Kasha (and pilaf, while I’m thinking of it)

Last weekend when we were shopping for something to cook for supper I said, “pot roast.” When the question arose of what to make with it, rice? I said, “No, kasha.”

When I was a kid (and Hanna can confirm this if she chooses to comment on this post) pot roast and kasha was a single menu item. We never had pot roast without kasha, nor kasha without pot roast.

Kasha is buckwheat groats. It makes a starch dish, like rice or pilaf, but with lots of its own flavor. There’s a dish called “kasha varnishkes”, which is kasha and pasta bowties, but there is no such thing as one kasha varnishke.

I don’t know how to make kasha varnishkes, but I do know how to cook kasha, and as you guessed I’m about to tell you. The recipe on the box, which is preferentially a box of whole groats, just has you mixing kasha and boiling water. You can do that, if you want a mushy gluey mass. If you want kasha with separate grains, here’s what you do:

Break one egg into a small mixing bowl. Beat it with a fork or whisk. Add one cup of dry kasha and mix well. Now heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a saucepan and saute the kasha until the grains don’t stick together any more (that is, until the egg is all cooked). Then add however much liquid the box said to use for a cup of kasha and follow the directions on the box from there as far as cooking time goes. And there you have your starch dish to go with pot roast.
That’s a lot like my graduate-school landlady Mrs. Saghbazarian’s recipe for pilaf. Pilaf took one hank or skein of vermicelli (in Watertown we used to get noodles that were sort of coiled, not a box of straight ones. If you don’t have a hank of noodles, you want about four times as much weight of rice as of noodles), two cups of rice, one stick of butter, and four cups of chicken. Melt the butter, break up the vermicelli into pieces less than an inch long (with the skeined noodles you just have to give the skein a good squeeze), fry them in the butter until they just start to get a tiny bit brown — if you cook them too long, they’ll be burnt by the time the rice is fried enough–, add rice and fry it until it’s white instead of translucent, add chicken soup, bring to a boil (or if the soup was already boiling, you’re all set there), and make the flame low low and cook until the rice is done. That may strike you as a lot of butter, but it sure makes good pilaf.

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