Kasha, the cold-weather grain.
Whether you serve kasha as a hearty side dish or make it dinner’s main event, you’ll love how warming and comforting it is. Buckwheat groats, the proper English name for kasha, are so full of protein and iron that they rate as an under-rated superfood. And their nutty taste is particularly appealing in cold weather. Chinese medicine places buckwheat in the category of food best eaten in winter.
I don’t know how the Chinese cook buckwheat, but I do know the recipe that Jewish immigrants brought from Russia to the US and England back in the late 1800s. Kasha in Russian actually refers to porridge made from one of several other grains – wheat, millet, oats, barley – but kasha as made by Ashkenazi Jews is toasted buckwheat flavored with plenty of caramelized onions.
What makes kasha so comforting is noodles mixed in, and traditionally the noodles are bow ties. But you can use any noodle that appeals to you. Compared to most kasha recipes, I keep the noodles in low proportion to the grain. I like to know I’m serving more nutritionally rich kasha and less white starch. Sometimes I leave out the noodles and fix the kasha just with onions.
But it’s all up to you and how you like it
Raw buckwheat groats in Israel come with a certain amount of dirty grains or even tiny stones. My first step is to spread it out on a white plate and pick it over, then I rinse it. If you live in the States, you probably don’t have to do that. I understand that in Russian stores, you can even buy it pre-toasted. But it takes little effort to whip up an egg, mix the kasha into it and toast it yourself. I like to watch the grains turning a darker brown, listening for the soft crackle that indicates it’s ready to cook in water. The grains should be very loose at that point, shining with fat but the egg no longer visible; you should be able to see the bottom of the pot when you stir.
As for the fat. You can use oil if you like, of course, but either butter, or for a meat meal, shmaltz (rendered chicken fat) raises the flavor from merely delicious to very. I like it best with butter, as a weekday main dish, with green beans on the side, or a vegetable soup before.