Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kasha Varnishkas (A.K.A Kasha with Bowties)

Is there even a kasha?  It's
Kasha Varnishkas!!
When I was growing up my paternal grandparents lived in the Logan Square Chicago neighborhood, about 20 minutes from where I lived in West Rogers Park.  They lived in a two bedroom apartment with a small kitchen, and a smaller enclosed porch where my grandfather would relax after a hard day’s work, watching the TV that my father, as a teenager, built for him.   Growing up, what my father’s family lacked in monetary wealth was more than made up for in the wealth of a close family.  My father and his two brothers had no choice but to be close – they all shared one bed!  My Bubbie was a short woman, probably less than 5 feet tall, but what she lacked in height she certainly made up for in the stature of her personality – she was a feisty, strong, independent, energetic woman.  Our family laughs when we recall the stories of her chasing her large sons around the apartment and under the bed threatening them with a broom!!

When my grandfather passed away, right around the time I was in High School,  my grandmother moved into our neighborhood.  Because she lived so close by, I was blessed to be able to visit her every Shabbat afternoon.  We would sit and drink a glass of tea out of Yahrtziet (memorial) glasses, nosh on her special “S” Cookies, and she would tell me stories about “the old days”.  I learned a lot about my father and his family, and about my grandmother’s life growing up in the Ukraine.  My paternal Bubbie also taught me to cook simple, but delicious, Eastern European dishes.  One of my favorites was Kasha Varnishkas, or Kasha with Bowties.  I’m sure that you have seen boxed Kasha, or buckwheat groats, on the shelves in the grocery store.  It comes in a variety of granulations, but for this recipe my Bubbie’s Kasha uses the coarsely ground version.  My Bubbie used to fry up an onion, I’m sure she fried it chicken fat (what else?), until it was golden brown.  Then she would add the Kasha, egg, and chicken stock and let it cook until all the liquid was absorbed.  She would add cooked bowtie pasta for the traditional Kasha Varnishkas.  I remember how good it tasted!   Kasha itself is a really healthy grain, it’s high in fiber, nearly fat free, and is shown to lower cholesterol and blood glucose (at least according to the Wolffs Kasha website!).  Also according to the Wolff’s Kasha website, it’s Kasha is gluten free, so the GFE (Gluten Free Eater) can enjoy this recipe too by just substituting gluten-free bowtie pasta! The version that I make for my family is even healthier than my Bubbies version – no chicken fat found here – but the recipe is essentially still the same:  fried onions, toasted Kasha and stock.  I also add a clove of minced garlic for a little more flavor, lowfat vegetable stock, and tri-color bowtie pasta instead of plain white for a little colorful pizzaz!  It’s “old school” meets “new school”…my favorite kind of recipe!!

I love making this recipe for my family because it gives me the perfect opportunity to pass on to my children a part of their heritage, to talk about my Bubbie, her life, and special family stories.  There’s a little bit of history in every bite of Kasha!!


1          large                 onion, diced
1                                  clove garlic, minced (or one frozen cube crushed garic)
1          tablespoon        extra virgin olive oil
2          cup                   coarse Kasha  
2          large                 eggs, lightly beaten
1          tablespoon        onion soup mix, or 1 ½ teaspoons salt (optional)
4          cups                 water or chicken/vegetable stock

1          pound               bowtie noodles
2          teaspoons         salt
1          tablespoon        olive oil

  1. If using chicken or vegetable stock instead of water omit the onion soup mix and salt.
  2. I use tri-color bowtie noodles to add color to the dish, although white ones are more traditional.

Prepare noodles according to package directions, adding 2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil to the cooking water. 

In a large skillet, heat the tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic, and sauté until the onion is browned.  Add Kasha and stir to combine.   Pour eggs over the Kasha and quickly stir to coat.  Continue to stir the Kasha until completely dried and toasted.  Add stock.  Cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 8-11 minutes until liquid is completely absorbed.  Fluff with a fork.  Stir in bowties and onion soup mix (if using).  Serve warm.

All the ingredients...version #1 
 All the ingredients...version #2 
(this is the one I made)
Sauté onions until browned...
Add Kasha & egg...
then stir until toasted!
Add the stock and cook until
all the liquid is absorbed...
Hooray!  It's Kasha Varnishkas...
just like Bubbie made!!

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