Being American has a very different connotation in 1987 than it did when I was a boy. Americanism today stands for pride in one's ethnic past. Back in the 1930s, however, few denizens of this country celebrated their lineal roots. And there was something decidedly pejorative in the admission that one's mother or father was foreign-born.
My maternal forebears came from Russia and Poland. They spoke in broken English, and to my embarrassment they sometimes lapsed into their native language in public after half a century's citizenship.
To the chauvinist I was, even more mortifying than their accents was my grandparents' appetite. From time to time, they both seemed to hanker after the food of their native lands.
A Prandial Problem
Like what? Like buckwheat groats. Specifically, a dish they called kasha. It appeared so alien in texture and aroma on a dinner plate that not one of their progeny would ever consider sampling a forkful.
If I admit that buckwheat groats remained a prandial problem for most of my life, blame it on an unformed palate, which at long last, I am happily in the process of correcting.
Strictly speaking, kasha is a name for cereal in most Slavic tongues. And although it has come to be synonymous with buckwheat groats in our culinary lexicon, it is decidedly not the whole buckwheat story. Kasha (in America, at least) is merely the roasted hulled kernels of buckwheat. It is actually a berry rather than a grain, but one that may be alternately steamed, boiled or braised into many arresting dishes. When mixed with various flours, kasha may also be baked into toothsome and highly nutritious loaves of bread and rolls.
A Delicate Flavor
Whole white buckwheat groats, on the other hand, is dried and unroasted. It has a delicate flavor and less stringent bite than kasha, which makes it a perfect stand-in for many rice or semolina recipes. Whole white buckwheat is somewhat more expensive than kasha and takes diligence to find, although it is generally available at all health food stores.
My grandparents did not have the slightest inkling of buckwheat's health properties. They ate groats because the dish simply gave them satisfaction. After all these years, I seem to have developed the same dining philosophy and suggest you do the same.
The following dish is a recent invention. It combines pork chops with hot and peppery whole white buckwheat groats. It's economical if you make it with thin-cut pork, but use meat tenderizer unless the chops are prime.
BLACKENED PORK CHOPS WITH RED-FACED GROATS
4 (1/2-inch-thick) pork chops
2 teaspoons natural meat tenderizer
1 clove garlic, bruised
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 sweet red pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon Hungarian hot paprika
1 cup white buckwheat groats
2 cups hot beef broth
Sprinkle pork chops on both sides with tenderizer. Pierce with fork. Rub with bruised garlic.
In heavy saucepan large enough to hold chops in 1 layer, saute meat, fatty edges first, until well browned on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove to plate. Discard all but 1 tablespoon grease from pan.
Add onion to saucepan and saute over medium-low heat 1 minute. Add minced garlic and red pepper. Cook 3 minutes longer. Stir in tomato paste, paprika, buckwheat and broth. Place chops on top of buckwheat mixture. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees until chops are tender and all liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand, covered, 5 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with parsley. Makes 4 servings.
The following kasha and corn bread sticks are a breakfast, lunch or dinner treat. The excellent formula (only slightly altered in my translation) was originally printed in a packet of recipes from Birkett Mills, manufacturers of Pocono brand kasha.
KASHA CORN STICKS
1 cup milk
1/2 cup whole kasha
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 egg, lightly beaten
Heat milk in medium saucepan to scalding. Remove from heat. Stir in kasha and butter. Let stand until lukewarm.
In large mixing bowl, combine flour with cornmeal, baking powder, salt and pepper. Add kasha mixture to flour mixture with honey, sesame seeds and egg. Stir only until mixed. Do not overwork.
Pour batter into well-greased corn stick pan. Bake at 425 degrees until firm to touch, 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before unmolding. Makes about 2 dozen corn sticks.
Note: To toast sesame seeds, heat large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add sesame seeds and cook, shaking pan constantly, until lightly browned.