Buckwheat groats, or kasha, is a dish that I did not like until I was well into adulthood. My grandmother made it all the time. She ate it almost every day, and it might have been healthy had she not loaded it with gribenes and chicken fat! She often tried to entice me to taste it — after all, I lived with her until I was two, and in the same building until I was four, so she was always feeding me. Mostly I ate what she made, but when she tried to feed me this grainy, funny-smelling dish, I ran in the opposite direction.
Kasha is an ancient grain believed to have originated in the Far East. It migrated to Russia, which became its main producer; it was believed that 6 to 7 million acres of land were once covered with this delicious grain. Given my grandmother’s roots in Belarus, her love for buckwheat makes sense.
Buckwheat is not technically a grain. It is the three-sided seed of a 2 to 4-foot plant that boasts beautiful fragrant flowers that attract bees like crazy. Buckwheat honey used to be popular throughout the U.S, until the 20th century, when buckwheat fell out of favor and almost disappeared from the landscape. It seems that the development of fertilizers, which helped other plants grow, almost killed off buckwheat, which likes a dry, minimally fertilized, acidic soil.
Interest in ancient grains and natural foods helped catapult this seed back into popularity over the past 20 to 30 years. The flowers still attract bees, but not in the numbers they did centuries ago, so dark, rich buckwheat honey is often pricey.
Buckwheat is a versatile food. You can cook and mix it with yogurt, fruit or honey for breakfast, add it to a salad for lunch, and prepare it many different ways for dinner.
Many people believe that the best buckwheat comes from Russia. You can get Russian buckwheat in large supermarkets, on Amazon, and more. Avoid hulled buckwheat, as it tends to be too mushy. It’s better for baking or for pancakes.
Enjoy this ancient grain that, though unfamiliar to many of us, was probably a staple in your Ashkenazi ancestors’ diets.
Somewhat Traditional Kasha, with or without Pasta (Pareve)
1 cup buckwheat groats, large or coarse grain
2 cups rich vegetable stock or chicken stock (purchased or homemade)
1 to 2 large onions, diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 to 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
OPTIONAL: Diced carrots and celery
Diced green or red bell peppers
Cooked bow-tie pasta
Dried cranberries, raisins or snipped apricots
Heat a large frying pan. Add the groats and stir constantly until they begin to toast and turn golden, about 2 to 5 minutes. Do not burn. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat a large saucepan. Add the oil and, when shimmery, add the onion and sauté until the onion begins to turn golden brown. Add the garlic and any other vegetables you will be using and cook them until they are softened.
Slowly add the vegetable stock and bring to a low boil. Add salt and pepper.
Add the toasted buckwheat and stir, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low.
Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed and the groats are chewy. Turn off the heat, keep the pot covered and let the buckwheat steam for about 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork, taste, adjust seasonings, and serve. Serves at least 6.
Kasha Roll-Ups (meat or Pareve)
A friend gave me this recipe right after I got married. It was my first Shabbat appetizer. Since then, I have tweaked it many times and now substitute puff pastry for the original homemade dough — now it’s a much easier recipe.
1 package puff pastry
Sesame seeds or Everything seasoning
2 cups cooked buckwheat groats
2 to 3 Tbsp. canola oil
2 to 3 large onions, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 lb. hamburger
2 Tbsp. each, minced parsley and chives
Salt and pepper, to taste
OPTIONAL: a pinch of red pepper flakes
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and then a sheet of parchment paper. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Thaw the puff pastry and set aside.
Cook kasha according to directions and set aside to cool.
Heat a large skillet and add the canola oil. Add the chopped onions and cook until lightly golden. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Remove from heat to cool.
In a large bowl, add the burger and the eggs and mix to blend well. Add the cooked kasha and mix well. Add the parsley and chives and mix well. Season with salt and pepper and, if you like, crushed red pepper flakes.
Roll out the thawed pastry into a rectangle, 14 by 8 inches.
Place the filling along one long side of the dough, leaving two inches at the edge and an inch at the top and bottom clear for sealing.
Roll the two inches of dough over the filling and then roll the log completely enclosing the filling. Pinch the top and bottom closed.
Place the roll, seam side down on the parchment. Brush lightly with oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds or Everything seasoning. Score the dough very lightly, diagonally across every 1-1/2 inches.
Bake until golden for 50 to 60 minutes. Cool until warm, but not burning hot. Slice along score lines. Serves 8 to 12 as an appetizer.
Cherry Almond Buckwheat Pancakes (Dairy)
2 cups fresh or frozen cherries, cut in half
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
1-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 cups buttermilk
2 extra-large eggs
3 Tbsp. butter, melted (separate from the previous 1 Tbsp.)
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and then a sheet of parchment paper. Set aside.
Cut the cherries and toss with the melted 1 Tbsp. of butter. Spread on the parchment and place in the oven. Roast until caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Place the flour, buckwheat flour and baking powder in a bowl and mix well with a fork. Mix the buttermilk and eggs in another bowl and mix until fully blended.
Add the extracts and pour into the dry ingredients. Mix with a fork until almost blended. Add the butter and mix until still lumpy. Add the cherries and the juice from the pan and mix gently until there are still a few lumps. Do not overmix, or the pancakes will be tough.
Heat a large skillet or griddle and add a thin coating of butter. When the butter bubbles, add spoonfuls of batter. Cook until the top has bubbles around the edge and looks dry. Flip gently and cook until completely cooked through and golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat until all are cooked. Serve with hot Almond Vanilla syrup. Makes at least 12 pancakes.
Hot Buttered Vanilla Almond Syrup (Parve)
This syrup is so delicious, it’s addictive. This is also fabulous on Thanksgiving yams. You can use pareve margarine instead of butter.
f you like, add a bit of amaretto liqueur or bourbon.
1 cup pure maple syrup, grade A Dark Amber
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
OPTIONAL: 2/3 cup thawed or fresh cherries, cut in half
Place all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat and mix until the butter is completely incorporated. Let cool a bit before serving. Makes about 1 cup, more if you add cherries.