly, in 2005 Carrefour withdrew from Japan and their shares were purchased by the Japanese largest store chain, Aeon. Doh!) Their unique food court boasted a buckwheat crepe shop with some 100% buckwheat crepes. I nervously ordered one and (nervously) enjoyed my first buckwheat crepe- with smoked salmon, as I recall. It was delicious. (And I felt fine afterwards, even better!)
Being me, I immediately became obsessed with this new food, the French buckwheat crepe that was called Galette. (The name crepe seems to be a general term for wheat flour crepes.) According to my friend Wikipedia, “CrÃªpe is a type of thin pancake mostly associated with the region of Brittany where it replaced at times bread as basic food, but it is eaten as a dessert countrywide. Buckwheat was introduced as a crop suitable to impoverished soils, so [in addition to] Britanny, buckwheat crÃªpes were known to other regions where this crop was cultivated, such as Limousin or Auvergne.” Rather than being filled with something sweet, the gallette often contains “egg, apple slices, meat, fish, cheese, salad or similar ingredients. One of the most popular varieties is a galette covered with grated gruyÃ¨re cheese, a slice of ham and an egg, cooked on the galette.” (source: Wikipedia) Sounds delicious, right? Do be careful if you see them available in restaurants or small shops, though- as with most dishes using an unusual, gluten free flour, most proprietors add wheat for additional ease in preparation and to lower the cost of production. Besides my one experience in Japan, I have never found a gluten free source of gallette, except for my own kitchen, of course.
Which brings me to today’s post. You may have noticed I’ve been a bit quiet in the kitchen lately. The French reading class I was taking recently culminated in a three hour exam that sapped all creative energy out of me- I’ve been eating, and even eating the things on my menu, but I’ve also been eating my fair share of frozen meals. However, that all ended dramatically yesterday. I woke up, checked my email, and started thinking about food. Recently there have been a fair number of gluten free crepe recipes floating about. I’ve always loved crepes- with their high protein ingredients of eggs and milk, they adapt very well to being made gluten free. The hardest thing about them is waiting for the batter to set in the refrigerator (usually about 30 minutes), and standing over the stove making your stack of crepes. I usually get restless halfway through the process, but the end result is entirely worth it.
Recently I shared my favorite tried and true sweet crepe recipe with you, but this time I thought I should embrace my stronger savory side and create a delicious savory mushroom gallette that would be perfect for a romantic brunch for two or marvelous for an impressive dinner party. I searched high and low for recipes, and finally came up with a combination of several recipes that could be adapted to my needs. Gourmet magazine had a lovely recipe for buckwheat crepe noodles that inspired the crepe base for my recipe, and my favorite magazine, Cooking Light, actually won me over with a low fat but flavorful mushroom filling with just a dab of cream cheese. I have to admit, I was enchanted by CL’s suggestion to create a crepe “purse” for a more dramatic presentation. I mixed my batter in the blender, sauteed a delicious mushroom filling, and created three different presentations of the crepe- a traditional crepe roll, the sophisticated (but trying) crepe purse, and finally a square crepe package as a compromise between the two. Then I sat on my sunny balcony and enjoyed some perfect French gallettes with a savory (but not calorie laden)mushroom filling, while sipping a cappucino and chilled herbal tea. It was the perfect way to celebrate the completion of my reading French class. So- for now, au revoir, and bonne chance! Why not try your hand at a gluten free galette recipe of your own? It’s well worth the effort.
*notes: While the recipe contains both eggs and dairy, I think you would probably have good results substituting dairy free milk. For the filling, barring any soy allergy, Toffutti cream cheese would be an excellent replacement for dairy cream cheese.*
Gluten Free Buckwheat Crepe Recipe
1 1/2 cups lowfat milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup GF buckwheat flour (Bob’s Red Mill is produced in dedicated facility)
1/4 cup Favorite GF flour blend (white is better)
1/2 tsp salt
liberal sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp and 1 tsp. margarine and 1/2 tsp ghee, melted OR 1 1/2 tbsp margarine OR butter
Additional margarine or butter, melted
Savory Mushroom Crepe Filling Recipe
Combine all ingredients through pepper in blender until thoroughly blended. Add 1 tbsp and 1.5 tsp melted margarine/ghee mixture and parsley and combine one more time. Pour into large cup or small bowl.
Heat nonstick frypan on medium heat, and baste a little melted margarine or butter on it to cover lightly. When it is hot (but not smoking!) take a very scant 1/4 cup (minus a tbsp. or so) of batter in your left hand (if right handed) and remove the fry pan from the stove with your right hand. Pour the batter directly in the middle of the pan and swirl the pan with your right hand so batter smoothly covers entire surface of pan. If you have any bubbles without batter you can dip your finger in the batter (what, not hygienic?) and let a little dollop drip into the hole- IF You act quickly. Otherwise, just let it be. When the crepe starts to dry out on the edges (about 15 seconds), take a plastic spatula and gently poke the outside of the crepe all around the edge so that it has lifted slightly from the pan. Use your fingers to carefully peel the crepe off the pan and flip it over, leaving it for another 15 seconds before removing it to a plate. Continue. Brush pan with more margarine between crepes. The first crepe or so may be harder to remove from the pan- don’t worry, it just takes a little time to get the right temperature and oil combination. Continue until you’ve made all your crepes, snacking on any deformed crepes. Reserve.
To assemble crepes, you have three options.
1) Fancy shmancy crepe purses
Disadvantage: These buggers have a high mortality rate, and the crepe likes to rip.
Advantage: It’s fancy shmancy!
How to make crepe purses: Put 1/3 cup or so of your filling in the center of the crepe, gently lift up all the edges and gather the crepe up right above the filling. Tie a (pre-boiled for 6 minutes, cut into long green thread green onion green top) DRY green onion ribbon around it, remove to a baking pan.
2)The smart woman’s pouch- so much easier, unlikely to result in ripped crepes, slightly lower fancy shmancy rating but not by much.
How to make the SW crepe pouch: Put 1/3 cup or so of filling in the center of the crepe. Fold over one side, and then another, like you’re wrapping a flat present. Your goal is to make a little square pouch. Tie one of those boiled, extra long green onion tops around the whole pouch and tie it, just like a present.
3)Easy Peasy Traditional Crepe- No risk of tearing, little imperfections are less likely to show up in the finished product.
How to make a traditional crepe with filling: Put 1/3 cup of filling or so in a line going from one side of the crepe to another. You may want this to be slightly left of center. Lift the side of the crepe and wrap it up in a little tube. Easy, and yummy. If you want to be really crazy you can still tie a green onion around it, but it isn’t necessary.
I was so happy with this recipe. I can see myself making it a lot in the future. YUM!!
Mushroom Crepe Filling Recipe
at least 6 green onions, with green tops cut off and reserved and white part chopped
1 1/2 tsp butter or margarine
2-3 diced fresh garlic cloves
1 portobello mushroom, diced
2-3 cups crimini mushrooms (or various types of mushrooms)
1/3 cup white wine
1 tbsp. lowfat cream cheese
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp. assorted fresh herbs
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
generous dash of freshly ground black pepper
8 GF buckwheat crepes
For crepe purses, cut the green tops off your green onions and cut them down the middle to create two long green onion ties. Boil them for about 10 seconds and then remove them to drain. Spin in a salad spinner if you have some to remove any last bits of water.
Heat your butter, margarine, or olive oil on medium and when hot, throw in your garlic cloves and the white part of your green onions. When it has heated through, add your mushrooms and sautee until they are soft and have released some of their juices. Add the white wine and simmer until the liquid has evaporated and your mushrooms are thoroughly cooked. Remove from heat and add your tablespoon of lowfat cream cheese (or toffuti Cream Cheese) and mix until the cream cheese has dissolved into the mushrooms. Sprinkle your fresh herbs, salt and pepper and mix through the entire mix.
Reserve and use as filling for your savory crepes. (this is enough for 8-10 crepes, double recipe if desired)