Kasha Varnishkes

December 29, 2007 at 11:52 am (Grains, Jewish, Other, Quick weeknight recipe, unrated)


My first memory of this this traditional Jewish dish is at Ratner’s in Manhattan… it was inedible. Why, oh why, I asked myself, didn’t I order blintzes? After many years, the experience (and awful taste) had time to fade away, and I finally got up the nerve to try making kasha myself. I discovered that kasha is sweet and nutty, but subtle. Nothing like the terrible dish I had at Ratner’s. The “Varnishkes” were originally a kreplach-type noodle, but for convenience packaged bow-tie noodles have become the standard. This recipe is very quick to make. It will be done by the time the noodles are cooked. This recipe is adapted from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America.

Put a large pot of water on the stove. While the water is coming to a boil…

Toast over high heat for 2 to 4 minutes until you start smelling the aroma of the kasha:

  • 1 cup kasha (whole? groats? what are they called?)

This will seal the groats so that there is a nutty, crunchy taste to them, a good foil to the soft taste of the noodles.Sauté in a heavy frying pan:

  • 2 large onions, sliced in rounds
  • 2 Tbs olive oil

When the onions begin to soften add:

  • 12 ounces mushrooms, sliced

Saute until onions are golden and mushrooms cooked lightly. Remove vegetables to a plate.Beat in a small mixing bowl:

  • 1 large egg white

Stir in the toasted kasha. Mix, making sure all the grains are coated.Put the kasha in the frying pan in which the onions were sauted, and turn the heat to high. Flatten, stir, and break up the egg-coated kasha with a fork or wooden spoon for 2 to 4 minutes or until the egg has dried on the kasha and the kernels brown and mostly separate.

Add and bring to a boil:

  • 2 cups vegetable broth (or water + bouillon)
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Add the vegetables, cover tightly, and cook over low heat, steaming the kasha for 10 minutes. Remove the cover, stir, and quickly check to see if the kernels are tender and the liquid has been absorbed. If not, cover and continue steaming for 3 to 5 minutes more. While the kasha is cooking, cook according to the directions on the package.

  • 3/4 lb bow-tie noodles

Drain the noodles, and combine with the kasha. Sprinkle with:

  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh coriander (optional)

Serves 6 to 8?

My notes:

I think this is a pretty good once-in-a-while-for-something different recipe. Derek always turns his nose up at the idea, but gobbles it up once I make him try it. I think the recipe could use a little livening up with some “brighter” flavor. I might try adding cabbage for sweetness, or maybe red peppers or a fresh herb. The noodles add a nice textural contrast, but I find them a bit extraneous. I think the dish would be interesting and tasty even without the noodles.

Some info about buckwheat, gleaned from various internet sources:

Buckwheat was first domesticated in southwest Asia, and spread from there to Europe, Central Asia, then East Asia. Although buckwheat is generally considered a grain, it is not a true grass, nor is it related at all to wheat. It is, however, closely related to rhubarb and sorrel, and distantly related to spinach, chard, beets, amaranth, and quinoa. Since it is not a true grain it is gluten free, so people with gluten sensitivities can still eat it. Buckwheat grows very quickly, and can grow in cold climates, making it practical in places where many other grains will not grow.

While buckwheat is of similar size to wheat kernels, it features a unique triangular shape. In order to be edible, the outer hull must be removed, a process that requires special milling equipment due to its unusual shape. Buckwheat is sold either unroasted or roasted, the latter oftentimes called “kasha,” from which a traditional European dish is made. Unroasted buckwheat has a soft, subtle flavor, while roasted buckwheat has more of an earthy, nutty taste. Its color ranges from tannish-pink to brown.

In Asia, the flour is made into noodles (including soba). In Europe it is more commonly made into buckwheat groats, often known as “kasha”. Buckwheat is also ground into flour, available in either light or dark forms, with the darker variety being more nutritious. Buckwheat pancakes, sometimes raised with yeast, are eaten in several countries. They are known as blinis in Russia, galettes in France (where they are especially associated with Brittany), and just plain old buckwheat pancakes in the states. Buckwheat pancakes were a common food in American pioneer days. They are light and foamy. The buckwheat flour gives them an agreeably earthy, mildly mushroom-like taste. Buckwheat can also be served as a rice alternative or porridge.

Buckwheat’s beneficial effects are due in part to its rich supply of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Buckwheat also contains almost 86 milligrams of magnesium in a one cup serving. Magnesium relaxes blood vessels, improving blood flow and nutrient delivery while lowering blood pressure.

I’ve had trouble figuring out precisely what the term kasha refers to. I read somewhere that Kasha generally refers to toasted, hulled and crushed buckwheat groats. However, I have seen untoasted groats also referred to as kasha occasionally, and the kasha I buy always seems to be the whole groats, not crushed.

The raw groats look pale and are sometimes greenish tinged:

The toasted groats, look more toasty brown:

Here is what the unhulled, inedible buckwheat looks like:

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2 Comments

  1. Amy in Berkeley said,

    Hi Rose!

    Yum — I made this last winter and we loved it. Time to make it again! I have never used bow-tie pasta because I never had it on hand – always used penne and this time will use some whole wheat macaroni that I need to use up. I really like the idea of adding cabbage, or maybe serving some on the side.

    Amy

  2. captious said,

    Yeah, I think penne would work well. Let me know how it turns out if when you add cabbage.

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