My collection of vintage recipes booklets is an inspiration for many of these weekly columns. During this time of uncertainty we seek comfort and security, and often it is comfort food, especially ones we enjoyed during childhood, that helps remedy the situation a bit.
In the past few months, I have been preparing one of my favorites, kasha varnishkes, a traditional Ashkenazi-Jewish dish, combining kasha (buckwheat groats) with fried onions and bow tie pasta, the main ingredients. It is a dish high on flavor with only a few ingredients. Kasha, sometimes considered peasant food, has been enjoyed by Eastern Europeans and Asian cultures. It is inexpensive, and growing buckwheat is easy, being able to flourish in soil that is not rich and under poor weather conditions.
While organizing the collection of the booklets, I pulled out “Wolff’s Buckwheat Cookbook,” published in 1968. I was curious to learn more about buckwheat and find other recipes to use this nutritional and, yes, gluten-free ingredient. The name buckwheat, especially to those who are following a gluten-free diet, is misleading. It is not related to the wheat family at all, it’s a fruit seed from a plant related to rhubarb and sorrel. Perhaps buckwheat’s greatest nutritional asset is its high-quality protein makeup. It is richer in minerals than many cereals.
Wolff’s kasha is the brand I grew up eating, and is the most popular. It is best known as an ingredient in kasha varnishkes. I remember both of my grandmothers using chicken fat (aka schmaltz) in their recipes for the dish. It was my mother who changed it up by using vegetable oil instead.
The versatility of kasha makes it an ingredient you want to have on hand. It can be steamed, boiled, baked or served as is, with seasoning for a delicious side dish. Mixed with honey, maple syrup or other sweetener and cream, it makes a hearty breakfast cereal. Or, add to soups and stews as a thickener and flavor enhancer. I might use a recipe below as a stuffing for the turkey this year.
Wolff’s Kasha is a brand of Birkett Mills, located in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The area is considered to be “America’s Buckwheat Capital.” Founded in 1797, the mill is one of the world’s largest producers of buckwheat products. It is also listed as one of the oldest companies in the United States. William Wolff founded Wolff’s Kasha in 1868.
Today, Birkett Mills produces not only the Wolff brand, but also a line of organic buckwheat products under the Pocono brand. Whether it be one of the different sizes of kasha granules, cream or buckwheat cereal, buckwheat flour or pancake mixes, try some recipes with this versatile ingredient.
The culinary uses of buckwheat cover the globe:
Buckwheat spoonbread is a national Slovene dish.
The Dutch prepare Broeder, a batter with buckwheat flour, yeast and other ingredients boiled in a bag.
Originally made in the Savoie region of France, Crozetsde Savoie are flat, square-shaped pasta.
Mak-guksu is a Korean buckwheat noodle dish served in a chilled broth, sugar, mustard, sesame oil and vinegar.
The Pennsylvania Dutch prepare scrapple, made from pork, buckwheat flour and spices.
Other uses include production of gluten-free beer; whiskey; tea. Non-culinary uses include upholstery filling, in which the hulls are used, and grain-free dog treats.
(Recipe provided by Birkett Mills)
2 cups chopped onions, or more
1/2 cup rendered chicken fat or olive oil
3/4 cup kasha
Ground black pepper
1/2 pound farfalle (bow tie) or other noodles
Put onions in a large skillet with a lid over medium heat. Cover skillet and cook for about 10 minutes, until onion is dry and almost sticking to pan. Add fat or oil, raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is nicely browned, at least 10 minutes or so longer.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a separate, medium saucepan, bring 1-1/2 cups water to a boil, stir in the kasha and about a teaspoon of salt. Cover and simmer until kasha is soft and fluffy, about 15 minutes. Let stand, off heat and covered.
Salt the large pot of boiling water and cook noodles until tender but still firm. Drain and combine with the onions and kasha, adding more fat or oil if you like. Season with salt and lots of pepper and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Watch Mark Bittman prepare this dish at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugeNF_WrUPU.
(Recipe provided by Birkett Mills)
A new take on a classic. Original recipe by: Full of Plants, Tasty Vegan Recipes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped celery (about 1 stick)
1/2 cup chopped carrot (1 carrot)
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper (1 red pepper)
1 cup Wolff’s Medium Kasha (buckwheat groats)
2 cups water
One (16 ounce) can diced tomatoes (or 1-1/2 cups tomato puree)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 (15, ounce) can red beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
Toppings: sliced avocado, fresh parsley, coconut cream, tortilla chips
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion and garlic. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring regularly until onions are soft and start to caramelize. Add the chopped celery, carrot and red bell pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes. Next, add the buckwheat groats, water, diced tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, oregano, salt and maple syrup. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Check regularly to make sure there is still enough water. After 20 minutes, taste it, the buckwheat groats should be cooked, soft but not mushy.
Finally, stir in the red kidney beans and nutritional yeast. Cook for another 3-5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed, adding more chili powder for a spicier chili, or more maple syrup for a sweeter one.
Serve hot topped with avocado slices, coconut cream and a drizzle of lime juice. Serves 4.
This buckwheat chili will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator or up to 2 months in the freezer. For a more soupy chili, increase the water to 21/2 cups.
For more recipes using buckwheat, visit https://bit.ly/2H6v0O6.
These recipes are from “Wolff’s Buckwheat Cookbook.”
Very Special Turkey Dressing (stuffing)
1 cup coarse Wolff’s kasha, prepared with 1 egg and 2 cups of broth according to package instructions (omit butter and seasonings)
1 cup bulk sausage (beef or pork)
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped tart apple (such as Granny Smith)
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon powdered sage
1/8 teaspoon dried whole thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon dried parsley leaves, or chopped fresh parsley to taste
Prepare kasha and set aside. In a small skillet, saute sausage until it is thoroughly cooked. Drain off fat and discard; add cooked sausage to cooked kasha.
In the same small skillet, melt butter and saute onion and celery briefly, until they are barely tender. Add onion cooked onion and celery, plus the apple and seasonings to the kasha-sausage mixture. Stir to blend all ingredients thoroughly.
This recipe makes just over 6 cups of dressing (stuffing) to stuff a 12-pound turkey. It is also delicious just baked in a casserole dish at 350 degrees for about an hour and served as an accompaniment to any kind of poultry.
1 cup cooked kasha (whole, coarse, or medium)
1/3 cup chopped green onion
15 fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Red wine vinegar and oil dressing
Tabouli is best prepared with kasha that has been cooked in chicken broth.
Combine all ingredients, using sufficient salad dressing to moisten kasha (about 3-4 tablespoons). Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Place tabouli in center of plate, surround it with romaine leaves to be used as “scoops” to eat this tangy appetizer. (If available, a food processor speeds preparation.) Serves 4-5 as hors d’oeuvre or 2-3 as a salad course.
3 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1/4 cup medium kasha, uncooked
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 well-beaten egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch freshly-ground nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins or currants (optional)
1/2 cup half and half
Scald milk in the top of a double boiler. Add pumpkin puree, cornmeal and kasha; cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add molasses, sugar, butter, salt, spices and raisins. Remove from heat. In a small dish, add small amounts of the pudding to the beaten egg, then stir the egg into the pudding. Mix the pudding well, pour it into a greased baking dish, pour the half and half over the top, and bake the pudding at 300 degrees for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, or until it is set in the center. Serve the pudding warm or cold, topped with ice cream or whipped cream.
Dishing It Back 2020: A chance to win a $100 gift certificate to a local restaurant. Runs through Nov. 12. The challenges of the pandemic have taken a toll on local businesses, especially in the food services sector. Dishing It Back is a fun, interactive way to build excitement for Gateway Community College’s Hall of Fame, while also showcasing the culinary “chops” of local chefs and supporting the 18 restaurants (the Foundation will be purchasing these gift certificates) who have helped the GCC Foundation’s Hall of Fame in the past. Local chefs will showcase a signature dish for home cooks to recreate in their own kitchens. Details at https://bit.ly/3o0oMjF.
BASTA Trattoria, 1006 Chapel St., New Haven, 203-772-1715, Pasta Trio, menu at bit.ly/2WPnmwy, choose three different pastas and three different sauces for $20 per person. Served for lunch (noon-3 p.m.) Saturdays and Sundays for dining indoor or outdoor. bastatrattoria.com
Geronimo Tequila Bar and Southwest Grill, 271 Crown St. New Haven, 203-777-7700, happy hour from noon to 4 p.m., with $1 sliders, $1 drafts and $2 cans and bottles. These specials are available for dine-in only (indoor or outdoor). bit.ly/2ZW5cek
Shell and Bones, 100 S. Water St., New Haven, 203-787-3466, re-introduces happy hour, Monday through Thursday from noon to 4 p.m, offering $1 oysters, half-price bottles of wine and $1 drafts. Specials available for dine-in only (indoor or outdoor). shellandbones.com
Cooking questions? Send them to Stephen Fries, professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, at email@example.com or Dept. FC, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven 06510. Include your full name, address and phone number. Due to volume, I might not be able to publish every request. For more, go to stephenfries.com.