Buckwheat Crepes - Sweet & Savory

Now that buckwheat’s been officially anointed one of the six superfoods for 2006 by Dr. Andrew Weil, I’d like to add that buckwheat is practically the healthiest grain you could possibly eat. Except that it isn’t really a grain at all — it’s really a relative of rhubarb, and therefore, a kind of fruit.

However you classify it, buckwheat is the best source of complex carbohydrates in the plant world. And because buckwheat is high in all eight amino acids, it’s closer to being a complete protein than even soybeans, as Bert Greene noted in his classic Grains Cookbook.

Greene adds that buckwheat has something nutritionists call a “protein-sparing effect,” which Greene compares to “an interest-bearing bank account; it allows the body to meet its energy requirements without dipping into its protein reserves. Any excess that the body accrues are reserved, like interest, to be called upon for cell building and tissue repair if the body malfunctions.”

But wait! The news about buckwheat just gets better. Buckwheat is a hardy plant that requires virtually no chemicals to grow or process, so it’s always been grown organically. Farmers grow it as a “cover crop,” a plant that actually puts nutrients back into the soil for the next crop.

The home gardener benefits from buckwheat, too; you can accomplish both weeding and fertilizing simply by tossing a handful of buckwheat seeds onto your soil. Buckwheat breaks up heavy clay soils, chokes out weeds, and gives the bees something to buzz about (BTW, buckwheat honey, dark and delicious, has the highest antioxidants of any honey). I buy my buckwheat seeds from the seed co-op Fedco each spring to get my soil in shape for all the greens and other goodies I’ll be growing in a couple of months.

Buckwheat was first cultivated centuries ago in China and Siberia. Europeans discovered buckwheat sometime in the Middle Ages, perhaps courtesy of the invading Moors (apparently, it’s a time-honored tradition to bring culinary souvenirs of your homeland on an invasion; remember those packets of peanut butter we dropped on the Iraqis?)

Dutch farmers brought buckwheat to the Hudson Valley in the mid 1600’s, and the world’s number one producer of buckwheat products, Birkett Mills, has been operating in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region continuously since 1797. No, that’s not a typo; these people have been producing buckwheat for over two centuries.

Most Americans, if they eat buckwheat at all, have it in the form of buckwheat pancakes. This is a great way to start your day, especially if you make them with buttermilk and blueberries, but what about lunch, dinner and dessert?

Kasha varnishkes is classic Jewish comfort food, pairing buckwheat groats, or kasha, with bow-tie pasta and onions. Asian cuisine offers us buckwheat soba noodles, and you can sometimes find buckwheat fettucine, whether fresh and locally made, or frozen from Italy.

But what can you do with buckwheat flour, besides make pancakes? Since buckwheat has no gluten, I thought it would be great for making crêpes, so I experimented and came up with two versions; one, a buckwheat/chickpea flour blend, perfect for savory crêpes; the other, a buckwheat/graham flour crêpe, for a slightly decadent dessert.

Crêpes may sound fancy, but don’t be deceived by the French accent; they’re actually really easy and quick to prepare. Best of all, you can make them up ahead of time, and reheat them when you’re ready. I adapted Mollie Katzen’s crêpe recipe from the legendary Moosewood Cookbook. As Katzen notes, crêpes are a great way to use up leftovers.

 

Kat’s Savory Buckwheat Crêpes:

1 large egg

1 1/4 cups lowfat or nonfat milk

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

1/2 cup chickpea flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

Using a blender or a handheld mixer, mix all ingredients till smooth.

Heat up a crêpe or omelette pan (or make do with a small saucepan). Spray generously with canola cooking spray. Pour 1/4 cup batter into pan and swirl gently to distribute (too much batter will make the crêpe more of a pancake, so be sparing). Cook over medium heat until set, half a minute or so, and then flip, cooking for a few seconds longer on the other side.

Fill with the filling of your choice; we had great success with leftover curried vegetables, but you can fill crêpes with whatever you like. Another favorite filling combines sour cream and Echo Fall’s wild whitefish caviar, an affordable luxury at under $10. Smoked salmon would work well, too.

My dessert crêpes were inspired by our undying love for s’mores, which is why I made them with chocolate soymilk instead of regular milk, and added graham flour. If you’re not a chocoholic, use vanilla soymilk instead and fill them with jam, or a blend of berries and fresh ricotta.

 

Kat’s Sweet Buckwheat Crêpes:

1 large egg

1 1/4 cups chocolate soymilk

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

1/2 cup graham flour (Bob’s Red Mill has a great stone ground whole wheat graham flour)

1/4 tsp salt

1 tablespoon honey

Prepare the batter and cook following the directions for the savory crêpes above.

For a s’more style crêpe, spread one side of your crêpe with Tiny Trapeze marshmallow crème, or good ol’ classic Fluff. On the other side, spread a tablespoon or so of Le Pain Quotidien’s Belgian dark chocolate “Noir,” or Nutella. Another excellent combination is the chocolate spread of your choice with orange marmalade; I used St. Dalfour’s ginger & marmalade spread, which adds a nice bite to the blend of chocolate and orange.

If you really want to gild the lily, serve your dessert crêpes with whipped cream, or even ice cream. Buckwheat honey ice cream, maybe? Don’t laugh; I’ve got the recipe.

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