Bravo to Buckwheat

Buckwheat is one of those foodstuffs which is sorely unappreciated. It doesn’t appear on too many menus or as a featured ingredient, and most people mistakenly think of it as just another grain. In terms of the botanical, buckwheat is actually a fruit though often referred to as a ‘pseudograin‘ because of it’s grain-like qualities. Yet another reason to sing its praises is that buckwheat is (like quinoa and rice) naturally gluten-free, making it a safe food for coeliacs.

There are a few buckwheat dishes in Korean cuisine, one being a jelly made from buckwheat flour (which is another post in itself), but my favourite is a cold noodle dish which goes down a treat in summer!

Buckwheat noodles are called soba in Japanaese cuisine, and in Korean are called ‘meh-mil’ – you should be able to buy them under either name in most Asian grocery stores, and it’s quite worthwhile having them in the pantry as they are versatile and go well in most noodle soups (though they do seem to go better in cold dishes rather than hot ones).


Cold Mixed Buckwheat Noodles

Ingredients (to serve 2)
200g buckwheat noodles
1-2 medium sized carrots, grated
1 Lebanese cucumber (or any other thin skinned variety)
1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
2 medium sized tomatoes, sliced
2 boiled eggs
4 tbsp gochujjang*
1 tbsp sesame oil
1-2 tbsp caster sugar
1/4 scant tsp dashi powder*
Toasted sesame seeds, to serve

*Gochujjang is a thick chilli paste used in Korean cuisine. Wikipedia says it is “a spicy Korean condiment, made from glutinous rice powder (also called sticky rice powder, it is the stuff used to make mochi) mixed with powdered fermented soybeans, red chili powder, and salt, and fermented, traditionally in the sun. Other grains can be substitued for the glutinous rice, including normal rice, wheat, and barley. A small amount of sweetener, such as sugar, syrup, or honey is also sometimes added. It is a dark, reddish paste with a rich, spicy flavour.”

*Dashi powder is just Japanese soup stock powder, and can be found in both vegetarian and meaty varieties (commonly used ones are made from Konbu/seaweed, fish or beef)

1. Boil water and then add the noodles, cook till they are just a little past al dente (maybe 1-2 minutes after they reach the al dente point), rinse immediately in cold water to stop the cooking process, then drain in a colander.

2. In a small bowl, mix together the gochujjang, sesame oil, caster sugar and dashi and taste – it should be a smooth and liquidy, tasting quite hot and sweet. Put aside.

3. Take the drained noodles and dump into a large mixing bowl with all the prepared vegetables. Add half the chilli mix and mix everything through, making sure to coat all the noodles in the chilli sauce evenly. Taste one of the noodles and if you think it needs more sauce, add more.

4. Serve in individual bowls, sprinkle over some toasted sesame seeds and top with a boiled egg.

Served cold, this is a beautiful summer dish as it is quite refreshing despite the fiery nature of the chilli sauce

The crucial parts of this dish are the sauce and the noodles, in terms of veggies you’d really be able to add almost any mild-flavoured vegetable that can be enjoyed raw. I didn’t have any on hand the day I made this, but fresh bean shoots work marvellously here, providing a little extra sweetness and crunch :)

[tags]buckwheat, soba, Korean cuisine, summer cooking, noodles[/tags]


  1. michele says:

    just a warning before any celiac’s out there get excited about a potential product (or waste money)– although buckwheat, despite the name, is gluten free, soba rarely is , despite its name (meaning “buckwheat” in Japanese!). Soba almost always contains wheat flour, but 100% buckwheat soba does exist. A better bet are rice noodles, although if they are mad in Japan, good luck getting cross contamination info (i.e., are the noodles made on gluten-free equipment, in a gluten free facility — both important issues depending on an individual celiac’s sensitivity). Also available are the yam noodles, usually wheat free.

  2. Michele – I generally buy a specific Korean brand which I believe to be 100% buckwheat (I’ll have to check), but thanks for the warning :) Though, for this particular dish, if you needed to sub then I’d suggest rice noodles as yam noodles don’t have the correct texture :)

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