What’s old is new again: Buckwheat shines as a comfort ingredient.

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What’s old is new again: Buckwheat shines as a comfort ingredient.

My ever-growing collection of vintage recipe booklets is an inspiration for some of my columns. During times 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 lots of them) and bow tie pasta, the main ingredients. It is a dish high in flavor requiring only a few items. Kasha, sometimes considered a 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 varnishes. 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 item 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 sweeteners and cream, it makes a hearty breakfast cereal. Or, add to soups and stews as a thickener and flavor enhancer. I might tuck away the recipe below and use it as a stuffing for the turkey this year.

Wolff’s Kasha is a brand of Birkett Mills, located in Penn Yan (named after its original Pennsylvania and Yankee settlers) in the picturesque Finger Lakes region of New York. The area is known as “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 Slovenian 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, Crozets de 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.

Kasha Varnishkes

(Recipe provided by Birkett Mills)

2 cups chopped onions, or more

½ cup rendered chicken fat or olive oil

¾ cup kasha

salt

Ground black pepper

½ 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 1½ cups of water to a boil, stir in the kasha and about a teaspoon of salt. Cover and simmer until the 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. Services 4.

Watch Mark Bittman, author and journalist prepare kasha Varnishkes

Kasha Chili

(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

½ cup chopped celery (about 1 stick)

½ cup chopped carrot (1 carrot)

½ cup chopped red bell pepper (1 red pepper)

1 cup Wolff’s Medium Kasha (buckwheat groats)

2 cups of water

One (16 ounce) can diced tomatoes (or 1 ½ cups tomato puree)

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 ½ teaspoons chili powder

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon oregano

½ 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 the onions are soft and begin to caramelize. Add the chopped celery, carrot and red bell pepper. Cook for another 5 mins. 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 mins. 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. Services 4.

This buckwheat chili will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator or up to 2 months in the freezer. For a soupier chili, increase the water to 2 ½ cups.

For more recipes by Birkett Mills using buckwheat, visit

Very Special Turkey Dressing (Stuffing)

(recipe from “Wolff’s Buckwheat Cookbook”)

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)

¼ cup butter

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped tart apples (such as Granny Smith)

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

½ teaspoon powdered sage

1/8 teaspoon dried whole thyme leaves

¼ teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon dried parsley leaves, or chopped fresh parsley to taste

Prepare kasha and set aside. In a small skillet, sauté 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 sauté onion and celery briefly, until they are barely tender. Add cooked onion and celery, plus the apple and seasonings to the kasha-sausage mixture. Stir to blend all the 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.

Kasha Tabbouli

(recipe from “Wolff’s Buckwheat Cookbook”)

1 cup cooked oatmeal (whole, coarse, or medium)

1/3 cup chopped green onions

15 fresh mint leaves, chopped

¼ cup chopped parsley

1 large tomato, seeded and chopped

salt to taste

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Red wine vinegar and oil dressing

Romaine leaves

Tabouli is best prepared with kasha that has been cooked in chicken broth.

Combine all ingredients, using enough 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.

Pumpkin Pudding

(recipe from “Wolff’s Buckwheat Cookbook”)

3 cups milk

1 cup pumpkin puree

¼ cup stone-ground cornmeal

¼ cup medium oatmeal, uncooked

½ cup dark molasses

½ cup sugar

¼ cup butter

1 well-beaten egg

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Pinch freshly-ground nutmeg

½ cup raisins or currants (optional)

½ 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 ½ hours, or until it is set in the center. Serve the pudding warm or cold, topped with ice cream or whipped cream.

Stephen Fries, is a newly retired professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, in New Haven, CT. He has been a food and culinary travel columnist for the past 14 years and is co-founder of and host of “Worth Tasting,” a culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven, CT. He is a board member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Stephen@stephenfries.com For more, go to stephenfries.com.

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