Friday, February 4, 2011

old-school breakfast: kasha with egg

I seem to be channeling an Eastern European grandmother these days. For breakfast this morning I made kasha with egg. And added a spoonful of schmaltz.

Does anyone else think of Frank Costanza when they hear the word kasha? The famous Seinfeld kasha scene! It's one of my favorites (obviously I have watched one too many series reruns, but bear with me). I can't seem to find a clip of the scene on youtube, so instead I share with you an excerpt from the episode's script.


[George's Apartment]

George sits up in bed reading a magazine. Frank enters, carrying a small bowl. George puts his magazine to one side, as Frank carefully climbs into bed whilst keeping hold of the bowl. George takes off his glasses, as Frank settles back. Picking up a spoon from the bowl Frank is about to eat, when a thought occurs. Carefully, Frank reaches over with the spoon, to offer George a taste.

FRANK: Kasha?

George looks disdainfully at the spoonful. A few morsels have fallen onto the bedclothes, George picks them up and puts them back into Frank's bowl.

GEORGE: No. Thanks, dad.

Wearily, George puts his glasses on the bedside table, and switches off his bedside lamp, bringing darkness to the room. George shuffles down beneath the bedclothes, to get comfortable, just as Frank switches on his bedside lamp. Exasperated, George lifts his pillow and places it over his own face, as Frank continues to eat his kasha.


Although I've never eaten a bowl of it in bed, I do love kasha. My mom used to make it for breakfast, and it was one of my favorites. But I must have lost touch with kasha at some point, forgot about it entirely, until I was reintroduced to it in a whole-grains class during cooking school. The moment the aroma of steaming kasha hit me, I knew this was a food I had loved at a young age (behold the power of olfactory memories!). I've been cooking kasha ever since.

Kasha, or buckwheat groats, is one of my pantry staples -- it's quick-cooking, gluten-free, great at any meal, and has a unique, wonderfully nutty flavor. Though we often lump it into the grain category, botanically speaking the buckwheat groat is not truly a grain but rather the fruit seed of a plant related to rhubard. High in antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, and one in particular called rutin, which helps to normalize blood lipid levels and mediate blood clotting. Also rich in magnesium, which promotes blood vessel relaxation, and manganese, which acts as a cofactor in many enzymatic reactions in the body. Altogether, a nice synergy of beneficial effects for the cardiovascular system.

This cold morning I decided to make kasha and egg, and since I can't resist tinkering, fancied it up with some fresh rosemary and parsley and a sprinkling of dulse flakes (a variety of sea vegetable). Remembering a container of schmaltz in the fridge, I stirred in a spoonful of that, too. The result was comfort food at its best: the kasha was tender, nutty and earthy, with notes of brightess from the fresh herbs and complexity from the rich schmaltz and savory, umami-rich dulse. 

I have a feeling kasha is going to be a regular in my breakfast rotation from now on. Although I made a savory combination this morning, I can also imagine taking the kasha in a sweet direction, topping it with milk (dairy or not), butter, cinnamon, and honey or maple syrup. Maybe some diced apple or pear on top, too. 

kasha with egg, herbs, and dulse
Serves 4

1 cup kasha (buckwheat groats), rinsed and drained 
1 egg
2 cups boiling water
1/2 tsp sea salt
small sprig of rosemary, finely chopped (about 3/4 tsp)
1 Tbsp schmaltz (see below), unsalted organic butter, or extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp dulse flakes
black pepper

In a medium saucepot combine the kasha and egg, stirring well so all the groats are coated. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the grains are separated and dry, and the kasha begins to smell nutty (about 5 minutes).

Add the boiling water, salt, and rosemary to the kasha mixture, stir well, cover, and simmer until water is absorbed and kasha is tender, 15 to 18 minutes. 

Stir in the schmaltz or other fat, parsley, and dulse, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot.

a word on schmaltz

I made schmaltz for the first time a couple of weeks ago. As I was preparing to roast a pasture-raised chicken that I had brought home from the greenmarket, I noticed two large pieces of fat just inside the cavity, and immediately thought schmaltz! (This was a treat, since even when buying direct from the farm these fatty lobes are often removed before you buy the chicken.)

I removed the pieces of fat with kitchen shears, tossed them into a small pan, and cooked the fat, covered, over low heat for about 15 minutes (I learned later that it's traditional to also add some chopped onion when rendering the fat). It spat and sputtered a good deal, and eventually I was left with liquified, translucent yellow chicken fat and two well-browned cracklin'-like things (which I discarded; though it's possible they are edible, I wasn't too eager to find out). I strained the fat to remove the brown bits, refrigerated the clear portion, and now have about 1/4 cup of lovely schmaltz to use in all sorts of things.

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