Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Real Food XI: Sourdough Buckwheat Crepes

Buckwheat was domesticated in Southeast Asia roughly 6,000 years ago. Due to its unusual tolerance of cool growing conditions, poor soils and high altitudes, it spread throughout the Northern latitudes of Eurasia, becoming the staple crop in many regions. It's used to a lesser extent in countries closer to the equator. It was also a staple in the Northeastern US until it was supplanted by wheat and corn.

Buckwheat isn't a grain: it's a 'pseudograin' that comes from a broad-leaved plant. As such, it's not related to wheat and contains no allergenic gluten. Like quinoa, it has some unusual properties that make it a particularly nutritious food. It's about 16 percent protein by calories, ranking it among the highest protein grains. However, it has an advantage over grains: it contains complete protein, meaning it has a balance of essential amino acids similar to animal foods. Buckwheat is also an exceptional source of magnesium and copper, two important nutrients that may influence the risk of insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease (1, 2).

However, like all seeds (including grains and nuts), buckwheat is rich in phytic acid. Phyic acid complexes with certain minerals, preventing their absorption by the human digestive tract. This is one of the reasons why traditional cultures prepare their grains carefully (3). During soaking, and particularly fermentation of raw batters, an enzyme called phytase goes to work breaking down the phytic acid. Not all seeds are endowed with enough phytase to break down phytic acid in a short period of time. Buckwheat contains a lot of phytase, and consequently fermented buckwheat batters contain very little phytic acid (4, 5). It's also high in astringent tannins, but thorough soaking in a large volume of water removes them.

Buckwheat is fermented in a number of traditional cultures. In Bhutan, it's fermented to make flatbreads and alcoholic drinks (6). In Brittany (Bretagne; Northwestern France), sourdough buckwheat flour pancakes are traditional. Originally a poverty food, it is now considered a delicacy.

The following simple recipe is based on my own experimentation with buckwheat. It isn't traditional as far as I know, however it is based on traditional methods used to produce sourdough flatbreads in a number of cultures. I used the word 'crepe' to describe it, but I typically make something more akin to a savory pancake or uttapam. You can use it to make crepes if you wish, but this recipe is not for traditional French buckwheat crepes.

It's important that the buckwheat be raw and whole for this recipe. Raw buckwheat is light green to light brown (as in the photo above). Kasha is toasted buckwheat, and will not substitute properly. It's also important that the water be dechlorinated and the salt non-iodized, as both will interfere with fermentation.

For a fermentation starter, you can use leftover batter from a previous batch (although it doesn't keep very long), or rice soaking water from this method (7).

Ingredients and Materials


  • 2-3 cups raw buckwheat groats
  • Dechlorinated water (filtered, boiled, or rested uncovered overnight)
  • Non-iodized salt (sea salt, pickling salt or kosher salt), 2/3 tsp per cup of buckwheat
  • Fermentation starter (optional), 2 tablespoons
  • Food processor or blender
Recipe
  1. Cover buckwheat with a large amount of dechlorinated water and soak for 9-24 hours. Raw buckwheat is astringent due to water-soluble tannins. Soaking in a large volume of water and giving it a stir from time to time will minimize this. The soaking water will also get slimy. This is normal.
  2. Pour off the soaking water and rinse the buckwheat thoroughly to get rid of the slime and residual tannins.
  3. Blend the buckwheat, salt, dechlorinated water and fermentation starter in a food processor or blender. Add enough water so that it reaches the consistency of pancake batter. The smoother you get the batter, the better the final product will be.
  4. Ferment for about 12 hours, a bit longer or shorter depending on the temperature and whether or not you used a starter. The batter may rise a little bit as the microorganisms get to work. The smell will mellow out. Refrigerate it after fermentation.
  5. In a greased or non-stick skillet, cook the batter at whatever thickness and temperature you prefer. I like to cook a thick 'pancake' with the lid on, at very low heat, so that it steams gently.
Dig in! Its mild flavor goes with almost anything. Batter will keep for about four days in the fridge.

Thanks to Christaface for the CC licensed photo (Flickr).

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