Violets and Amaranth

Eating weeds and gaining grains: an adventure in eating

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The A-Z: A subtle use for Buckwheat- Indian style!

When we became gluten-free, we took a moment to think about why wheat flour is so prevalent throughout human culinary traditions.  It is in everything, in almost every genre of food we could think of.  Agro-environmental geographer that I am, I started wondering, just what is the history, politics, and economics behind the “other” flours?  What are these lesser known grains that others use around the world, but receive little notice in our wheat flour cooking culture?  What cooking and baking strengths do each have, and how easy can we find them in this newly gluten-aware world.

As I manage to find these flours and try them out, I’ll add new A-Z posts featuring what I did with that flour and what I learned about its culture and history.  I don’t know how long it will take to get through the main ones, but if anyone has suggestions, feel free to share!  Right now I’m working off of the list in Bette Hagman’s The Gluten Free Gourmet.  If you have anything to add, please do!

Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat.  From what I pieced together from Wikipedia, and an alternative field crop manual I found from the University of Wisconsin extension office ( , buckwheat is native to SE Asia.  It was an easy crop for people to move around because it grows best in short, cool seasons and the soil it grows in can be of poor quality.  It doesn’t like lots of nitrogen (usually when you add fertilizer to soil, you’re adding nitrogen back in).  This was an early crop brought to North America by the Europeans, and in the few places it is grown in the US, it seems to be east of the Mississippi still.

Before adopting a gluten-free diet, we used to eat buckwheat pancakes (we know them as ploys) and as soba noodles with Japanese dishes.  We discovered, however, that typically buckwheat is mixed with regular wheat.  We have yet to try pure buckwheat pancakes, and the pure buckwheat soba noodles always stick and clump together, which is a disappointment.  I’m sure I’ll have posts in the future about successes with buckwheat.  For now, the consistent way I’ve found success with buckwheat is as a replacement for whole wheat flours.

Buckwheat has an earthy, nutty flavor, and it is strong.  A little does go a long way.  I have found that even in cakes that call for whole wheat flour, buckwheat does well.

-The Chapatis Experiment

We had a dear friend over for diner a couple of weekends ago, and she unwittingly agreed to be our guinea pig.  We used to live in the same town, and Indian food was one of our favorite genres of food to share.  A couple of months back I stumbled across this fabulous recipe for paneer masala (  Since going gluten-free, we haven’t had any bread with our Indian food.  Company was the perfect excuse to try.

I decided to combine two different chapatis recipes, one from Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking, and one from a book called The Higher Taste, which is distributed by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.  From Jaffrey, I took smaller proportions, and the idea that I could cut the whole wheat flour 1/2 and 1/2 with all-purpose flour.  From The Higher Taste,  I took the addition of yogurt to the dough, which I thought might help bind the bread in case my replacements for wheat didn’t have the right properties.

I used:

1/2 cup bean 4 flour blend (a post on this is forthcoming!)

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

less than 1/2 cup yogurt

1/2 cup water

The dough came together well, but getting dough to come together seems like the easy part.  It is getting the dough to work that is hard!

The dough did work, and it formed perfect little balls.  They turned out well, and the flavor was good.  The only problem was on our end.  We didn’t have a good way to heat them over a gas flame to make them poof up.  So, we can’t claim this was a success completely, since we don’t know if the buckwheat will puff the way wheat will, but it did taste good and it worked for scooping up the yummy paneer masala!  Even our dinner guest seemed pleased!