Kasha Varnishkes – Kasha and Bows

Kasha, an earthy and fiber-filled grain, is one of the oldest known food staples in Eastern European cuisine. Also known as buckwheat groats, kasha is popular with descendants of Ashkenazi and Yiddish-speaking Jews from Eastern Europe and Russia. In this preparation known as Kasha Varnishkes, toasted kasha is tossed with egg noodles, fat, salt and pepper to create a warm, comforting meal. In America, the most popular noodle choice for this dish is bowtie pasta, leading to the recipe’s American nickname– Kasha and Bows.

When cooking Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, we might be tempted to steer clear of unhealthy traditional ingredients like schmaltz. And yet, nothing can compare to the way that schmaltz enhances a dish like Kasha Varnishkes. Substitutes pale in comparison to the real deal.

When faced with the decision to make a dish either healthy or authentic, for me authentic always wins hands down. I’d rather enjoy a dish the way it was meant to be enjoyed. That’s not to say I’m a proponent of unhealthy eating… it just means I’ve learned to limit my indulgence. I enjoy a decadent dish like Kasha Varnishkes as a “treat,” and when I do, I eat it the way it was meant to be eaten. If that means coating my pasta and kasha in melty, savory schmaltz, so be it.

Kasha Varnishkes might be considered the ultimate in Ashkenazi comfort food. It’s great as a side dish, or as a simple entrée for a chilly autumn evening. Of course, you can make it with vegetable oil for a less caloric result… but it just won’t be the same. Butter makes a creamy, tasty substitute for those who can’t handle the idea of chicken fat. But please, don’t fear the schmaltz. While your cardiologist might frown, your tastebuds will certainly thank you. As the immortal Julia Child once said:

Everything in moderation… including moderation.

~Julia Child

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Kasha Varnishkes (Kasha and Bows)

Ingredients

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 cup uncooked kasha (also called buckwheat groats - medium or coarse grain)
  • 1/3 cup schmaltz, butter, or vegetable oil (or more to taste) - divided
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1/2 lb bowtie pasta
  • Salt and pepper

You will also need

  • A small oven-safe nonstick skillet, medium saucepan, medium pot
Total Time: 45 Minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Kosher Key: Meat, Dairy, or Pareve depending on oil used
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a small bowl, mix together kasha, beaten egg, ¼ tsp of salt and a dash of black pepper.
  • Stir with a fork till the kasha is well coated. Spread mixture into a small oven-safe nonstick skillet in an even layer.
  • Place in the oven and let the mixture cook for 15-20 minutes till it's dry all the way through. This will “toast” the kasha.
  • As the kasha is toasting, heat 2 tbsp schmaltz, butter, or oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium. Fry the diced onions for 15-20 minutes, stirring often, until they are nice and golden brown. Reserve both the onions and the oil.
  • Meanwhile, boil 3 cups of water and ¼ tsp of salt in a medium saucepan for the kasha. In a separate pot, boil about 8 cups of salted water—this is for your bowtie pasta.
  • Remove the kasha from the oven and break it apart completely with a fork, separating all the chunks into small pieces.
  • Pour the kasha into the medium saucepan with 3 cups of boiling water and stir. Cover the pot, reduce heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes. Check periodically to make sure the kasha isn't becoming overly dry or burning.
  • While the kasha is cooking, pour the bowtie pasta into the larger pot with boiling salted water and cook the noodles to your favorite consistency. I like my pasta tender, which takes about 15 minutes. If you prefer it al dente, cook it less. Drain, then pour the pasta back in the pot.
  • When the kasha is nice and fluffy and the water is fully absorbed, after about 15 minutes of cooking, remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Break apart any clumps that may have formed.
  • Pour the cooked kasha and the sautéed onions with oil over the pasta. Add the remaining 3 tbsp of schmaltz, butter, or oil to the pasta.
  • Mix all ingredients together till well combined. Add more schmaltz, butter, or oil, if desired, to moisten the pasta. Season generously with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

 

Comments (28)Post a Comment

  1. We’d skin a chicken, & render its fat with Walla Walla onions but more importantly I like what your cooking up! Shalom.

  2. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Made this tonight using Quinoa/Corn GF pasta, it was amazing. Brought back memories of when my Bubba made this for dinners. Thanks so much.

  3. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I have eaten Kasha Varniskes my whole life! My mother never used schmaltz, I never use schmaltz, it is still delicious and “authentic.” Who’s to say what is authentic? It’s delicious either way!

  4. Ellen, every family has their own way of making these dishes. Schmaltz is one of those traditional ingredients that has been around for generations; it was the cooking fat of choice for most of the Jewish immigrants to New York in the late 1800’s. Many families in America have fond memories attached to schmaltz because it’s the fat their grandparents and great grandparents cooked with. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to cook this dish, which is why I listed some alternatives (butter and veggie oil). Your method is authentic to your family history, and I’m sure it’s delicious. Even better, you’re celebrating your family history by cooking it the way your mother did… that’s more important than any recipe you’ll ever find! :)

  5. So love everything about your blog. How + what you take pictures of, your text , it’s humor, grace and style. I look forward to checking in to see what you are going to present. All the time knowing I’m going to love + enjoy what I find.

  6. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Kasha Varnishkas was my childhood comfort food. My mother made it just the way you do. I’ve changed the recipe a little. Instead of using the egg for toasting the kasha I just put the kasha in a frying pan with a little bit of oil and toast it on the stove. Then I saute the onion with some broccoli in oil but add a tad of butter at the end for flavor. This way, for me, it’s a complete one pan meal.

  7. I don’t get to eat kasha varnishkes often enough–hardly at all, thanks to my squeamish husband and picky son. So sad.

    Anyway, in my family we toast the egg-coated kasha in the saucepan, then add the boiling water. No need to turn on the oven! As far as “authenticity” goes, I think it’s completely a matter of what you grew up with. My mom’s kasha varnishes is authentic, to me. And that’s all that matters.

  8. My mom and bubbie also sauteed mushrooms with the onions. Naturally I do the same with shmaltz of course. A real comfort food. I also use chicken broth with the kasha.

  9. Always serve this with brisket..Like my mom did. Used to use Nyafat but haven’t seen it for years. Is there any substitution for Nyafat?

    1. In Florida Publix sells a five ounce can of rendered chicken fat that is made by empire kosher. It is found in the freezer with the other kosher products. That is the closest I gave found to home made schmaltz. It is good.

  10. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Yes, kasha varnishkas are certainly comfort food. Each family has their own special twist, just like with brisket. My mom made it with schmaltz and on the stove. I use peanut oil to fry and carmalize the onions adding a wonderful layer of flavor. In addition I mix boullion cubes in the water when cooking the kasha.

    1. Hi Bella! Do you mean in the kasha varnishkes or alongside them? Pretty much any veggie would work alongside– I’m thinking steamed young green beans might be nice, or broccoli, or a spinach salad. If you’re talking about cooking veggies in the dish, that’s a different story… I’ve never mixed in vegetables before.

  11. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Hi! love your site…so many great soul food recipes for me to try! How many servings would you say this recipe makes as a side dish? I’m going to serve along side brisket with portobellos, steamed asparagus and green bean salad for a dinner party tomorrow!! Thanks so much:)

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