A nation’s signature dishes have a lot to do with its history and geographic position which then decides what the people can harvest from the nature to be consumed daily. When the Soviet Union still had its strong grip, Russians had to endure war, revolution and famine. They could only dream about fancy dining and had to stick with what good enough for them to stay alive. It was when buckwheat helped a lot with their day-to-day diet as staple food.
What is buckwheat actually? Despite the name, it has no relation with wheat but closer to sorrel or spinach dock and rhubarb. But, again, it is not consumed as leaves but seeds. Russians call buckwheat as miracle food because of its richness in complex carbohydrate that one serving of it in the morning can set a person up for the whole day. That is the very reason why buckwheat fit the Russians’ need to survive the difficult years under the Soviet Union governance.
The region around Lake Baikal, located in south Siberia, was the first recorded place where the people regularly cultivated buckwheat seeds. This made clear how Russia has been consuming it daily. Asian regions that commonly have buckwheat for meals would first turn the seeds into noodle; while in Eastern Europe – including Russia – have the seeds as is. Here are 5 Russian buckwheat dishes you can try for a healthy diet.
1. Buckwheat Kasha
This is the most common buckwheat dish in Russia. Almost every home would serve this or at least know how to correctly cook it since it’s a national dish. The kasha consumption in Russia reaches 15 kilograms per capita per year. To prepare kasha, first the buckwheat seeds need to be toasted or it will be too bland. Once toasted, you can either slow cook it with water or soak it in milk – depends on how you like it. If you choose to cook it with water, then a spoonful of butter should be added when served to avoid it being too dry. Buckwheat kasha is usually had for breakfast or appetizer at dinner time.
2. Buckwheat and Vegetable Stir Fry
Russians love buckwheat because it is naturally gluten free, contains nine essential amino acids, also rich in iron and mineral. It’s a perfect super food that vegans also love. To make the stir fry, prepare the buckwheat the way it is cooked for kasha – because it is the basic method to have the buckwheat ready. And then stir fry it together with spinach, broccoli, mushroom, cherry tomatoes, then seasoned with garlic and olive oil. This combination is good for cell growth, bones health, blood sugar regulation, blood pressure, and antioxidant. Such a healthy and delicious dish you can have for lunch to energize you after a heavy morning at work.
3. Buckwheat Soup
It is cold in Russia more than it is warm or hot in a year, so soupy dishes come as the nation’s favorite to have both at home and dining place. Buckwheat soup is really easy to make, healthy, delicious, and fulfilling. Just cook it the way you would with any kinds of soup; chop the vegetables you choose (could be carrot, string beans, mushroom, etc.) Sauté some onion until fragrant, throw in the vegetables, cubes of chicken – if you like, mushroom, then stir fry for a bit. Add some water or chicken stock, throw in the raw buckwheat, then season with salt and pepper. Close the lid and wait for the soup to cook. A bowl of buckwheat soup would help you to get through the day without wanting to snack too much. Sounds perfect for a healthier diet plan, right?
4. Buckwheat Garden Salad
There are two forms of buckwheat on the market; flour and groats. Obviously people don’t have to harvest the seeds themselves anymore; they can just go ahead and buy bags of buckwheat at the nearest supermarket. It is easy to find, too, being one of Russia’s staple food. For the salad, you would want to use the groats. Cook the buckwheat with salted water and then you can just mix it in a bowl with diced bell pepper, chopped mint, fresh dill, walnut, broccoli, green olives, and season with salt, black pepper, lime juice, and olive oil. Voila! Delicious for summer days as the salad can be served cold. The buckwheat gives weight to the salad and makes it enough as a complete meal.
5. Classic Pasta Buckwheat
When you mix Italy and Russia, you will get this delicious healthy dish for dinner. Again, buckwheat is never too difficult to cook and it is very versatile. It can go with other ingredients easily including pasta. To prepare this dish, the buckwheat should be cooked into kasha first – use water instead of milk. Once cooked, mix the kasha with beaten egg, and then toast until dry. In another pan, prepare the pasta the way you would normally do, and throw the buckwheat and egg last. Stir for a bit, and your dinner is ready. Pretty quick and yummy.
So the very basic and original recipe of buckwheat in Russia is the simple kasha dish. It is also known as pseudocereal because Soviet liked it sweet and so they would just pour milk with drips of honey on to the buckwheat and ate it the way they would with cereal. Considering how scarce food was once, kasha clearly met the Russians’ need to stay healthy and energized through the most modest meal. As time went by and the Soviet Union fell, buckwheat appears in more diverse dishes with fancier combination and preparations.
Outside Russia, buckwheat may not be too familiar or even easy to find. But if you ever get the chance to find a source of it, try and consider consuming it daily to replace rice or flour-based meals for a healthier diet. This will do a lot of fixing to your body and you would love it. Try also the 5 buckwheat dishes above to see which one suits your taste; sweet or savory.