I really didn’t know what to call this dish, so I called it a risotto. But it isn’t one. If I were to cook the buckwheat groat as arborio rice, the dish would be probably be one big mush (perhaps a yummy one, though).
Buckwheat is a funny grain. It belongs to the rhubarb family, and is gluten free (even though it has the word ‘wheat’ in its name). When cooked it has a slightly slippery texture, but nothing that’s off-putting in my opinion. Actually, it’s a great quality to have for gluten-free baking. That’s what I mostly use it for.
Japanese also use buckwheat to make soba noodles. In Australia, Spiral distribute a soba noodle made of 100% buckwheat — a good, nutritious alternative to many gluten-free pastas out there (as they are usually full of starchy flours and gums). Another good option is Orgran’s buckwheat pasta spirals made of 80% stone milled buckwheat flour and 20% rice flour.
While I’ve used buckwheat mostly as a flour, I have used the groats occasionally as a rice substitute for fried rice and in something like this dish. You can also lightly dry roast buckwheat groats before cooking them. Once roasted, buckwheat groats are called kasha. To cook kasha or the groats, add it to boiling (not cold) water. This keeps the grains separate and less mushy. You can also, like many other cereals and grains, use the groats to make a porridge.
- 450 g pumpkin, peeled and roughly diced into 2cm cubes
- 1 cup buckwheat groats + 2 cups boiling water or very hot stock
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large fennel, finely diced
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes, or to taste
- 4 garlic cloves, finely diced
- 4 thyme sprigs (use leaves only), or 2 tsp dried thyme
- zest of 1 lemon
- 8 (250 g) button or Swiss brown (Portabello) mushrooms, diced
- 1 cup cooked brown lentils*
- 4 cups packed (~350g) silver beet greens (Swiss chard), shredded
- 2 tbsp pitted olives, chopped
- 1/2 cup thick cashew milk (coconut milk or almond milk would work well too)
- sea salt, to taste
- fresh lemon juice, to taste
*If you soak the brown lentils for a few hours, or even overnight, they will only take about 15 minutes to cook. You can do this step a day ahead. Or you could use tinned lentils. Just make sure you rinse them first.
Preheat oven to moderate temperature (180C/350F) and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Bake pumpkin for about 20 mins, or until cooked, and set aside till needed.
In the mean time, cook the buckwheat. In a medium-sized pot (with a lid), add the buckwheat and 2 cups of freshly boiled water (or stock). Turn down the heat to a gently simmer and cook buckwheat with the lid partly on. It will take about 15– 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Set aside until needed.
Once you have your pumpkin and buckwheat ready and have prepped your vegetables, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large, heavy based pot. Sweat the fennel for about 5 minutes then add the chilli flakes, garlic and thyme. Continue to sauté for a couple of minutes before adding the zest and mushrooms. Stir continually for another couple of minutes then add the lentils, cooked buckwheat and silver beet. Mix throughly and once the silver beet has wilted add the olives, pumpkin and cashew milk.
Allow the pumpkin and cashew milk to heat through. Turn off the heat and stir in sea salt, lemon juice and remaining tablespoon of olive oil.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t have some of the ingredients. You could use the same process to make your own risotto. Like using brown rice or quinoa instead of buckwheat. You could use any other legume you have in the pantry —such as chickpeas or mung beans. And use up any vegetables you have on hand — like sweet potato, spinach, cauliflower etc. If you’re okay with dairy, you could always add some goats fetta or parmesan cheese. Sometimes I add a dollop of hulled tahini at the end of cooking too. It gives a lovely creamy texture.