Grains are one of the most nutritious and healthy foodstuffs, and yet the modern diet seems to be less and less depending on them as a source of energy. Flours and breads available in supermarkets are often industrially-made, with low quality wheat, devoid of its most valuable parts. What we are eating in our white loaf of bread or fluffy morning bread roll is mostly sugar, presenting very little nutritional value. Switching to whole wheat bread or good quality, honest sourdough would not suffice, unfortunately, to make our gut (and hence, our bodies) healthy and well functioning again.
Groats or kasha (in Polish ‘kasza’) are a great solution for everyone who wants to enrich their diet in valuable nutrients. They come in many varieties, are easy to cook and they are cheap. Why then are groats still hugely omitted in our daily meals, and often replaced with less valuable mashed potatoes, white rice or pasta? For a long time, kasha was often associated with poverty: cheap peasants’ food from centuries behind, not especially aesthetically appealing and without any distinctive, strong taste. And even though groats were the basis of many diets for centuries, the tradition of eating them is disappearing throughout the world. Or shall I say was?
Kasza, another food fad?
For the past few years some exotic groats seem to be having their five minutes, which (I am hoping) will last longer than just a lifetime of a food fad. Quinoa, couscous and bulgur with their sudden popularity brought back the attention to nutrition: what we put on our plate does actually matter, even if it’s not aesthetically pleasing. The very idea of ‘aesthetics’ though is (to say the least) arbitrary, as I don’t know who decides what is and what is not ‘pretty’ or ‘picture perfect’. In my humble opinion, kasza is super presentable and I admire it not only for flavour, healthiness and texture, but for the looks, too!
How is it made?
Kasza is made through processing different types of grains, but some groats are made from different plants, too (corn, buckwheat). Grains or seeds are devoid of their hulls, which often become the basis of animal feed. What’s left, is further processed: the coarse groats are only polished (for example buckwheat groats), and finer ones (like semolina or barley groats) are broken into smaller pieces. Groats keep the nutrients of the grains or seeds they are processed from, and have no added nonsense. No additives, no preservatives, nothing what could scare us off when reading the label of a kasza pack in the store.
Why is kasza healthy?
What makes kasza so healthy then? They are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which ensure the slow release of energy to our body and prevent ‘sugar rushes’ (the quick release of insulin to blood), and so they are often recommended for people with diabetes. Groats are rich in cellulose, which makes it a great gut help: it helps our intestines work and prevents indigestion.
Kasza is rich in vitamin B, folic acid, magnesium and vitamin E. It also contains high levels of proteins, which makes it a great meat substitute for vegetarians, vegans and everyone who wants to limit meat consumption. Still need convincing?
Buckwheat groats, a forgotten gem.
Today, I am introducing my favourite kasza, kasza gryczana (or buckwheat groats), hugely forgotten in our diets. Still very popular in Poland and other Eastern European countries, where it’s traditionally eaten with rich, creamy sauces, mushrooms or meats. It is also used as a filling for pierogi. In East Asia, especially Japan, buckwheat is used to make soba noodles, brown and thin noodles eaten with soup or sauce.
Buckwheat groats are gluten free, as they are not made out of grains at all. Buckwheat is a plant related to rhubarb and sorrel more than it is to grass. It’s been cultivated for millennia, enriching diets of peoples in many regions. Nowadays, major producers of buckwheat are Russia, China, Ukraine, France, United States, Poland and Brazil.
Buckwheat groats contain high levels of protein, 10-16%, depending on where it was cultivated (the hotter the climate, the more protein in kasza). Buckwheat groats have also a low glycemic index, which makes it a great food for those who suffer from diabetes. It can regulate insulin concentration in our bodies and the amount of androgens, for which it’s often recommended to women suffering from polycystic ovaries syndrome.
It also doesn’t contain gluten (unless it was ‘polluted’ during processing), and so it can be safely consumed by people with various gluten intolerances and people suffering from celiac disease.
Compared to other groats, buckwheat groats are especially rich in calcium, phosphorus and folic acid. It contains twice as much potassium and manganese, five times more magnesium, twice as much iron, and three times more zinc than oats.
And although groats are high in calories, don’t get scared! Not all calories are equal, and believe me, you’ll be much better off eating a bowl of buckwheat groats (containing 336kcal in 100g) than a cheeseburger.
How to cook buckwheat groats?
Boil about 1 litre of water in a saucepan. Bare in mind that one cup of kasza requires 2 cups of water. Add a tiny splash of oil or olive oil. Once the water is boiling, add kasza and cook for about 10-15 minutes, with the lid on. After that time, take off the heat and set aside with the lid on for another few minutes. Drain the remaining water off, and voila – your kasza is ready!
What to do with such cooked kasza? You can swap your white rice, pasta, mashed potatoes or any other dinner accompaniment for kasza. It goes great with stews, like this Pork and Vegetable Stew or this Vegetable Ragout with Courgettes, Tomatoes and Peppers. It’s also great with soups, I like eating my Broccoli and Green Peas soup, Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup or Red Pepper Soup with two-three spoons of kasza, or Krupnik, traditionally eaten with barley groats; it makes a great filling for pierogi; a base for vegetarian pates, can be a foundation of salads, like this Green Pepper, Cucumber and Mint Salad; or a stir-fry. Let your imagination go wild and eat well!
More kasza introductions and recipes for dishes with groats soon. Meanwhile, be well everyone! Happy eating!