While living in Russia, my ultimate least favorite dish was kasha – boiled buckwheat groats. Buckwheats have a strong, nutty flavor and is packed full of nutrients. But boiled plain – not so much. It was really the one dish my Russian host mom cooked that I just couldn’t stand! It was just so dry and had such an unusual and strong grain flavor. Every time I put it in my mouth, I felt like it just kept growing bigger, threatening to cut off my air supply. To my horror, it appeared at almost every, single meal. Of course out of politeness, I would always serve myself a portion. Small enough to choke down, large enough not to appear rude. After that trip, I couldn’t even say the word kasha without gagging.
It wasn’t until graduate school that I tried kasha again. My good friend Elizabeth offered to make an elaborate birthday meal for one of our Russian classmates and she asked me to come over early to help. “Sure Elizabeth, no problem! It’ll be fun. Let’s do it.” In my head I screamed: No! Why?! Merciful heavens, it’s her birthday for goodness sake!
But I have to say, she proved me so wrong that night! Rather than a bowl of mushy, flavorless buckwheats, she transformed them into fluffy, nutty grains tossed with caramelized mushrooms and onions and tossed with fresh, bright dill*. Wow. Mind. Blown. How? What? How is this the same, but it’s not the same? If this was how kasha was first served to me, I would have been in love! Elizabeth proved my hatred of kasha very wrong that night; this is one of my all-time favorite meals now. It’s so full of crazy, delicious flavor and it’s really healthy and nutritious! Win-win Nguyen.
*I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it was to find fresh dill in winter in the middle of the projects in southern Connecticut, but that’s a story for another time…
Buckwheat Kasha with Caramelized Mushrooms and Fresh Dill
(adapted from Elizabeth’s recipe)
(Makes a ton!)
2 cups dried buckwheat groats
4 cups water (or broth)
1 tsp + 1 Tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
16 ounces cremini mushrooms, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
1/3 cup fresh dill, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Rinse buckwheat groats 2 or 3 times in water; drain well. In a large pot, melt 1 tsp of butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Add groats and toast until fragrant.
Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of water to boil in an electric kettle. Alternatively, bring 4 cups of broth to a boil in a pot.
Add boiling water/broth to the toasted buckwheat groats. Careful, as the hot water hitting the hot groats will cause it to sputter wildly. It’s important to add boiling water. If started in cold water, the buckwheat will be mushy.
Add a generous pinch of salt. Turn the heat to low, place a lid on the pot, and cook for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, remove from heat. Fluff buckwheat. Cover with lid and allow to steam for an additional 5 minutes off the heat.
Heat 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Add onions and mushrooms. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and mushrooms are browned and caramelized. Take the time to well caramelize the onions and mushrooms. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the garlic is fragrant. Be careful not to burn it.
Add buckwheat. Heat through. Finish with 1 Tbsp of butter. Season with salt, to taste. Add fresh dill and parsley and toss. Serve hot with sour cream or yogurt. Great as a side or main dish. Leftovers freeze well.