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?
Kasha with Sauteed Mushrooms and Dill
Adapted from Appetite for Reduction
100g packet of kasha (or 1/2 cup coarse kasha, picked over and rinsed, to be boiled with 1 cup vegetable broth or water)
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium-size onion,thinly sliced
1/4 tsp salt, plus a pinch for the kasha pot
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper, lots of it (even I thought it was great!)
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1. For the boil-in-a-bag kasha, fill a medium pot half-way with salted water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and submerge the bag of kasha. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until plump and tender. Remove bag from water, rinse in cold water and set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, heat a large non-stock skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and onion and saute for 7-10 minutes until softened and lightly browned. Sprinkle with salt and stir. Add the mushrooms and fresh pepper. Saute until the mushrooms release their juices and are lightly browned, around 7-10 minutes. Stir in the cooked kasha (cut open the package) and sprinkle with the dill. Adjust the salt and pepper, to taste. Serve warm.