Montmartre is an overly touristy yet charming neighbourhood in Paris, offering glimpses into the city’s artistic and bohemian culture. Narrow, winding lanes are home to artists painting on their easels and selling their art, souvenir shops, pretty cafés with tables and chairs set up on the sidewalk, and, of course, hordes of tourists.
Many of the cafés in the area serve crêpes made to order, my personal favourite being galettes made from buckwheat flour. These crêpes have a distinct dark colour, coarser texture and nuttier flavour than those made with all-purpose or wheat flour.
Buckwheat crêpes originated in the Brittany region of France, where the rocky terrain meant that only hardy crops like buckwheat could grow easily. Breton pubs and cafés throughout Paris serve galettes, which are well-suited to savoury fillings such as spinach, goat’s cheese, egg, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and grilled vegetables. Ham and cheese is another popular filling for savoury crêpes.
Buckwheat flour is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to plain flour due to its high protein content, significantly higher fibre content (four times that of plain flour) and essential mineral content (such as magnesium and potassium). Its lower glycemic index makes it suitable for diabetics and pre-diabetics. Additionally, buckwheat flour is naturally gluten-free.
Buckwheat is not foreign to Indian cuisine. Known as kuttu in Hindi, it is a flour commonly used in fasting foods. Buckwheat is not a cereal or a grain but a seed, making it an ingredient acceptable for fasting. Kuttu ka atta is used to make puris, pakoras and parathas during religious fasts. It can also be used to prepare dhoklas, chilas and dosas.
To add some extra nutrients to baked goodies like muffins, tea cakes, breads or brownies, you may replace up to 25% of the plain flour with buckwheat flour without affecting the end result of flavour and texture markedly.
My other memorable experience with buckwheat, over a decade ago, was walking into my Korean friend and neighbour’s kitchen and getting to taste freshly deep-fried crunchy buckwheat noodles with a sprinkling of salt that she was making for a snack.
Buckwheat, known as memil in Korean, is a much loved ingredient in Korean cuisine. Buckwheat noodles are particularly popular and are often served as an official coming-of-age dish. In the past, hosts would serve this dish as lunch to guests after the coming-of-age ceremony, or gwanje, one of the four ceremonial milestones of life during the Joseon period (1392-1910).
Add buckwheat flour to your pantry and you are sure to get inspiration from a variety of cuisines. Do remember to store the flour in the freezer as it tends to go rancid.
Galette Brettone with spinach and cheese
Makes 4 galettes
Half cup + 2 tbsp buckwheat flour
A pinch of salt
2 tbsp melted butter
1 cup milk
Toppings for 4 galettes
2 cups spinach leaves
1-2 tsp olive oil
4 tbsp grated cheese (Gruyère)
Butter or oil to fry the eggs
1 tsp red chilli flakes
1 tsp crushed black pepper
A pinch of salt
In a bowl or a jug, mix the flour with the salt. Add the melted butter, egg and milk and whisk until you get a smooth mixture. You can use it right away or keep it aside for 30 minutes.
Heat a cast-iron tava or non-stick pan.
To prepare the spinach for topping, blanch the leaves in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds and then plunge them in a bowl of iced water. Remove and squeeze out the excess water. Toss in 1-2 tsp of olive oil and keep aside.
Traditionally, to make the crêpes/galettes, a ladle or two of this batter is poured in the lightly greased pan, spread out quickly by tilting the pan around and the excess batter poured off. This needs practice to be done swiftly, so beginners can pour a ladle or two of batter on the tava and spread it out thin like a dosa. Once you see bubbles around the circumference, flip it and cook the other side as well.
While the galette is getting made, fry an egg in another pan in butter or olive oil until the white is set.
Once the crêpe is ready, place some blanched spinach in the centre. Top with grated cheese and fried egg. Fold the edges of the crêpe, partly covering the egg to make a square. Top with a sprinkle of salt, chilli flakes and black pepper. Serve immediately.
Buckwheat Oat Pancakes
Half cup buckwheat flour
Half cup oat flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
Half tsp baking soda
Half tsp salt
Half tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup milk
2 tbsp melted butter
Half tsp oil to grease the pan
Toppings: Use any of these
Sliced bananas/strawberries preserve
In a bowl, combine all the dry ingredients with a whisk. Combine the wet ingredients (milk, yogurt, egg, melted butter) in a jug. Whisk well and pour it into the dry ingredients. Stir to combine.
To prepare pancakes, lightly grease a moderately hot skillet with a few drops of oil. Pour a quarter-cup of batter per pancake on the skillet. Once you see bubbles along the circumference (~2 minutes), flip and cook the other side for one-two minutes. Depending on the size of the pan, you can prepare three-four pancakes in one batch. Serve warm with toppings of your choice.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). @saffrontrail on Instagram and Twitter.