A word about buckwheat. Not too long ago, I came upon a cooking discussion thread, in which people were wondering whether buckwheat is palatable. Most Americans treat it as a very exotic grain and seem convinced that there is no way to consume it except mixed with a large quantity of noodles.

Buckwheat is a staple of Russian cuisine. It is versatile, easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. It is also a healthy grain, gluten-free and low in calories (although keep in mind, its caloric content can vary dramatically depending on how you dress it and what you add). Flour made from buckwheat has an incomparable chocolaty aroma, and makes a wonderful addition to crepe or pancake batter. So try it; it really is superb.

Braised chicken

1 chicken, carved into 6-8 pieces;
1 lb shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup crème fraîche (or sour cream, but crème fraîche is better)
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
ground sage
minced Italian parsley

– Melt butter in a deep skillet and keep warm. Season the chicken pieces with salt, pepper and sage. Sear over high heat until a golden-brown crust begins to form, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to pieces to a Dutch oven.

– Add mushrooms to the skillet, season lightly and saute until they have reabsorbed their liquid.

— Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. (Add a little more butter if the mixture is too thick and the flour forms clumps.)

— Pour the chicken broth into the skillet in a thin stream, while whisking the mixture until a slightly thickened sauce forms. Whisk in crème fraîche, adjust the seasonings and pour the sauce over the chicken.

— Set the Dutch oven over a low flame and cook, covered for 1 hour.

— Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Buckwheat with smoked bacon

2 cups dark buckwheat groats (if the groats are light-brown, roast them in a skillet over medium heat for about 20 minutes and let cook before cooking)
1/3 lb smoked bacon, diced
salt and pepper to taste

– Briefly soak buckwheat in cool water to remove any impurities. Drain. Repeat 1-2 more times.

– Transfer the buckwheat to a pot and add 2 cups cold water. Set over high heat until the liquid comes to a boil. Season with salt and pepper, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove the lid and allow to cook for 5 more minutes, so that any excess liquid evaporates.

– While the buckwheat is cooking, saute the bacon until the pieces begin to crisp, but are still soft in the middle. Drain, but reserve 1 tbsp bacon fat.

– When the buckwheat is ready, add the bacon and the reserved bacon fat. Adjust the seasonings and serve.