I studied in Russia for a year in college. I have a lot of good stories from that era. There was the time I went to a club called Jesus and a rando picked me up and spun me around the dance floor on his head. There was the semester when my friend Sasha and I taught at an after school program called Galactica at the far end of the subway line💫. There was thee toothless friend I made on a 48-hour train ride to Rostov-Na-Donu who bought me candy and made me balloon animals. Let’s not forget the elderly women who swatted my friend Izzy and me with bundles of dried sticks while we held hands, naked, side by side in a bath house. The time I embarked on a cruise around Lake Onega on a boat called the Karl Marx (and subsequently got locked in my cabin). Or the time my parents came to visit and I lost them in a crowd and thought I’d never see them again. The time I went to the Steppe and couldn’t stop making Ciara puns. Anyway, one of the interesting parts of living there was eating all the food in sight, but also remaining vegan. If you’re familiar with the mayo-drenched nature of Russian cuisine, you might be wondering what I ate. The answer is: A whole fucking lot of grechka.
Grechka (toasted buckwheat) is as common in Russia as white bread is in the United States. It’s served as a side dish at every single restaurant (sometimes with fried onions) and is super cheap to make at home. It was sort of my Russian answer to rice and beans for dinner when you’re totally broke.
Last summer I went to Brighton Beach with my friend Izzy and picked up some grechka (I absolutely lost my shit when I saw it for sale on the sidewalk in Brooklyn). I’d been saving it in my pantry and decided to use my prized grechka in Kasha Varnishkes. This is a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dish that combines grechka with bowtie noodles. Most of the flavor comes from the grains (super earthy and a bit smoky from the toasting) and ultrasweet caramelized onions.
2 cups thinly sliced onions (about 2 large onions)
½ cup sunflower oil or other cooking oil
¾ cup grechka (buckwheat groats)
Salt and ground black pepper
½ pound bowtie noodles (farfalle)
Place onions in a large skillet with the cooking oil over medium heat. Add a generous sprinkle of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 15-20 minutes until the onions are brown. Set aside.
Set another, smaller pot on to boil and combine about 2 cups water, the buckwheat, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer until the buckwheat is fluffy, 15 minutes or so. Remove from heat and set aside, covered.
Place a large pot of water on to boil and cook the bowtie noodles according to package instructions. Drain the pasta and combine in a large bowl with cooked, fluffy buckwheat and caramelized onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste and a splash more oil if desired. Serve hot.