Back in the day, when I was a chef at Café Kardamena in St. Paul, I used to make these warming croquettes frequently during those what-seemed-like-endless Minnesota winters. Now that I’m cooking in mild California, I only serve them about once a year, but they remain one of my favorites. Buckwheat and potatoes seem made for each other, and fried with a crisp crust–yum! The croquette’s caramelized onion gravy is enriched with sunflower butter. Although not as well known as peanut butter or tahini, sunflower butter has a unique, rich taste all its own, which I truly think you’d love. I’ve paired the croquette with three seasonal vegetable dishes: one raw, one boiled and mashed, one pickled. Three flavors, colors and preparation methods all of which add a light, bright foil to the hearty croquettes. More menu descriptions with recipes, after the jump…
Yield: 6 croquettes
2 cups toasted buckwheat
4 cups boiling water
1 large potato (about 1 pound), chopped, boiled and mashed
1 tablespoon Earth Balance or 2 teaspoons olive oil (optional)
1/2 large onion, peeled and diced
1/2 carrot, grated
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds, chopped (optional)
1/4 cup parsley, minced
salt, pepper, soy sauce, umeboshi vinegar (to taste)
1. Buy already toasted buckwheat if you can, or toast raw buckwheat in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, 5-7 minutes, or until it turns brown and gives off a toasty smell.
2. Simmer the buckwheat in 4 cups water, covered, for 25 minutes. Check to see if it is moist, fully cooked and a bit sticky. If not, add 1/2 cup or more boiling water, cover and continue cooking 10-15 minutes longer. You are aiming for buckwheat that is wetter and stickier than buckwheat cooked for other purposes.
3. Wash, rough cut and boil the potato in lightly-salted water to cover until tender. Drain, saving the cooking water, and mash, adding a pinch of salt, the Earth Balance or olive and a little bit of cooking liquid if necessary. It is better if the potato is a little on the dry side.
4. Sauté the onions, carrots and garlic in the cast iron skillet 5-7 minutes or until tender. Season with soy sauce, umeboshi vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Combine the buckwheat, potato, vegetables, sunflower seeds and parsley in a large mixing bowl and stir together well. Check seasoning. Place one third of this mixture in a food processor and process until well mixed and very sticky (add a little of the potato cooking water if necessary). Add this back to the rest of the mixture and combine well (processing some ensures that your croquettes will stick together).
6. Form into six or so 3-inch croquettes.
7. Brush lightly with oil and bake for 30 minutes in a 375º F oven, or until a light crust forms on the tops and bottoms. Or alternatively, wipe out the cast iron skillet, add a generous quantity of oil, get it hot and fry the croquettes over medium-high heat 7-8 minutes on a side or until golden and crusty. The first method saves fat and calories, while frying adds a richer, crunchier crust. Serve with gravy or sauce of choice.
CARAMELIZED ONION AND SUNFLOWER BUTTER GRAVY
Yield: 3 cups
2 medium onions, peeled, cut in half horizontally, then thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons barley miso (or to taste)
2 teaspoons soy sauce (or to taste)
1 teaspoon mixed dried French herbs (optional)
2 tablespoons sunflower butter, or to taste
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (optional)
1/4 cup rice flour dissolved in 1 cup water
black pepper to taste
1. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan or cast iron skillet, add the onion and garlic and sauté over medium high heat, stirring frequently until the onions just begin to brown (6-7 minutes). Turn down the heat, sprinkle on the salt and dried herbs and sauté slowly until the onions caramelize (another 10 minutes or so). Add a little water if they begin to dry out.
2. Add the vegetable stock or water, the soy sauce, nutritional yeast and the miso, stir and turn up the heat until the mixture boils. Simmer a few minutes, then dissolve the rice flour in the remaining 1 cup water, whisk this into the sauce to thicken it. Cook 4-5 minutes, and turn off heat.
3. Whisk in the sunflower butter. Check the seasoning, adding salt, pepper and soy sauce as needed. Stir in the parsley just before serving.
FRESH KALE SALAD
Wash a medium bunch of fresh kale. Trim out the stems if they seem thick and tough. Cut the leaves in half lengthwise, then julienne the leaves, similar to what you would do if making cole slaw. Place in a salad bowl and toss with a little pinch of salt and let sit for 15 minutes or so. Toss lightly with a refreshing dressing such as James Holloway’s Cumin-Lime Vinaigrette.
MASHED CARROTS AND PARSNIPS
Wash, trim and rough cut 2 pounds of carrots and 1 pound of parsnips. Cover with lightly salted water, and boil gently until very tender. Drain, saving the cooking water, and mash with a potato masher or purée in a food processor (add back a little cooking water, if necessary, to get a smoother purée). Season with a teaspoon or two of olive oil or Earth Balance, a little bit of freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to your taste.
PICKLED RED CABBAGE