How to improve your buckwheat ideas

If your soba turns out to be soggy, it's most likely because you're using a green ingredient that hasn't been roasted, our panel of cooks found

I see buckwheat in many recipes. What's the best way to cook it? Mine turned out soggy.

When Alissa Timoshkina was growing up, buckwheat was a staple: “We eat it for breakfast with milk and sugar, as an accompaniment to savory dishes, or as a filling for pie or cabbage rolls,” says Russian author of Salt & Time: Recipes from the Russian Kitchen and one co-founder Olia Hercules of cook for Ukraine fundraising campaign. "Not only is it comforting because it tastes like childhood, but it's also good nutritionally."

The first thing to note is that buckwheat comes two ways: green (or unroasted) and roasted (known as kasha, or kasza in Polish). “It makes a big difference,” says Timoshkina. While baked goods "have a nice, spicy quality", greens have a habit of "coming out glum and almost gooey". That said, Zuza Zak, author of Pierogi: Over 50 Recipes for Making the Perfect Polish Dumplings, keeps both in her cupboard: “Sometimes I want that robust buckwheat roast – and it's definitely an eastern European flavor – but anywhere else I want the taste. which is softer than unroasted buckwheat.”

What you don't want, however, is a mushy texture, and one explanation for Zeena's spoiled buckwheat could be that it was soaked before cooking. “It will be a mess if you do that,” says Timoshkina. "It's a soft grain." It's much better to add it straight into the pot or, as Zak did, rinse it first in cold water. Other porridge-makers may overcook it with too much water, or overcook it: "Watch it, and keep on tasting," says Timoshkina.

So, what's the best way to cook buckwheat? Timoshkina treated hers like couscous, dropping them into a pot of salted boiling water "just above the 'grain' level", then covering them and letting them sit overnight: "The buckwheat soaked up all the brine, but didn't overcook." Granted, it requires planning ahead, but when dinner time rolls around the next day, all that's left to do is toss the buckwheat into an herb salad or mushroom stir-fry, or tuck it into a cabbage roll.

Another strategy that requires some forethought is one Zak learned from his grandmother, in which buckwheat is cooked in salted water for about 15 minutes (until the liquid is absorbed), then covered. “Wrap it in a tea towel so the lid is secure, then wrap it in a large towel or blanket. Grandma would then tuck the package under the covers on Grandpa's bed for an hour."

However, if you don't have the time or inclination for that kind of behavior, Zak suggests cooking it like rice. Again, cover the grout with saltwater ("maybe 1½cm on top"), bring to a boil, cover and simmer until the water is gone. Turn off the heat and let it steam for 20-30 minutes, which makes all the difference: "This is the secret to great kasza," says Zak. "If Zeena does this and it's still soggy then she must have poor quality kasza and I won't be buying her again."

If you're still unsure, Timoshkina's "foolproof option" is to cook the grout in "double the amount of salted water," then, once it's al dente (remember, taste, taste, taste), strain it. Alternatively, use buckwheat in risotto instead of arborio rice. It's a stirring thing.

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