Kasha/buckwheat groats (Recipe: kasha varnishkes)
The Ninecooks World Cuisine Cooking Group — yes, nine of us! — gathers in my kitchen every six weeks or so, to explore the cuisine of a different country or region.
This week, we were off to western Russia, with recipes from Moldavia, Byelorussia (aka "White Russia"), and Georgia. And, though most of the recipes were new to me, I included one from my own family's heritage: kasha varnishkes.
Kasha is buckwheat kernels that have been stripped of their inedible outer coating and crushed into smaller pieces, and then toasted in oil to bring out the nutty flavor. While many people think that buckwheat is a cereal grain, it's actually a fruit seed related to rhubarb and sorrel.
Like onions or garlic or Miracle Whip, kasha is one of those things I'm never without. I don't use it often, but I know it's standing by in the pantry whenever a craving hits (usually around the time the cold weather arrives in Rhode Island). The ultimate comfort food, Kasha varnishkes makes a great vegetarian main dish, though in my family it's the traditional side served with my grandmother's brisket recipe. You can use kasha to stuff baked squash, toss it with sauteéd mushrooms, or instead of bread-based stuffing for turkey, too.
Buckwheat contains no gluten, making kasha sans varnishkes (bow-tie egg noodles) perfect for anyone with wheat allergies.
(Hmmm...kasha without varnishkes? Like separating Abbott from Costello....)
One of the women in the World Cuisines group asked whether, if you have to substitute on the varnishkes, it's the bow-tie part or the egg part that's most important. I had to think about that! For me, definitely, it's got to be bow ties, so use farfalle if you can't find the egg noodles in your market. Serves 6-8 as a side, or 4 as a main course.
1 box Goodman's egg bow-ties, or 1 lb farfalle, prepared according to package directions
1 large onion, diced
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 cup kasha (medium granulation)
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups liquid (water or, preferably, homemade chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken stock)
2 Tbsp butter, optional
1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste
Black pepper to taste
In a small frying pan, sauté the onion in canola oil. Set aside.
In a bowl, mix the kasha and beaten egg with a fork until all of the kernels are coated with the egg. In a small pot or in the microwave, bring the liquid, butter, salt and pepper to a boil. Set aside.
In another small pot over medium heat, cook the kasha, stirring constantly with a fork to heat and separate all the kernels, for about 1-2 minutes until all the kernels come apart. Remove from heat, and pour in the liquid and onions. Stir, then cover immediately and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed. Transfer to a large bowl and mix with the egg bow ties. Serve hot.