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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

From Russia with Kasha

forrest buckwheat kasha
Forests of Russia
    Despite the name, buckwheat is not related to wheat, as it is not a grass. Instead, buckwheat is related to sorrel, knotweed and rhubarb. (Thank you Wikipedia)

    This is like my 6th post here and I already violated one of the first rules of this blog. I promised I'm gonna write about Balkan vegan and vegetarian food and here I am writing a post about one truly Russian dish. Buckwheat kasha (Гре́чневая ка́ша) is as Russian as a bear playing balalaika in birch forest (hope you don't mind me using stereotypes). All Slavs ate kasha though, but only the East side Slavs keep eating it up to this day. Slavs on Balkans probably ate kasha when they came to these lands, probably even longer, like up to the end of Medieval times, but then they were seduced by the Ottoman Oriental delicacies and crops coming from foreign lands like corn, tomatoes, peppers etc and they forgot their warm kasha.
grains buckwheat kasha
Grains used by early Russian settlers of Siberia.
    I think buckwheat kasha is the healthiest breakfast you can find. It gives you strength and makes you warm, during  cold winter days. People of Siberia know best. It's also light enough to be eaten during summer months.
    I traveled to Russia, Belarus and Ukraine lots of times, but I will always remember my first trip there. I went to some volunteer camp near city of Volgograd (ex Stalingrad) in steppes of Southern Russia. We were camping in a steppe for 7 days. All those flat grass lands around, really make you hungry. In that camp we were eating kasha all the time, kasha with some milk for breakfast, kasha with some carrots and potatoes for lunch cooked in s huge pot, and residues from lunch we ate for dinner. Next time I went to Belarus, since I didn't have much money while I was there, I ate kasha all the time. For breakfast of course, sometimes even for lunch and dinner. As you can see, I survived. After that trip I start eating kasha in Serbia, usually for breakfast, but sometimes I eat it on the side with some other dish, instead of rice or bread.
steppe buckwheat kasha
Steppe in Russia near Baikal lake
    My last trip to Russia was last year, my friends and me went to Transiberian Railway journey, and went all the way to Mongolia. In Russia long train rides are very common. Country has the longest rail tracks in the whole world, and with train you can get to some really cold and remote places. I've heard that in a year or two they are gonna built rail all the way to Yakutsk, capital of Yakutia and one of the coldest cities in Siberia.
    Buckwheat kasha is great dish for long train rides. With buckwheat that's already roasted you just need to pour hot water inside, wait for a while, and you have your healthy breakfast. Longest train journey we took was 3 days in a raw. We saw some wonderful scenery while riding on the train, birch and pine forests one after another, mighty rivers like Volga, ObYenisei and Angara. You see huge Siberian industrial cities as well as small desolate villages in the middle of wild Siberian taiga. Crown of the trip was Lake Baikal. Huge lake, bigger then Adriatic sea, and unbelievably clean. We went to the Olkhon Island. There are only few villages there, and from the place the ferry arrives to the first village you have around 50 kilometers of great views of the lake and nearby grassy hills and the scenery that looks like an American prairie from the Western movies. We camped on one of the beaches close to the village. Lot of people camp there, during the night temperature falls to only 3 degrees Celsius (37 Fahrenheit), although it's August. Russians don't care much about that, they swim in the lake, even bring portable saunas (Banya as they call them). I ask one guy there, where can I find drinking water. He shows me huge lake in front with a hand gesture. I was looking at  him like wtf. He takes plastic bottle, goes to the lake, puts some water in it and drinks it. That's says a lot about not just Baikal lake, but the all Siberia and even Russia. Baikal is bigger then Adriatic sea, and you can drink water from it, and it was the best water i ever drank.
baikal buckwheat kasha
Magnificent Baikal lake

    So back to kasha. As i said I usually eat it for breakfast by itself, but sometimes I sprinkle it with some gomashio or pumpkin seeds. There are two ways to prepare it, both are right ways, for one you need more time, but is also in a way easier, I cold it the lazy way:

- buckwheat (it's better if it's already roasted,
if not you need to roast it in a dry pan for some time), one cup (250 grams),
- water, one and a half cup 
- salt and oil.

Lazy boy way
1.  Pour water into the pot and put some salt in it as well. Wait until water boils,

2.  Then pour buckwheat, stir it and wait until it starts boiling again. After that turn off the burner, pour some oil and cover your kasha. You wait a while (for few hours) and your kasha is ready.

    Piece of cake, there is other way too if you don't have time to wait and you need your kasha momentarily. I call it the yuppie way, since I mostly prepare it this way in the morning before work: 

Yuppie way 

1.  With this way of preparing kasha, you'll need same ingredients. Leave water on the stove until it boils, put some salt in the pot as well. 

2.  When the water boils pour the buckwheat and leave it on the highest temperature uncovered until buckwheat soaks most of the water. 

3.  When it's only small quantity of water left, cover you kasha, turn down the temperature of the burner to the lowest and leave it like that for around 10 minutes. 

4.  After 10 minutes turn off the burner, pour some oil into your kasha and leave it covered for another 10 minutes.
Buckwheat kasha

    So that's kasha, cheap, easy, healthy, tasty.... It's great in the winter with a warm tea for breakfast, or in the summer with some fresh salad, for dinner or even lunch. Russians live on kasha for centuries, and to be honest I've never seen healthier people then Russians.
Accept kasha, Russians love their veggies they often grow them organically in their dachas, even in cold Siberia. This photo was taken from the train near city of Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.
    This is a great breakfast for followers of macrobiotic diet, especially in winter. Buckwheat is most yang grain you can find and if you want a complete warm yang punch in the early morning, you can skip adding oil to your kasha, and add some roasted pumpkin seeds on top together with gomashio. It just can't get any better. 


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