Buckwheat was first grown thousands of years ago in China and Japan. It isn’t, in fact, a cereal grain, but is the seed of a plant that belongs to the same family as dock and sorrel. It is also closely related to the rhubarb family. The seeds look like grains and can be cooked in the same way. Buckwheat provides useful amounts of minerals, vitamin B, potassium, phosphorus and dietary fibre. Kasha is the name frequently given to whole buckwheat grains (often cracked) that have been toasted or roasted.
Burghul (bulgur wheat)
Originating from the Persian word meaning ‘bruised grain’, burghul is made of wheat that has been boiled, dried, hulled and shredded. Burghul has a nutty and slightly savoury taste. Although it is often referred to as cracked wheat, it has had the bran removed, which cracked wheat has not. Burghul is available ground to fine, medium or coarse granules. Soak grains in hot water for 15 to 20 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the grains have expanded and become fluffy. With its golden hue and pronounced nutty flavour, burghul is a delicious addition to Middle Eastern dishes. It is best known in tabouleh, a salad containing tomatoes, onions, parsley and mint.
It is hard to imagine North African cooking without the addition of couscous. Couscous is coarse-ground wheat made into tiny balls and pre-cooked. Preparing ‘real’ couscous is quite time-consuming but, fortunately, there are some good-quality instant varieties on the market. To prepare them, add boiling water or stock (broth) and then leave to stand for a few minutes before stirring in a little butter and fluffing up the grains with a fork. Couscous is best used in Moroccan and Mediterranean-style salads.
Pronounced ‘keen-wah’, this small grain originally came from the Andes in South America. It can be used like brown rice in salads but has a slightly sweeter taste. The small, round grains contain many valuable nutrients. Used in a salad, boiled quinoa grains taste best with green vegetables and light vinaigrettes, but also team well with bell peppers, sweet corn or ham. Quinoa has the added healthy advantage of being gluten-free.