"This is one of the most tender grains I have ever eaten. It's like a demure couscous, with a nutty taste."
I get words stuck in my head sometimes. No matter how far I bend my ear toward my shoulder and try to rattle those phrases out of my cranium, they stick like ticks onto bare leg.
Sometimes it's names that whirl inside there. Christiane Amanpour. It has a certain quality, doesn't it? Something mellifluous and sophisticated. Charlize Theron. Maybe I repeated her name to myself because it was a couple of letters away from another name entirely: Charlie Theon. Just one beat too many in both names set me repeating.
And then there are the words and phrases, in English and otherwise. Stutter step. Onomatopoeia. Blunt. Jam-packed. Or rombobiner, which I thought, for years, was the French verb for rewind. It's actually only when I looked up the spelling as I wrote this piece that I realized I have had the wrong word stuck in my head for years. (It's rembobiner.)
I wonder if that means the word will leave my head now?
(Don't get me started on songs. And do not sing "It's a Small World" in my presence, please.)
Food phrases stick more than other words these days. Mise en place. Sous vide. Julienne. (Wow, I guess I'm on a French bender.) But only one food phrase has actually driven me to stand in front of the stove, to get the words out of my head.
Tell truth, I had no idea what this dish was. I just love the sound of the phrase. When I lived in New York, I must have eaten it, somewhere. Maybe at Veselka? (Or is that just another word that runs around my brain?) Chilled in a take-away container from Zabar's? Or have I just heard the phrase and longed to eat it because of the euphony of the Ks and SH?
(I know. I'm weird.)
When I looked up kasha varnishke (by Google), the first hit about the food was the one I found was on this site. (Thanks, Robin Bellinger.) Bow tie pasta? Mushrooms? Onions? Garlic? Chicken fat?
I had the mushrooms. Onions and garlic always sit on our kitchen counter. But I was fresh out of schmaltz. And gluten-free bow-tie pasta isn't great. But kasha? Kasha we had in the cupboards.
(Or, I thought we did. According to AboutKasha, the word kasha can refer to any assemblage of grains. There goes the label on that box. Buckwheat groats is the more accurate term here.)
You see, when I found I had to live gluten-free, after being diagnosed with celiac disease in 2005, I decided to expand my food horizons and eat anything available to me. As long as it doesn't contain gluten, I'm eating it. Buckwheat may sound dangerous for a celiac, but it contains no wheat or gluten at all. This grain actually comes from the same family as rhubarb. Just an unfortunate name.
So I pulled out the box of buckwheat groats, which are gluten-free, and started thinking about what to make. Quickly, I was stumped. Without the pasta and schmaltz, I didn't want to replicate kasha varnishke. And without ever having eaten buckwheat groats, I didn't want to throw in other ingredients, in case we didn't like it. Instead, I cooked the grain according to the instructions on the box.
Oh my. I fell in love with buckwheat groats last night.
This is one of the most tender grains I have ever eaten. It's like a demure couscous, with a nutty taste. The grains cling to each other, making it easy to chase them down with a spoon. There's a softness here I've never encountered with another grain, something so enticing that we ate these buckwheat groats with dinner last night, (alongside pork tenderloin with rosemary and a celeriac remoulade), and for breakfast (with poached eggs) and lunch today (with a splash of olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese). Did I mention that one cup of the groats cooks up enough grains to feed the Russian army?
If you have never eaten buckwheat groats—like me yesterday morning—I suggest you leave the computer and go buy some. And if you eat them regularly, be sure to tell the rest of us what you do with them. I'd love suggestions. I think I'll be eating them every day for awhile.
Maybe that will drive the phrase buckwheat groats from my head next.
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