Кашa: Russian buckwheat porridge.
There is a Russian saying “shchi da kasha – pishcha nasha” (Cabbage Soup and Kasha are our foods). In English, “kasha” usually refers to the specific grain buckwheat, and sometimes to toasted buckwheat specifically. In Russian, however, “kasha” means porridge of any type, much in the same way that the word “porridge” in English means “oats” to many people, but is also a general term. In Russian, an adjective is added to specify what kind of porridge it is; the most popular grain dishes have their own names based on the ingredients. So buckwheat is ‘grechnevaya kasha’ or ‘grechka.’ Oatmeal is ‘ovsyanaya kasha’ or ‘ovsyanka.’
In the 1930s, the Soviet Union made a big push for state sponsored “Hercules” oatmeal. School children were repeatedly told that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and therefore needed to be the healthiest:
Porridge does not carry the connotation of famine for Russians in the way that oatmeal gruel does for Charles Dickens, or how starving Chinese peasants would thin their congee in order to feed more people. On the contrary, porridge is deeply engrained in Russian national identity and culture, and of these porridges, buckwheat kasha is the clear winner in the Russian national heart and stomach. Throughout various marketing campaigns for corn or oats, and influence from other cultures high and low, buckwheat kasha has persisted on the Russian menu for centuries. Here is our take, with borscht-inspired infusion:
Kasha with Beets Recipe
- Mix 1 cup Kasha, 2 cups water, 1 tbsp butter, pinch salt. An optional step is to dry toast the kasha on medium-low heat in a cast iron pan before adding the water, salt, and butter.
- Reduce heat to just below boiling, cook for 20-25 minutes, until water almost entirely gone.
- Chop: beets, turnip, onion, garlic.
- In a cast iron, cook the turnip and beet by sauteeing in butter over medium heat, add a splash of water, cover, and cook until they begin to soften (~10 minutes). Add onion and garlic. Season with rosemary, thyme, sage, whatever green spice blend you may have on hand, salt, pepper.
- Add cooked Kasha to pan, heat together until beet color saturates the grain.
To Serve: Russian identity is strongly linked to their value of hospitality. “Salt and bread” is the symbolic and prototypical offering to a guest in a Russian home. The Russians did not have the means or know-how to make salt domestically until the late 16th century AD. Therefore, until that point it was a huge luxury, and offering such a prized good to a guest was a sign of respect. Kasha desires a hearty salting (season at your own health risk). It is also served with BUTTER. Another Russian proverb, “You can never put too much butter on kasha.” This translates metaphorically to “you can never have too much of a good thing.” In case you’re confused, Kasha + Butter = Good.
Enjoy your bowl of traditional hearty grains, let them keep you warm, be grateful that you are not starving. Your porridge is red like Mother Russia.