Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kasha - "K"omfort Food

Everyone has their own definition of comfort food. For some it could simply be something warm and filling. For others it could be something that reminds them of home, or of their childhood. For me, comfort food is a little of both.

Food always played a big role in my family. A Saturday wasn't a Saturday until Dad started making his whole grain, flax seed enriched pancakes. The scent of toasted oats or nuts still, to this day, reminds me of coming home from school to find my mother laying her homemade granola out to cool. Do you see a pattern forming here? Food that reminds me of my childhood is "health food". Make our own pizza night involved whole wheat dough. A quick weeknight meal was Bulgar Wheat with raisins and almonds. And the meal that made me race to the dinner table was Kasha Varnishkas...or as we called it...Kasha and Bows. Delicious!!!

Not familiar with Kasha? Most people aren't. Kasha is, quite simply, buckwheat. You cook it as you would most grains, that is, simmer it for a few minutes in water or stock until all of the liquid is absorbed. It's got the most wonderful nutty flavor, firm texture and earthy aroma. The aroma is what reminds me of my childhood. It's unmistakable.

My parents made a pretty traditional Kasha Varnishkas, with sauteed onions, bow tie pasta, kasha of course, chicken stock and finished with a beaten egg. Then we would get creative and top it with some un-traditional things like Parmesan cheese or salsa. It is one of my top 5 favorite childhood meals.

Recently I had a craving for Kasha and bows, but when I looked in my pantry I found no bow tie pasta, darnnit. I got creative. First I made a simple Kasha salad with lemon juice, olive oil and fresh parsley. Next I made a Kasha Chili from a recipe I found for my vegetarian brother. Both turned out so well that I thought I would share.

So give these recipes a try. You may start making new comfort food memories.

Kasha Chili:

-28 oz can stewed/crushedORwhatever tomatoes
-3 cups vegetable broth (to keep it vegetarian...but can use chicken broth otherwise)
-1 can pinto/kidneyORblack beans
-3/4 cup uncooked Kasha
-1 medium onion diced
-1/2 green pepper diced
-1 tbs. olive oil
-1 tbs. chili powder
-1 tsp. paprika
-1 tsp. minced garlic
-1 tsp. cumin
-1 tsp. cayenne pepper

In skillet saute the garlic, onion and pepper in oil until semi-soft. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the kasha) and bring to a light simmer for 10 mins. Add the Kasha and continue to simmer, covered for 10 more mins, or until Kasha is tender. Top with sour cream and/or fresh cilantro. I didn't, but you could also add some sharp grated cheddar. I also topped mine with plenty of hot sauce.
For a vegetarian meal that could even be vegan if you kept the sour cream and cheese out, it's amazing. Not what you think of when you think healthy eats.

Kasha Salad:

I made this out of leftover Kasha so the recipe is based on ratios, not exact measurements.
-1 part good olive oil
-1 part lemon juice
-salt and pepper to taste
-1 - 2 parts fresh chopped parsley
-as much shredded lettuce as you like

Take already cooked, cooled Kasha (you cook it for 10 mins, covered at a light simmer in a ratio of 2 to 1, water to Kasha). Toss with the whisked together olive oil/lemon juice mixture, then toss in the parsley and lettuce. Salt and pepper to taste. It's another satisfying and refreshing dish...that's also healthy (really healthy) and vegetarian. I topped mine with fresh scallions.

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