Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sick of Oatmeal? Try Buckwheat Groats

Since I read and wrote about Carolynn Carreños' book Bowls of Plenty, I've been a little fixated on breakfast bowls. Initially, having had no time to play around with the idea too much I took what I had--oatmeal--and livened it up with yogurt, toasted walnuts, and a dollop of honey. Then I branched out à la Trader Joe's with a canister of their Organic Multigrain Hot Cereal, a mix of rye, barley, oats, and wheat. I topped that with this tangy Bellwether Farms vanilla sheep's milk yogurt that I love, along with blueberries and honey. That's been my staple for weeks now.

But while at Whole Foods recently I was eying the grains they sell by bulk and came across buckwheat groats. Now these aren't exactly foreign to me. I grew up eating kasha (buckwheat groats) varnishkes. This is a traditional Eastern European Jewish dish that combines the toasted kasha with bowtie noodles (the practical Jewish American translation of the "varnishkes") in a heavenly mixture of onions and mushrooms sautéed in chicken fat. It has a distinctive nutty aroma from the kasha that becomes one of those childhood memories that never leaves you.

Out of that nostalgia I filled up a bag with the buckwheat groats and took it home. And kept staring at it as I tried to decide how to enjoy it. I finally concluded I'd use part of it to make a breakfast bowl.

Dutifully I soaked them overnight to help speed up the cooking process. The next morning I put the now slimy groats into a colander and rinsed them well. Then into a small saucepan they went to toast a little on the stove. Once I got that wonderful aroma I added milk (You can use water if you don't want the dairy; I like the creaminess it creates), a pinch of salt, and--get this--pumpkin pie spice. Yeah, you know that little jar you pull out once a year to make your pie (and that you really should toss because it probably no longer has any flavor)? Well, if you just bought it last fall for Thanksgiving this is a great way to get additional use out of it. After all, what better way to enjoy a porridge than by flavoring it with cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom? No pumpkin pie spice jar? No worries. Just toss in a half stick of cinnamon.

Okay, so the groats are mixed with milk, salt and the pumpkin pie spice. Bring the mixture to a simmer and keep stirring until the liquid mostly evaporates. Now if you read other instructions for making porridge--with oatmeal, buckwheat, or other grains--they'll probably tell you to cover the pot during this stage. My advice is don't do it. You will (especially if you have an electric stovetop) experience major bubbling over that's a drag to clean. Just keep the lid off, monitor the heat, and stir until it reaches the consistency you like.

Pour the buckwheat porridge into bowls and add a little sweetener. It could be honey, brown sugar, molasses... whatever you like. I mixed in a couple pinches of maple sugar. Then I topped it with low-fat vanilla yogurt and a handful of blueberries. You can change your toppings with the seasons--toasted nuts, berries, chopped figs, sliced bananas, toasted coconut, raisins or other dried fruit all work well.

And I have more cooked porridge to warm up for tomorrow.

Buckwheat Groats Cereal with Yogurt and Blueberries
(printable recipe)
Serves 4

1 cup buckwheat groats
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or half a cinnamon stick)
Pinch of sea salt
Sugar or other sweetener to taste
1 cup yogurt
1 cup fresh blueberries

1. Soak the buckwheat groats in a bowl of water overnight. The next morning, pour them into a colander, rinse them under cold water to remove the slimy texture, and drain.
2. Place the buckwheat groats in a saucepan on a stovetop and toast them while stirring until you can smell a nutty aroma--just a couple of minutes. Then add the milk, pumpkin pie spice, and sea salt. Stir well and let the mixture come to a simmer. Adjust the heat so it doesn't boil over and stir periodically until most of the liquid is absorbed.
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in your sweetener. Spoon the cereal into bowls and top with yogurt and then berries.

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