Save the Deli

Bittman’s Kasha

Kasha Varnishkes, courtesy of

I know Mark Bittman has been around the cooking world for years, but I just discovered him last year, when his videos on the New York Times website provided quick dish cooking lessons in under five minutes, all with a solid dose of humor and attitude. I’ve made a few of these things and they are awesome…nothing molecular or fancy or complicated…just good food.

So today the bald poobah himself dishes on kasha varnishkes, a true deli staple that is the love of many, and the bewilderment of many more.

Kasha Shows Off With a Bow Tie Flourish

JUST the other day I was discussing kasha with a grain-loving pal. The conversation went something like this:

She: “Kasha. There just isn’t a whole lot you can do with it.”

I: “No. It’s actually the least interesting of grains. I’m not even sure I like it.”

She: “Well. Kasha varnishkes.”

I: “Mm … kasha varnishkes.”

Kasha, toasted hulled buckwheat, is not what you would call versatile. But kasha varnishkes — kasha, noodles (typically bow ties), loads of slow-cooked onions and fat — is an amazing dish, one I used to beg my grandmother and mother to make for me, one that shows kasha in a light that does not shine on it elsewhere, at least in my repertory.

One could argue that you could replace the kasha with tenderized gravel and the dish would taste just fine, but in fact the very qualities of kasha that make it unappealing elsewhere — its grassiness, its too-soft texture — are the same ones that vault kasha varnishkes to the highest ranks of Eastern European cooking.

To make a completely authentic dish, you must cook the onions in chicken fat. (You can use olive oil, but it’s not the same.) You can buy chicken fat, but it’s easy enough just to save the excess fat from a few chickens that you are using for other dishes and freeze it. When you have about a cup, cut it up and cook it over very low heat until the fat is rendered and the solids crisp up (save those solids, and eat them on crackers). Onions are never better than when cooked in chicken fat.

But even more true: kasha is never better than when made this way.

He also writes about KV on his blog, and most importantly features a video where the Minimalist cooks perfect kasha varnishkes in just minutes. Too bad the New York Times doesn’t allow you to embed their videos in other sites. Damn liberal elitist media…

6 Responses to “Bittman’s Kasha”

  1. Steven Langer Says:

    “She: “Kasha. There just isn’t a whole lot you can do with it.”
    “I: “No. It’s actually the least interesting of grains. I’m not even sure I like it.””
    How about as a breakfast cereal, adding butter and salt? How about adding it to chicken soup instead of/or in addition to rice? How about cooking it as one would for kasha varnichkes for stuffing fowl? Personally, I like all three.

  2. julia s Says:

    OH, I wonder if they taste anything like the ones at Second Avenue Deli – the very best and most delicious anywhere! Must be the shmaltz. mmmmm….

  3. Lois Says:

    Excellent points.

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