the taste space

Kasha with Sauteed Mushrooms and Dill

Posted in Salads, Sides by Janet M on December 27, 2012

In a typical day, I try to eat a combination of vegetables, beans and whole grains. While steel cut oats are my typical breakfast, I will often add whole grains to some of my other meals.

There are many whole grains: brown rice, wheat berries, spelt berries, bulgur, oats, rye, barley, millet, kamut, and teff, oh my! Despite what the name may imply, buckwheat is in the same family as sorrel and rhubarb. It is not even a wheat. Buckwheat, quinoa (my favourite), amaranth and wild rice are considered pseudograins because they are seeds (not grains). They also happen to contain more protein than grains and are all gluten-free.

They all taste different. Not all of them will appeal to everyone.

Of all the grains/pseudograins, I think kasha gets the most haters. Kasha is simply toasted buckwheat, but seems to have an acquired taste.

When I first cooked it, I hated it too. I added too much water (1:3 ratio) and it became a literal soggy mess. It took me two years to try again. I tried a different strategy. Next, I baked it first, and cooked it in a 1:2 ratio which was 100x better. The cooked kernels were soft but some partially opened. When I included it in a multigrain oatmeal with quinoa, I liked it, too. So when Rob’s Mom offered me some kasha for breakfast, I didn’t hesitate. I hesitated when I saw what she was doing though. Instead of boiling kasha in water, she pulled out a funny-looking instant boil-in-a-bag Polish package. It made the most glorious kasha, though. Plump, yet firm, the kasha had a nice nutty flavour with a perfect texture. Rob’s mom gave us some to take home with us but when we stopped off at the Polish store on the way home, I found out it actually wasn’t any more expensive than when I buy it in bulk. I don’t know what that bag does, but it is magical.

When people say they don’t like an ingredient, I always think maybe they just haven’t met the right version yet. (I will even concede while I detest celery, you can get me to eat raw celery if you remove the strings and I will eat a soup with celery in the mirepoix; while I hate the flavour of coffee, I will eat something with mocha if it is a faint wisp within a chocolate dessert; and I like tarragon and fennel, when I don’t like licorice).

So, if you don’t think you like kasha, try this first. Amuse me. Then tell me what you think.

However, I will need to walk you through it… unless you know Polish. Without Rob, I knew I had to boil it for 15-20 minutes. Rob helped by telling me I had to salt the water and keep the pot covered as it simmered. After 15-20 minutes, you open the package and have lovely, fluffy kasha. Rinse in cold water before you open the package.

To flavour this dish, I adapted the recipe in Appetite for Reduction for Sauteed Kasha and Mushrooms with Dill, a pasta-less version of Kasha Varnishkes. The fluffy kasha is combined with sauteed mushrooms and onions. Lots of black pepper and dill make this dish flavourful, despite it looking so bland on paper.

The tricky part will be locating the boil-in-a-bag kasha. Go to your European grocer. For those in Toronto, you can find it at Euromax in Milton, Starsky’s in Mississauga and possibly Benna’s on Roncesvalles (I haven’t checked the latter myself). In Woodstock, you can buy it from this European Meat and Deli.

Does anyone have a way to make kasha taste like this without the package? Did I miss the cooking kasha 101 memo?

This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays and to this month’s Herbs on Saturday.

(more…)

Chinese Five Spice Vegetable and Noodle Stir Fry

Posted in Mains (Vegetarian) by Janet M on May 1, 2012

A new home; a new 5 keys.

Trust me, I am not complaining about now having a garage. Although 5 keys is certainly overwhelming. First front door, second front door, rear door, garage door and garage.

While we are still unpacking boxes, and likely will for many weeks, the kitchen is functional. The bedroom is almost unpacked (minus my clothes) and we have no idea what to with ourselves now that we have 3 bathrooms.

In any case, while Rob and I have moved many, many times before, this is the first time we hired movers. So completely worth it. Our friends and family must think so, as well. ;) Our movers were work horses: incredibly strong, super fast while still being very gentle. One of the movers relished telling me a new joke every time he saw me. If anyone needs cheap, efficient movers in the GTA, shoot me an email and I’ll give you their contact info.

While there are many great things about our new place, we are kind of sad we don’t have a basement. You can really scurry things out of sight and mind, so our move forced Rob and I to go through another round of purging and incidentally, discover new things, as well.  Rob had some pretty bowls (and pretty chopsticks!) hidden in the basement that I unearthed! I also didn’t know that I had so many packages of kelp noodles. I knew I had bought a case (or two) when they went on sale, but looks like a lot more noodles once I take them out of the case. ;)

For one of my first meals in the new home, I decided to break in the kitchen with a quick and easy stir fry. I also inadvertently christened the kitchen by setting off the smoke alarm. I swear, there was nothing burning! I will have to be careful to not wake up my neighbors. I adapted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Winter Stir Fry with Chinese Five Spice to what I had left in my vegetable crisper. Winter root vegetables are fabulous for keeping so long, but it felt nice to use up the remainder of my root veggies, along with some spring veggies. Goodbye winter, hello spring.

The heart of this stir fry is the Chinese Five Spice powder, which stems from the heart of Szechuan cooking. It is aromatic and savoury, composed of star anise, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves and Szechuan peppercorns. A seven spice blend may also include ginger and black peppercorns. A complex spice blend, a little goes a long way and really shines here.

Throw in your own favourite vegetables with some noodles and then toss with a sake, tamari and Chinese five spice dressing. The drizzle of lime at the ends adds the perfect acidic balance to the veggie-centric meal. Feel like more protein? Add some tofu or tempeh. Me? My pantry is all cleaned out of tofu!

While I had been working through my pantry prior to this move, I plan on eating through the remainder over the next year before our BIG move to the US. Expect to see more recipes with kelp noodles! What are your favourite ways of eating them?

Here are a few other recipes with Chinese Five Spice:

Five Spice Roasted Delicata Squash from Appetite for Reduction
Fluffy Sesame Baked Tofu
from Sprint 2 the Table
Broccoli Slaw Salad with Five-Spice Tofu from Vegetarian Times
Chinese Five-Spice Noodles with Broccoli from Serious Eats
Smoky Pomegranate Tofu with Coconut Rice from Vegan with a Vengeance
Acorn Squash, Pear and Adzuki Soup with Sautéed Shiitakes from Post Punk Kitchen
Chinese Five Spice Miso Soup with Shitakes and Edamame from Florida Coastal Cooking
Star Anise-Glazed Tempeh with Stir-Fried Peppers from Joanne Eats Well With Others

This is my submission to this week’s Presto Pasta Nights, hosted by Ruth, to this month’s pasta bloghop, to this week’s Weekend Wellness, Virtual Vegan Potluck and to Cookbooks Sundays.

(more…)

Wild Mushroom and Barley Soup

Posted in Soups by Janet M on December 12, 2010


The snow has fallen, the salt is out and my bike has been stowed away for the winter.

My winter jacket, mitts and hat are now in the front of my closet.

I cleaned the dust off my winter boots.

Winter is here.

And what else does snow make me do?

Snow simply screams, “Soup!”.

I will happily succumb.

Adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Eat Well Cookbook, this is a hearty and creamy wild mushroom soup (sans creme) with barley and thyme.  Something great to warm up with this winter.

It is for serious mushroom lovers, with both dried shiitake and fresh cremini mushrooms. Tomato paste adds a deeper body to the soup, and the sherry adds a special flavour. Thyme, a perfect pair to the mushrooms, is a nice accent, along with the lemon juice. Nowhere have I mentioned cream, but this is a substantial soup with the pearl barley. The trick is to puree a portion of the soup for the creaminess.


This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays.

(more…)