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Kasha Varnishkes

October 16, 2012

A group of friends were sitting around my friend Fa’s (that’s what her grandson Jonah calls her) dining room table and we started reminiscing about this one dish that many of us had grown up with and lovingly remember and still make and/or eat.
Kasha Varnishkes. My mom made it, my grandma made it, my brother-in-law’s mom made it, Rik’s mom made it…

Kasha, or buckwheat, is one of Russia’s oldest and most traditional grains. Also dearly loved by the Jews of Russia, Lithuania and the Ukraine (barley being another top contender). My family may be from Romania, but kasha was big in our house too.

This company goes WAY back

We started playing around with the name Kasha Varnishkes to update it and you know, make it sound sexy.
Kashisi-vá is the new name we all agreed on wholeheartedly. Okay, we’d also had a little wine.

Kasha comes in three varieties: whole grain, medium and fine. I grew up eating the medium kasha so that’s the texture that’s most appealing to me. How many times has my mom told me, “You’re making kasha? Make sure you buy the medium one!!” An Israeli friend tells me that she grew up eating the whole-grain variety, so of course, that’s what she uses. The whole grain has a coarser texture and all three have a wonderful earthy, nutty goodness.

You can roast the kasha initially in a bit of oil but the traditional way that I grew up with is to mix a beaten egg with the kasha in a bowl or in a cold pan (why wash an extra dish? Do you want to? I don’t want to).

Then you saute it for a few minutes to separate the grains, stirring the whole time. This ensures cooked kasha that’s light and wonderful.

Don’t stop stirring!

Add kasha to simmering broth/water or add broth to browned kasha. I do the latter.

A safety tip (from the Famous School of Experience): Turn heat WAY down before adding broth and you won’t have an angry burst of  steam in your face. Stir again, bring up to a boil and simmer gently, partially covered until water is absorbed.

Can you put a lid on it?

While kasha cooks, bring a medium pot of salted water up to the boil.

We always ate it with bowties. This little pasta derives from little homemade egg pasta shapes made in Eastern Europe (prepared from egg, flour and a little water) that were pinched in the center and resembled bow ties.

The large bowties are more commonly found as farfalle these days, while the little ones, which I prefer (they’re so sweet) (not literally, of course), are called farfalline.

Oh we’re so sweet, we need another shot

Some add sauteed onions. I slice the onion in half-circles as my mom and grandma used to. Others add sauteed mushrooms with no pasta. I love the works: the kasha, the varnishkes, the onions, the mushrooms. And if there’s any kashisi-vá (did I just say that?) leftover the next day, I heat it up for lunch with a little scoop of cottage cheese (if I made the kasha with vegetable broth- I keep kosher and don’t mix meat with dairy) and possibly a dollop of light sour cream. The swirls of creamy goodness combined with the nutty kasha and mellow itty-bitty pasta. The gestalt of it all.

I need a moment.

Thank you.

After the onions are well-cooked and starting to brown, add the sliced mushrooms and quickly saute on medium-high heat.(We can’t wait to have some!)

Kashisi- vá?

Kashisi- WHA?

Call me old-fashioned but let’s just call a kasha a kasha and stick with Kasha Varnishkes… as delicious today as it was in our grandparents’ time.

Kasha! How I love ya, How I love ya!

Kasha Varnishkes


1 c. bowtie pasta (farfalle or farfalline), I like the smaller farfalline (may also be available as small bowties in the kosher section of the market)
1 large onion, sliced into half-circles
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
3 T. oil
1 c. chicken or vegetable broth (I generally use vegetable broth but DELICIOUS with homemade chicken soup)
1 egg, beaten
1 c.  medium kasha (also called buckwheat groats)
salt and pepper to taste


In a saucepan, heat 1 c. broth, 1 c. water, and 1 T. oil to boiling. Turn off heat and cover to keep hot.

In a separate, cold sauté or sturdy-bottomed saucepan (one with a lid),  pour beaten egg over kasha and stir with fork until grains are thoroughly coated.  Heat on medium for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly to separate grains.

Turn heat to low and add broth mixture to kasha.  Return to boil.   Cover and cook over low heat with lid askew 12-14 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed.  Transfer to serving dish or bowl. Fluff with a fork.

Put pasta uncovered in a large pot of boiling, salted water, and cook for 6-8 minutes, or until just tender.  Drain well.

Toss with kasha.

Heat 2 T. oil in large skillet.  Add onions, cook over medium-low heat, stirring often for 10-12 minutes, until onions start to brown.

Add thinly sliced mushrooms and continue to saute for a few minutes until mushrooms just begin to release liquid.  Transfer to bowl and cover to keep warm. If your kasha and bowties are ready, add directly to kasha mixture.

Toss kasha and bowtie pasta with onions and mushrooms, and adjust seasoning to taste.  Serve hot.

Makes 6 to 8 servings as a side. Freezes well- remove from freezer the day before using.

♥ My mom isn’t into making this dish anymore, but she adores it and she’s having some for dinner this Friday night.

♥ Special thanks to my sister, Master Brisket Maker, for contributing to the featured image.


From → Mains, Sides

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