As this year draws to a close, we long for a winter salad, with grains or seeds, heavy with veggies and topped with fresh, creamy cheese. To change things up a bit, I chose to use buckwheat rather than my other favorites for this type of salad, such as barley, farro or freekeh (for a base recipe, please take a look here).
The name 'Buckwheat' is somewhat deceiving as buckwheat is not a grain and has no relation to wheat at all. It is actually a seed, and the plant is a relative of rhubarb. However, it is very similar to a grain, so people tend to include it in that category. Buckwheat is often used in a similar way to rice, barley, bulgar or quinoa, usually as a side dish. You can also use buckwheat for a breakfast porridge with milk, or ground into flour for blini pancakes, bread and noodles. If you are a bit hesitant about the taste of buckwheat, you might enjoy Japanese Soba Noodles, although made from buckwheat flour, they are more delicate and less nutty than buckwheat groats and make delicious salads too.
Buckwheat kernels have a dark hull with a lighter inner seed. And groats are the intact seeds with the hull removed, used for cooking. When toasted, the buckwheat groats are called Kasha, which is how they are most often used in Eastern Europe cooking.
However you chose to serve buckwheat, it has an intense, earthy, slightly nutty and smoky flavor. Look for kasha, or plain groats, in Eastern European markets, health food shops or in the organic aisle at the grocery store, or simply order online. Once you shop for buckwheat and use it, please do remember that buckwheat contains about double the oil of most cereals, which affects its shelf life, so once opened, keep it in an airtight container.
I am using the hulled seed, or toasted buckwheat groats, in this salad. They cook quickly, unlike many other grains, and their nutty flavor is a delicious backdrop for the vegetables and cheese in this salad. The cooked groats are very light and fluffy in comparison to the denseness of many other grains. I love their texture, especially in salads. If you do enjoy buckwheat, feel free to substitute buckwheat for white rice in any dish.
Buckwheat Salad with Burrata, Eggplant, Zucchini & Baby Spinach
For the Salad
- 250g toasted buckwheat groats (also called Kasha)
- 2 zucchini (M), diced
- 2 eggplants (M), diced
- olive oil (some olive oil for frying the veg and some extra virgin olive oil for the salad dressing)
- 100g baby spinach leaves, picked over, washed and dried (best done in a salad spinner)
- one bunch of basil, leaves only, roughly torn (optional)
For the Dressing
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (see above) or more
- one lemon, juiced
- one clove garlic, peeled and crushed (optional)
- freshly ground black pepper, salt (to taste)
- 200g ball burrata, drained and served whole – for looks – or torn into chunks (OR 2 x 125g balls mozzarella. also drained)
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, turn the heat to very low, stir in the buckwheat, cover and cook about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the type of buckwheat you are using, the cooking time might be up to 20 minutes). Set aside for a few minutes with the lid on, then spread on a plate, fluff with a fork and leave to cool.
- Meanwhile, fry eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.
- Once cool, mix them in a large bowl with the buckwheat.
- For the dressing, in a small bowl, lightly whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper (and garlic, if using). Set aside for a few minutes and then drain the garlic from the dressing.
- Pour some of the dressing on the cooled buckwheat with the veg and toss gently to combine.
- Just before serving, stir in the spinach leaves.
- Arrange the buratta OR mozzarella, whole or torn into chunks, on top of OR around the salad and scatter the basil leaves over (optional). Scatter a little salt and pepper on top.
- Quickly whisk up the remaining dressing again if necessary, drizzle it over and serve.
Just a quick note on that lovely Burrata - Burrata is a very decadent cheese – made from mozzarella and cream wrapped in more mozzarella. It is a wonderful addition here but if you cannot get hold of this lovely Italian cheese, feel free to use fresh Mozarella instead. Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham) would also be a nice addition here as the enjoyable saltiness of that Italian ham goes so well with the soft and creamy Burrata and the delightfully nutty Buckwheat.