This weekend, in the spirit of trying something new in the kitchen, I cooked up some kasha. I will not be cooking up any more kasha.
Kasha, for those of you who are like I was until very recently – that is, blissfully unaware of all manner of things about kasha, particularly those things that are revealed by eating it – is hulled and roasted buckwheat kernels. Strangely, buckwheat has no relation to ordinary wheat, and isn’t even a proper cereal – the kernels are the inner seed of a flowering herb. Here in America, most of us rarely dine on buckwheat except in flour form – in buckwheat pancakes (where it is safely subsumed in a wash of hot maple syrup), savory Japanese soba noodles, or else as a fractional component of Kashi’s trademark blend of grains (if that’s your bowl of cereal). But I’ve been experimenting with slightly unusual whole grains lately as a way to break the hegemony of rice and pasta over my diet. My first try, a millet “risotto,” worked out very well, toasty and creamy with a pleasant nubbly texture. Kasha was my next effort, purchased blind at the local organic market after my intended grain, amaranth, was out of stock. The packaging promised me iron and dietary fiber and all eight essential amino acids. The packaging promised me a unique flavor experience of Eastern Europe. The packaging promised me a versatile, delicious, and easy-to-prepare organic whole grain, all for just $8.49. I was sold.
I will concede that I found it fairly easy to prepare. I made broth, coated the kasha with egg, toasted it, and then boiled it all together, no sticking, easy. Versatile I might also grant it – I can imagine it substituting for pearlite in potting soil mixtures, providing habitat for rare molds, and dispensed in big steaming bowls as punishment to naughty children, all with equal effectiveness. But delicious? Dry, it smelled like the chalky fake peanut butter in truckstop cracker packs, but acrid instead of sweet, almost medicinal. A note of Band-Aids. Cooked, it got a furry odor, like a sweaty leg. The flavor was a bit more mellow – soggy brown corrugated cardboard scraped over with margarine. The dry siltiness of the uncooked kernels ripened in the broth into a chewy, wet siltiness. The kasha also expanded prodigiously when I cooked it; one dry cup provided me with two full Tupperwares of leftovers that I will refrigerate indefinitely, ignore, forget, rediscover with horror at some smelly future time, and then squeamishly turn out into the compost.
I’ve heard it said, “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.” This seems like wisdom, or at least a way to keep yourself ingratiated with others. If kasha is your yum, you have my apologies. I would love to hear a defense, perhaps in the form of an ode. I wonder – has kasha ever inspired rhapsodies? One thing is certain – I’m not the first to feel strong animosity toward apparently innocuous cereal grains. Kasha for me is like oats were for Samuel Johnson. Though, unlike Johnson, I intend absolutely no disrespect toward those who eat and enjoy them, be they Scottish or otherwise.
This is Peter’s eleventh post as a Guest Blogger.
Image: Buckwheat Kasha with Butter (Laitr Keiows, 2009)