Sunday, December 17, 2006

On Kasha

 Like many Russian kids, I grew up eating kasha. In the U.S., the word kasha refers to buckwheat, while in Russia, kasha means porridge, served hot, usually for breakfast. There's semolina kasha (cream of wheat), oatmeal kasha, millet kasha, rice kasha, and--why not?--buckwheat kasha, among others. In my family kasha was always made with milk, and eaten with a pat of butter and a handful of raisins.

I bet that Russian kids hate kasha as much as American children hate broccoli or brussels sprouts. Kasha is one of those foods that parents force on kids. I grew up hearing that you must eat a lot of kasha to be healthy and strong. Even now, when I have trouble opening a jar or something, my mom shakes her head and says that I haven't eaten enough kasha. Watery, bland kasha served in Soviet cafeterias also has something to do with the revulsion some people feel toward porridge.

Me, I've always liked kasha, especially oatmeal, cream of wheat and rice. Oatmeal and cream of wheat are self-explanatory; rice kasha is perhaps the Russian equivalent of rice pudding. Milk and rice are cooked together until the rice absorbs most of the milk; this kasha is eaten with a little butter and sugar. Undoubtedly I like kasha because my mom and grandmother made it well, with milk. Occasionally my mom will ask me, who is nearly American, why Americans do this or that. One of her more frequent questions is why do Americans make their hot cereal with water instead of milk? I don't know, Americans, why do you? Hot cereal made with milk is creamy comfort food; made with water, it's dour diet food. I confess that American rice pudding eaten cold is, too, a mystery. Why eat cold milky rice when it tastes so much better hot?

I don't eat kasha very often anymore--I hardly need to grow big and strong at this point. But every once in a while I get a craving for it. Here's a recipe for oatmeal, made mama's way.

Gerkylesovaia Kasha (Oatmeal)

Bring a cup of milk to a slow boil using medium-low heat. Add a pinch of salt and sugar, then slowly add 1/2 cup of oatmeal (rolled oats; not instant). Reduce the heat to low, and let the oatmeal simmer 10-15 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes. If the oatmeal is too thick, add a splash of milk. Eat with a little butter and a handful of dried fruit of your choice--I like cranberries and cherries.


Anna said...

My kids (born in Kazakhstan) LOVE kasha, and I make it at least 3 times a week for breakfast. Yellow is my favorite, followed by oatmeal. I don't like buckwheat at all, but they do. I make it thick with water, then thin it down with milk, add sugar & a dash of salt. Yum.

They may also be the only kids in America who get excited when I make a new cabbage dish! I tried the pirog with capusta filling (from Please to the Table) last week, and it was a big hit.

Yulinka said...

Anna--Hey, I'm glad your kids like kasha! I've never liked buckwheat either, but I consider oatmeal and cream of wheat comfort food.

Cabbage is a cultural thing...I like beets, herring, cabbage, etc., but I wouldn't necessarily make this stuff for American guests.

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Anonymous said...

yulinka -- you know, i didn't know that you call all those other things as kasha also. to me, kasha has always been associated with the jewish dish kasha varnishkes, or kasha with bowtie pasta and therefore only buckwheat. i did actually just post something about a variation of kasha varnishkes using semolina [which is a russian dish also].

as a child i HATED all those things -- oatmeal and semolina/cream of wheat, etc. i couldn't eat them and my parents forced it on us in the winter for breakfasts. i think it was the texture. i still won't eat it unless it's baked into something like a cake or pastries, etc.

interesting post! thanks :)

Yulinka said...

Bureka--Interesting! I've never had kasha varniskes or even heard of them until I came to the U.S. Maybe that's Russian Jewish food by way of the Ellis Island. I don't know if classic Eastern European Jewish food was around during the Soviet times.

vasilisa said...

I think Russian parents sometimes overdo kasha... I grew up eating so much of it, that now I can't take it all. And it's actually good for you...

Hannah said...

I studied in St. Petersburg for 6 weeks one summer and they fed us kasha for breakfast every morning until some of the other American students complained. I was so upset - I LOVED that kasha. It was my favorite food of the day. It was white and creamy and stuck to my bones as I trekked the streets of St. Pete. I have tried, for years, to duplicate the recipe but have not been able to do so. Thanks for your post!

Yulinka said...

Hannah--I still like kasha, even though I rarely eat these days. Just remember to make it with milk, and it'll turn out fine.

Tatachka said...

Any chance you can post the recipe for the warm rice kasha? I know it must be very easy, but I have been born without the cooking gene and my grandma can't give me an actual recipe - every ingredient's amount seems to equal to "na vkus...(to taste) - or "na glas...(eye measurement). These are not good enough for me because I seem to have non-cooking eyes and tongue. Please help.

Rebekah said...

I traveled to Russia 10 years ago when I was in high school to work in orphanages for the summer. Every morning we would have this FANTASTIC babushka-made porridge. Thank you for letting me know what it was. I made buckwheat kasha this morning and almost cried.. it took me back. Thanks!

tien said...

My mother in law came to visit us last week. She cooked kasha for breakfast and pirog for dinner. First time in my life I ate kasha and pirog.. I absolutly love it and am looking for those recipe :) glad that I found it here :)

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