Thursday, October 25, 2012

VeganMoFo Day 25 - Kasha Varniskes

It seems as if every Jewish vegan chef has their own version of this traditional recipe. Isa has one in her book Appetite for Reduction, and Jeff Novick has one, too, on his Facebook page. He says it's going to appear on the fourth Fast Food DVD later this year. It was bound to happen, especially after his tale of how his mother makes him a special batch of the dish every time he goes home to visit her on the Fast Foods 2: Burgers and Fries DVD.

I've always loved kasha myself, even though I'm not Jewish, and always had a box of it in my pantry. It has an earthy, nutty flavor that just smells like winter to me, sort of like those chestnuts roasting on an open fire. :) I used to do almost all my grocery shopping at the local A&P, but the store closed earlier this year after only 13 years, a casualty of the bad economy. I always bought Wolff's brand kasha, medium grind. When the A&P closed I just assumed I could grab it at the store I was now going to shop in, Stop and Shop. I was wrong. They had no kasha with the ethnic foods, no kasha in the pasta aisle, no kasha in the grain aisle, and not in the health foods aisle. None of any brand! I tried another grocery store, then another, and neither had kasha or buckwheat, it's other name. I gave up and assumed when my last box was gone I would have to add it to the growing list of food items I would have to order from on-line. Last week I had to get some stuff at the health food store and noticed they were having a sale on bags of organic quinoa and reached for one. Lo and behold, right next to the quinoa was a bag of organic buckwheat from Eden Foods! Alright, so it cost more than doubled the price of the Wolff's I'd been buying for decades but at this point I was desperate and grabbed it. I'll probably still wind up buying it by the case from Amazon before this bag is gone. I'll be using it in both kasha varniskes and Jeff's kasha burgers so plan on going through a lot of it in the future.

Kasha Varnishes

1 Box - Whole Wheat Bow Tie Noodles (Hodgson Mill)
2 Cups Roasted Kasha (Buckwheat)
2 Onions, diced and Steam Sauteed & Browned
Carrots, Cauliflower and Broccoli

Season with lots of garlic and some pepper.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *
That's it. Jeff really doesn't give any directions on this one, so of course I assumed you cook the pasta in one pot, 2 cups dry kasha in another, steam up the veggies in another, and fry up the onions in a skillet. When everything is done you put the fried veggies, kasha and pasta all together in a large pot, mix well, then serve over the steamed veggies, as Jeff does it in his photo. Me? I'm lazy, so I mix everything together in one big pot after each cooked then served.

I use a store brand whole wheat pasta and an extra onion because we love onions. I also tossed in some sliced mushrooms with the onions, because that makes it more traditional. And a load of minced garlic from a jar, a few heaping tablespoons - over an ounce - of it. 

Instead of a bag of California Mix frozen veggies I use one bag each of the three veggies because I like chopped broccoli, not the bigger chunks in the mix bags. Jeff writes that he sometimes adds peas to his, so I did that, too.

Mistakes were made.

First off, I forgot to toast the kasha in a dry pan. It took quite a while to rinse it until the water was clear and by the time that was done, I forgot all about that step. Whether it was the brand of buckwheat or the fact that it wasn't toasted, this kasha wasn't as flavorful as the Wolff's I always used in the past. During the meal my husband asked me twice what the grain was, because it had no taste, not even a smell, at all. 

Oops. While looking for the package graphic for this post I found the official web page for this product and read that they know it's not as strong as regular, toasted, kasha. Now why didn't the package itself tell me that? It would have reminded me to toast it first. Oh, well.

Because this dish took a number of pots to make it, and my son wanted to use the stove to make his own dinner, I made the kasha up earlier than the rest of the meal by just a few minutes so he could have use of 2 burners on the stove. Big mistake! The buckwheat/kasha glopped up worse than barley! That'll teach me!

And the 2 cups dry make up a heck of a lot of that kasha, too. I have a feeling Jeff meant 2 cups of cooked kasha, not start with 2 cups dry. When the meal was over I wound up putting away as leftovers more than what we ate for dinner. A LOT of food, even for big eaters like us!
Oodles of onions!

Even though I used 3 big onions and a ton of garlic, this dish needed more. Lots more. I even added onion and garlic powders to the pot. When cooking without oil sometimes tastes disappear upon cooking, and these onions did that. Maybe it was the bag of onions I used, maybe it's because this recipe in general made enough to feed an army and the onions and garlic just got lost in the crowd. who knows? Next time, more.

Because of the heaviness of the whole wheat pasta and the (probably way too much) kasha, this was a very heavy dish. At least the veggies lightened it up a bit, but it was still a starch lover's dream. It was so thick I needed to bring out the heavy duty mixing spoon to stir it all together, and it wasn't so much that I scooped up the mixture to plate it but sliced out a chunk of it, and when put into the bowl it held its shape. I probably could have put this stuff out on a platter, shaped it, and called it a loaf and just served it in slices.

We'll be eating this again tonight, but I'm making a gravy to go with it, probably this mushroom gravy from Anne Esselstyn. It's either that or use a heavy hand on the salt and pepper, because although quite filling, it was also quite tasteless. Again, I blame myself for that. Next time I'll do this a bit differently and maybe have Wolff's brand kasha in my possession again.

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