Kasha varnishkes is comfort food, plain and simple. Roasted buckwheat groats with bowtie noodles, and of course, onions and garlic. Serve it to me with Jewish-style brisket and I’m in comfort food heaven.
I recognize that for those who didn’t grow up with Eastern European (Askenazic) Jewish food, the combination may seem odd. But trust me, it’s really delicious and goes well with simple roast or baked chicken as well as brisket or other braised or stewed meat. When I visited food stores in the Russian emigrant neighborhood of Bright Beach Brooklyn, I found kasha prominently displayed because it is a favorite of Eastern Europeans generally, not just Jews from that area.
When I searched for ways to describe buckwheat, the closest I could come up with was wild rice. Both are seeds, and the taste and slight chewiness of wild rice does bear a similarity to kasha. (Kasha is Yiddish for buckwheat and “varnishkes” refers to the bowtie noodles.) Roasting the buckwheat intensifies its flavor and the other ingredients add a depth to the dish that has to be tasted to be truly appreciated.
And as for combining pasta with buckwheat, it’s no stranger than combining pasta and beans in pasta with chick peas (pasta e ceci), another wonderful comfort food.
Kasha varnishkes lasts in the refrigerator for at least several days and it microwaves well. We ate this batch on Erev Rosh Hashanah, and again later in the week. Next time I make it, I’ll freeze several portions in small Ziploc bags with the air pressed out because I love coming home and pulling a homemade treat out of the freezer.
Servings – 8 Cost – $4-5
- 1 cup of buckwheat groats (kasha)
- 1 large egg
- 4 tablespoons of butter or oil (or better yet, chicken schmaltz if you’ve got any)
- 2 cups of sliced onion
- 1 teaspoon sugar (helps the onion to brown)
- 10 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
- ½ teaspoon minced garlic
- 1¾ cups of hot chicken stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 8 ounces of bow tie noodles (If you can find them, use a variety made with eggs, typically found with Jewish foods, rather than an eggless Italian pasta. I’m not paid by Streit’s but I love their noodles, for taste and also because of my experience with their customer service. Plus, they are a family-owned business still on the lower East Side of New York City, where my maternal grandmother grew up and my grandfather landed when he emigrated from Roumania. Now back to our regularly scheduled recipe.)
- Cutting board
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Small heavy pan
- Large pan with tight fitting cover
- Large spoon
- Large pot for cooking noodles with colander or strainer
- Pour the buckwheat into the small pan and add the egg. Mix them together and roast over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently and breaking up clumps, until the egg has disappeared. Set it aside.
- Heat the butter or oil in the large pan and add the sliced onion and the sugar, stirring occasionally until the onions become translucent and begin to brown.
- Add the sliced mushrooms and the minced garlic, stirring to combine with the onions. Cook the mixture covered for 4-5 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to “sweat” their water, then continue cooking uncovered for an additional 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir the buckwheat groats (kasha) into the onions and mushrooms and add and salt and pepper. I don’t measure the salt and pepper; figure on ½ teaspoon and a few grinds of pepper at this point, then add more at the end if you need it. Also, the amount of salt depends on the saltiness of your chicken, beef, or vegetable stock. Then add the hot chicken soup. It’s important that it be hot when added, so that it doesn’t bring down the temperature of the mixture in the pan. I microwave the stock to steaming but not boiling.
- Bring the kasha mixture to a boil, cover and cook it on low for 10-15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let it stand covered for 10 minutes. While the kasha is cooking , put up the water for the bow ties and when you turn the light off on the kasha, cook the noodles. Once the bow ties are done (al dente if I can switch from Yiddish to Italian for just a minute), drain them and keep them warm in the pot. If you don’t want them to stick, mix in a drizzle of oil or a small pat of butter.
- After the kasha has absorbed all of its liquid, add the noodles and mix everything gently together. If necessary, add more salt and pepper.