Buckwheat Kasha is a Ukrainian comfort food, and when you add ground beef to it, it becomes a simple but hearty meal all cooked in one dish. Buckwheat is a gluten-free plant seed loaded with nutrients. Move over ‘hamburger helper’, a healthier cousin has come to town!
This month for our Eat the World recipe challenge, we travel to Ukraine, whose rich fertile soils and vast fields of wheat and other food crops have earned it the nickname ‘Bread Basket of Europe’. Nearly one third of the world’s black soil is found in this country. In addition to growing abundant crops of barley, wheat, corn, sugar beets, and sunflowers, Ukraine is the world’s third largest buckwheat producer.
Buckwheat (like quinoa) is a pseudocereal, which is a type of grain that doesn’t grow on grasses but is used similarly to other cereals. It’s actually the seed of a plant with heart-shaped leaves that is related to rhubarb and sorrel, and it’s naturally completely gluten free, in spite of its name. Buckwheat is an important regional food in Ukraine and Russia, being a dietary staple for many centuries – the food of the masses, keeping peasant populations and whole armies from starving, yet also appearing on the tables of the tsars in their palaces.
There is some discrepancy about the terminology related to buckwheat. In Ukrainian, the word “kasha” means a porridge made from boiled buckwheat or other grains. Here in North America, kasha usually means hulled buckwheat kernels (called groats) that have been toasted, as opposed to raw untoasted buckwheat groats. The toasting process helps to make the buckwheat less mushy when cooking it.
Buckwheat is a humble gluten-free seed, yet loaded with health-supporting nutrients. It’s high in antioxidants and minerals, protein and fiber. Because of its many properties, including cardiovascular benefits and blood sugar control, it’s often touted as one of the superfoods. Buckwheat has more protein than rice, wheat, millet or corn, and is high in the amino acids lysine and arginine (which are lacking in other major cereals). It’s considered one of the plant-based complete protein foods.
Plus it just tastes good.
My mom always cooked a dish of kale simmered together with buckwheat when we were growing up, but I have really come to love its rich nutty flavour combined with all sorts of foods. You can use it just like you would any other grain, putting cooked buckwheat groats into salads, making it into pilafs, and even cooking it as a porridge. Buckwheat flour is delicious and wholesome (cake, crepes, pancakes, biscuits).
This simple dish of toasted buckwheat cooked with beef and flavourful winter vegetables is a rib-sticking comfort food that’s easy to digest. I can imagine myself, at the turn of the century in a Ukrainian farming community, coming in tired and hungry from a hard days work in the fields and sitting down to a big bowl of hearty, wholesome buckwheat kasha.
Beef and Buckwheat Kasha is Easy to Cook
Rinse the buckwheat first.
Then cook it quickly in a hot skillet with a bit of oil to help seal the grains, which can release a natural gel when cooking that can make them mushy.
Sauté the meat and vegetables, then add the seared buckwheat groats and water.
Cover and cook the dish like you would rice or any other grains – no peeking, no stirring. When it’s done, you’ve got a pan of savoury meat, veggies, and buckwheat that will warm your insides.
Finish it off with a knob of butter, because as the Ukrainians say, you can never put too much butter in buckwheat.
Enjoy the hearty flavours of Ukraine.
* * * * *
Buckwheat Kasha with Beef
- 1 cup (185g) kasha toasted buckwheat groats*
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 1 large red onion diced (1½ cups)
- 1 cup carrot ~2 carrots, cut in small ¼" (.5cm) dice or shredded
- ½ cup celery ~1 stalk, cut in small ¼" (.5cm) dice
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 lb (454gms) lean ground beef
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1¼ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1¾ cups (420ml) water
- 2 tablespoons butter or ghee
- *If using raw, untoasted buckwheat groats, I recommend to toast them first for a fuller flavour (see notes below), however you can use them untoasted if you wish.
- Rinse the buckwheat groats in a strainer under running water, then drain them well.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet or dutch oven with a tight fitting lid (or use foil when it's time to cover it) over medium heat. Add the drained buckwheat kasha and cook them until they are dry, stirring constantly. This only takes a minute or two. Remove the kasha to a bowl and set aside (this step ensures the buckwheat doesn't get mushy when cooked).
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet. Cook the onion, carrot, and celery for five minutes, until they are translucent. Add the garlic and the ground beef and cook until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up large chunks as it cooks (about 10 minutes).
- Add the marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Spread the reserved buckwheat evenly over the top of the hot meat and vegetable mixture. Pour the water over the buckwheat and do not stir. Bring the skillet to a boil, then lower the heat, cover with a lid or tin foil, and simmer the buckwheat kasha for 15 minutes without uncovering. Remove the pot from the heat, and dot the top with the butter.
- Cover again and leave it to steam for 10 minutes to absorb the remaining water. Stir gently to fluff the buckwheat grains.
- Serve with a dollop of sour cream or ketchup on top. Steamed vegetables and a salad make good side dishes to go with your buckwheat kasha.
Check out all the wonderful Ukrainian dishes prepared by fellow Eat the World members and share with #eattheworld. Click here to find out how to join and have fun exploring a country a month in the kitchen with us!
Making Miracles: Mazuricks
Culinary Adventures with Camilla: Nalysnyky (Ukranian Crêpes)
Sugarlovespices: Ukrainian Poppy Seed Roll, Makivnyk
Pandemonium Noshery: Ukrainian Pickled Tomatoes
A Day in the Life on the Farm: Galushki Soup
Literature and Limes: Oladi
Kitchen Frau: Buckwheat Kasha with Beef
DishntheKitchen: Sourdough Stuffed Beet Leaf Rolls
Sneha’s Recipe: Chicken Kiev-Serves Two#EattheWorld
Amy’s Cooking Adventures: Ukrainian Scuffles (Rohalyky)
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Check out my past ‘Eat the World’ Recipe Challenge posts:
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