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Buckwheat Beauties

March 26, 1997|MARY CARROLL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Carroll is the author of the "No Cholesterol (No Kidding!) Cookbook" (Rodale Press, 1991)

I first tasted buckwheat during a 1975 trip to the then-Soviet Union; it's a food staple in many regions there and in Eastern Europe. My hosts called it kasha and served it in heavy crockery bowls. The kasha was cooked to a thick porridge and topped with yellow cream and raisins, making a truly satisfying breakfast.

Buckwheat is part of the rhubarb family, and for this reason botanists consider it a seed rather than a grain. It grows in a tricornered groat and requires a special huller to remove the thick covering. When buckwheat is hulled, it is an ashen color; more commonly, hulled buckwheat groats are toasted, developing a spicy aroma and turning coffee-colored.

Besides using the whole buckwheat groat as kasha, Eastern European cooks often use ground buckwheat as flour. Light buckwheat flour is ground from untoasted groats; dark flour from the unhulled buckwheat. The amino acid lysine is found in the hull, making the dark flour slightly superior nutritionally. You can see the tiny dark flakes of buckwheat hull in many buckwheat recipes made with the dark flour.

Buckwheat flour adds nutrition and a rich flavor to pancakes, muffins and quick breads, but it is heavy and must be used in small amounts. I can replace up to one-third of the total amount of flour with buckwheat flour and still get a light result, as in this crepe recipe.

BRITTANY BUCKWHEAT CREPES

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups nonfat milk

2 tablespoons safflower oil, plus extra for pan

1/2 teaspoon salt

Adapted from an original Breton recipe I picked up on a visit to France, these crepes are delicious wrapped around sauteed mushrooms or steamed fresh asparagus. Cooked crepes can be wrapped in plastic wrap between layers of paper towels and refrigerated or frozen.

Combine buckwheat flour, all-purpose flour, eggs, milk, oil and salt in blender and process on high until batter is smooth, about 2 minutes.

Heat 10-inch nonstick crepe pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly brush surface of pan with oil. Pour about 1/3 cup batter into pan and tilt pan to swirl batter evenly over surface, then pour excess batter back into blender.

Cook crepe 1 minute, then flip and cook 30 seconds. Turn out onto plate. Repeat with remaining batter.

12 crepes. Each crepe:

109 calories; 138 mg sodium; 82 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.12 gram fiber.

KASHA WITH POTATOES AND CARROTS

The potatoes can be replaced with noodles in this traditional Eastern European side dish.

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 small onion, thinly sliced

1 carrot, thinly sliced

2 small red boiling potatoes, peeled and diced

1 cup toasted buckwheat groats

2 cups low-fat chicken broth

Salt, pepper

1/4 cup minced parsley

Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute, stirring frequently, until soft, about 3 minutes.

Add carrot slices, potatoes and buckwheat and cook, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes.

Add broth. Bring to boil. Lower heat to medium and cook, covered, until buckwheat is tender and potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley.

4 servings. Each serving:

93 calories; 375 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 17 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.67 gram fiber.

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