For many years, when dining at the home of a friend, I enjoyed a traditional Eastern European Jewish side dish: Kasha Varnishkes, or bow-tie pasta tossed with toasted kasha pilaf. It is a savory, addictive combination, hard to stop eating once you’ve begun. It was one of my favorite dishes. Recently I asked my friend if she thought I could I create a tasty version using gluten-free pasta. She assured me I could because in times gone by it was made with homemade kreplach (or fresh pasta dumplings), which were stuffed with kasha. In America bow tie noodles replaced the homemade stuffed dumplings, so why couldn’t gluten-free pasta replace the bow-tie noodles? Because I couldn’t locate a gluten-free bow-tie pasta (are there any on the market?), I chose gluten free brown rice spirals.
First a bit of botany: Kasha, or roasted buckwheat groats, is a naturally gluten free food despite the “wheat” in its name. Buckwheat and wheat belong to two different botanical families. (Buckwheat seeds are the fruit of Fagopyrum esculentum, a plant completely unrelated to wheat, which belongs to the Triticum family.) To make groats, buckwheat seeds are hulled, then ground into flour or roasted as kasha. Kasha comes in three sizes: whole, medium or fine granulation. I like medium granulation for this recipe.
Next a note of nutrition: Buckwheat is extremely high in protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, potassium iron, calcium and lysine. An excellent source of dietary fiber, buckwheat helps lower cholesterol. One cup of cooked buckwheat groats has 17 grams of dietary fiber (68% of the rda for a 2000-calorie per day diet) and 22 grams of protein.
So eat your buckwheat groats, especially when combined with gluten-free pasta!
To bring out the full flavor of the roasted groats, it is essential to mix it with egg and then dry and toast it until it is nut-brown in an unoiled nonstick skillet. Then it is steamed, covered, in liquid. To increase flavor I like to use chicken broth instead of water. And while it would be nice to have rich, homemade chicken broth on hand, my second-best choice is Better Than Bouillon™ brand low-sodium base.
Adding chopped parsley not only lends color but taste. I like to mix both curly and flat-leaf parsley for the best of both flavors.
Kasha Varnishkes makes a great side dish for poultry (especially roasted chicken), beef and fish (especially broiled or sautéed fish fillets). And, much like mac’ and cheese, it is delicious and filling on its own. The recipe seems tailor-made for creative add-ins (see recipe variations).
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large of 2 medium yellow onions, quartered, sliced
- 1 cup medium granulation kasha
- 1 egg
- 2 cups hot water
- 2 teaspoons Better than Bouillon reduced sodium chicken base
- 12 ounces (¾ pound) short gluten free pasta, preferably Tinkyada brand, such as spirals, shells or penne, cooked and drained
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
- ¼ cup finely chopped curly parsley
- In a 10-inch skillet over medium heat, heat oil. Add onions and sauté, stirring, until onions are well browned but not burned. Remove from heat. Reserve
- In a medium bowl mix together the kasha and egg until the groats are well moistened. Transfer to a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and toast, stirring, until groats are nut brown.
- Mix water and chicken base to dissolve base.
- Add to toasted groats in skillet, stir, cover and let steam for 10 minutes.
- Uncover, fluff with a spatula, stirring from the bottom. Transfer to a large bowl. Add pasta and salt. Stir to mix. Add half the parsley. Stir. Transfer to a large serving dish.
- Sprinkle top with remaining parsley. Serve as a side dish.
- Cover and refrigerate any unused Kasha Varnishkes. Reheat in the microwave.
Variations: Add one or more of the following to onions, sauté and add to kasha: finely diced carrots, frozen peas, diced red bell pepper, sliced mushrooms.
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