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Author Notes: Kasha Varniskes, buckwheat groats cooked in chicken stock, mixed with deeply caramelized onions (preferably caramelized in chicken fat) and bow tie noodles. Often served with Mushroom Gravy, it makes it a terrific and filling vegetarian entrée, but it is also great aside roast chicken or a brisket. Kasha Varniskes is one of the many old fashioned recipes seeing a recent resurgence due to a renewed interested in Schmaltz and Groats ( which would be a fabulous name for a Klezmer Band BTW).
This is the last meal I cooked for my father. I caramelized onions, toasted groats in egg and boiled noodles for him after what would prove to be the last of the futile radiation treatments. It was the most loving dinner I could think to make. It comforted us all, even Finnegan the dog was lulled into a few moment s of gustatorily induced calm. I soothed my father and his sister on that awful rainy night with memories their mother Bella. Kasha Varniskes remains for all of us a definitive hug from her.
Kasha takes time, there is a process, the onions themselves take up to 45 minutes to get to that dark, sweet place, that most Jewish of all tastes…the taste of onions cooked slowly in chicken fat. This is what I imagine Jewish Quarters, Shtetls, and Ghettos have smelled of for thousands of years, it is the smell that reminds us all of home, quintessential, primal HOME.
I not ashamed to say that I weep openly and unabashedly now while I make it… the salt of my tears mingling with onions, the smell of toasting kasha bringing a rush of love and pain and memories of good times at the table with those I loved the most and of nights full of fear and loneliness. I make this every year on Yom Kippur and when I feel very far away from my family.
- 6 large yellow Onions- thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup Schmaltz or Duck Fat (olive oil will do if you are a vegan)
- 3 cups Chicken Stock- Homemade roasted dark brown chicken stock is best, but store bought will do (can Sub Mushroom Stock for vegetarians)
- 2 cups Whole Buckwheat Groats - Kasha
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- lots Fresh Ground Black Pepper
- Chopped Parsley for Garnish
- 4 cups Cooked Bow Tie Pasta or Medium Egg Noodles
- Melt the Schmaltz in a large heavy bottom sauté pan
- Add Onions
- Season with Salt & pepper
- Set Flame as low as it can go and cook stirring occasionally until they become a dark brown tangled sticky amalgam of onions and fat- about 45 minutes maybe more- if they seem to be sticking to the pan you can add a bit of water or stock.
- Scramble the egg and mix with the kasha so all the kernels are thoroughly coated
- Bring Stock to a simmer
- Place a Dutch oven or other stove top to oven vessel (with lid) over medium heat
- Sautee the groats/egg (dry no oil) over medium heat until the air smells like toasted buckwheat
- Pour Hot Stock over Kasha
- Add 1 tsp or so of Kosher salt IF the stock is unsalted
- Cover and place in oven @350 for 30 -45 minutes or until tender
- Fluff with a fork and Mix in onions and bow cooked bowties
- 13. Season generously with fresh ground pepper Sprinkle with Chopped parsley if you’d like
Mushroom Gravy - My dad not care for Mushroom Gravy but my Grandmother held in her taste memory the earthy cepes she hunted for as a girl in the Eastern European forests just adored it.
- 1 pound Assorted Mushrooms (or just white ones)- sliced
- 2-3 tablespoons Butter or Schmaltz or Olive Oil
- 1 sprig Fresh Thyme
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 3 tablespoons AP Flour or Wondra
- 1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
- 1/2 cup Dried porcini or IF you can find them Dried Polish Mushrooms- Soaked in 1 Cup boiling water for 1 hour
- 2 cups Mushroom Stock or Chicken Stock
- Melt the fat in a large saute pan with the Thyme Sprig
- Working in batches.. add just enough mushrooms to cover the bottom of the pan but not over lap, season with satt & pepper and then don’t touch them for about 10 minutes, until they have given up most of thier moisture and the edges are brown & crispy, stir to flip and cook on the other side –about 5-6 minutes- reserve in a bowl until all mushrooms are cooked.
- Pull the re-hydrated Mushroom from the liquid and give those a good saute as well in the pan to get rid of any sliminess- add to reserved mushrooms.
- Add Wine to empty mushroom pan & deglaze getting all the brown bits up and in the liquid.
- Add Mushrooms & the garlic back to the pan.. sprinkle with flour and stir well to coat.
- Add Stock and strained mushroom soaking liquid Bring to a boil
- Reduce to a simmer Cook another 30 minutes over medium heat until thickened ( you can add some cornstarch if you like really thick gravy)
- Add a few chopped fresh thyme leaves at the end if desired.
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Jewish-Inspired Recipe
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Family Recipe, Part 2