A Lesson on Kasha Varnishkes From Jewish Cooking Authority Joan Nathan

© Courtesy of Joan Nathan
By Joan Nathan Posted May 20, 2015

Here, Jewish cookbook authority Joan Nathan dishes with Food & Wine about the one Jewish recipe every cook should master. 

F&W's #FOODWINEWOMEN series spotlights top women in food and drink in collaboration with Toklas Society. Follow the hashtag on Twitter (@foodandwine). Here, Jewish cookbook authority Joan Nathan dishes with Food & Wine about the one Jewish recipe every cook should master. 

Who: Joan Nathan
What: Award-winning cookbook author, most recently of Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Cooking in France.  
Where: Washington, D.C., @Joan_Nathan 

Kasha (buckwheat groats) was an everyday meal for Eastern European Jews. Nothing can compare to the taste sensation of the crunchy kasha paired with sweet caramelized onions, some sautéed mushrooms al dente bowtie noodles. For me it is comfort food extraordinaire. I like kasha varnishkes for many reasons besides the earthiness of the dish. It also reminds me of what cooks did before the advent of boxed noodles. They made square noodles, pinching the centers together to resemble bowties.  

When I was in Galilee in the ‘90s, interviewing an elderly woman who was originally from Poland, she told me a story about when her parents moved to the region in the 19th century, and how they found little to eat in the winter.  Taking inspiration from their Arab neighbors they improvised, using the largest available kernels of local bulgur wheat—which were dried on rooftops to preserve them for the winter’s mealsand adapting their beloved dish accordingly, as the buckwheat groats did not grow in Galilee. Today, when old recipes and old grains are coming back into fashion, here it is again! I have even seen the dish with quinoa. Some people add chicken gizzards to the mix. Not I, but you can play with the dish and make it your own. My children, although in their 20s and 30s, still love it, and I make it with brisket for holiday meals. But kasha can hold up on its own for any meal. 

Kasha Varnishkes with Mushrooms and a Confit of Onions 
Servings: 6

1 cup large or medium-grain buckwheat groats 
1 large egg
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons vegetable broth

2 tablespoons rendered duck or goose fat or vegetable oil, or as needed
2 large onions, sliced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
5 cups cooked bow tie noodles 
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Put the kasha in a medium bowl and coat with the egg and 2 tablespoons of the vegetable broth. Bring the remaining broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Warm a skillet with a lid over medium heat and add the kasha, stirring it for a few minutes until it is firm and smells like toasted nuts. Pour the hot broth into the skillet. Simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until cooked.

2. In a large skillet, melt the duck fat or vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and the mushrooms and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Mix with the kasha and cooked noodles and sprinkle with the parsley.

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