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?
For those keeping score. Rob = Polish. Me = Ukrainian and German.
As a bonus, both sets of our parents will be coming to Toronto to check out the festivals. I mean, they are coming to see us.
How will we manage? Which one to attend? They are reasonably close to each other, so we’ll likely hit up both festivals. The question is who will win the pierogi contest? OK, forget pierogi, I am more interested in kasha these days.
Nothing says more Eastern European than beets and dill, especially with kasha!
Kasha is buckwheat that has been hulled and roasted. As such, it is a darker brown than raw buckwheat. Kasha can be tricky to cook as it can absorb lots of water and turn into mush. Here, I opted to toast it in the oven first, and then cooked it in a 1:2 ratio with water. While the kernels still seemed to explode slightly, they reminded me of coarse bulgur in this salad.
Kasha has a slightly nuttier, stronger flavour but pairs well with beets and dill. I combined some garden-fresh green beans and roasted beets with a lemony dill vinaigrette for a bright early fall salad. Or late summer salad?
After my success with combining grains into my morning porridge (technically combining seeds since it was a quinoa-amaranth-chia concoction), I decided to try again with another multigrain breakfast. I spotted this combination of oatmeal, quinoa and kasha in The 30-Minute Vegan (recipe also posted here). You have to tend to it a bit more than traditional oatmeal since each grain gets added in separately, but it created a wonderful texture. You get the nutty quinoa with the creamy oatmeal and truth be told, this was my first time eating kasha, but the combination was wonderful. I added in some sweetened soymilk at the end so I did not feel like it needed anything additional with the bananas. However, use this as a template to add your favourite oatmeal toppings, with the bonus of a new texture for your breakfast porridge.