Kasha varnishkes salad
(Photo/Faith Kramer)
Kasha varnishkes salad (Photo/Faith Kramer)

Kasha varnishkes, Jewish comfort food, gets a summertime upgrade

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This buckwheat and noodle salad gives a cool, summertime spin to a traditional Eastern European Jewish dish. It works as either a salad or a side dish. An Ashkenazi comfort food, kasha varnishkes (a buckwheat and noodle pilaf) forms the basis for the salad. Kasha, or buckwheat groats, has sustained Ashkenazi Jews since the 14th century, not long after the crop crossed from northern China into Eastern Europe. Nutty-tasting buckwheat, a fruit seed, is gluten free. Choose gluten-free pasta to keep the dish entirely free of gluten.

To serve the kasha varnishkes hot as a pilaf (and then turn any leftovers into salad), make the recipe up through stirring in the pasta.


Kasha Varnishkes Salad (Buckwheat and Noodle Salad)

Serves 8-10

Pilaf 

  • 1 cup uncooked bow-tie (farfalle) pasta
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup roasted buckwheat groats (kasha), medium or coarse grind (see notes)
  • 4 Tbs. oil, divided, plus more as needed
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼  tsp. ground black pepper
  • ¼  tsp. ground cumin
  • ¼  tsp. paprika
  • ¼  tsp. crumbled dried oregano
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup thinly sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth, plus extra

Salad

  • Dressing (see below)
  • 1 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • ½ cup thinly sliced green onions
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • ½ cup total chopped red and/or yellow bell pepper
  • ¼ tsp. coarse sea or kosher salt, or as needed, optional

Garnishes

  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped tomatoes

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Set aside. Break egg into bowl and beat. Stir in kasha until coated. Set aside.

In large skillet, heat 2 Tbs. oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onion until golden, 7-10 minutes. Add garlic. Sauté 1-2 minutes until golden. Add salt, pepper, cumin, paprika and oregano. Sauté 1 minute. Add carrots and mushrooms. Add oil if needed. Sauté 2-3 minutes until mushrooms begin to soften.

Add remaining 2 Tbs. oil. Stir in kasha until grains separate, 2-3 minutes. Pour in broth. Stir well. Bring to simmer; reduce heat to low. Cover. Cook 7-10 minutes until liquid is absorbed and kasha tender. Add ½ cup broth or water at a time if needed until tender. Stir in pasta. Cook until heated through.  If serving as hot pilaf, taste and add salt if needed. Serve hot topped with garnishes.

For salad, immediately stir in half of prepared dressing (see below). Stir well. (Dish can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated.) Stir in cucumber, 1 cup tomatoes, ½ cup parsley, bell pepper and green onions. Add more dressing by the tablespoon if needed. Toss and taste. Sprinkle with coarse salt if desired. Toss again.

Dressing: Mix together in jar with lid ½ cup vegetable oil with ¼ cup plus 3 Tbs. unseasoned rice vinegar, 1 tsp. minced garlic, ¼ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. ground black pepper, ¼ tsp. cumin, ¼ tsp. crumbled dried oregano, ¼ tsp. paprika, ⅛ tsp. cayenne and ⅛ tsp. dry mustard. Make up to 5 days ahead. Refrigerate. Shake well before using.

Salad with Greens: Toss 2-4 cups of arugula or other greens with 2-3 Tbs. dressing and place on bottom of serving bowl or on individual serving plates. Top with Kasha Varnishkes Salad and garnishes.

Notes: I use Wolff’s Kasha, the same brand my mother and grandmother used. Find kasha with other grains or in the kosher section of many supermarkets. If only whole buckwheat groats are available, stir constantly in single layer in hot, dry skillet for 10 minutes until well toasted. Use in place of the medium or coarse ground buckwheat, adding 3 cups broth plus more as needed. Timing varies.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is faithkramer.com. Contact her at [email protected].