cuban kasha varnishkes recipe
Photo credit Orge Castellano

Cuban-Style Kasha Varnishkes Recipe

Old-world comfort food gets a bold, colorful twist.

Culinary crossroads often give rise to dishes that are more than the sum of their parts, and this Cuban take on kasha varnishkes is a prime example. Weaving together the warmth of Havana’s bustling streets with the homey embrace of Eastern Europe, this vegetarian dish encapsulates a narrative that’s as rich and varied as its flavors.

During my college years, I was introduced to kasha varnishkes by Yuliya, a dear friend from Connecticut whose roots traced back to Soviet Russia. A passionate discussion about Russian literature and ballet on a frosty Moscow evening led us to her dorm kitchen, where she unveiled her family’s adapted version of the classic Soviet kasha. The twist? Bowties, an influence of Italian-American ingredients on Ashkenazi cuisine in the U.S. The simplicity and heartiness of this comforting dish won me over.

Kasha varnishkes swiftly earned its place in my culinary heart and repertoire with its soothing, soft texture and unpretentious yet bold flavors. It was the perfect dish for a student — inexpensive, easy to prepare, freezer-friendly and heartwarmingly delicious. 

Over time, I’ve adapted the dish to make it my own, incorporating Cuban flavors that deeply resonate with me. The spices and techniques used in Cuban cooking, known for their depth and complexity, blend seamlessly with the nutty, comforting undertones of kasha varnishkes. 

This vegetarian fusion dish highlights the adaptability of age-old recipes; food, much like history, thrives on intersections, collaborations and shared stories.

Notes:

1. While this recipe uses vegetable stock for its neutral flavor profile, you can opt for a more robust taste by dissolving two chicken stock cubes in hot water. For a quicker alternative, use 3 Tbsp chicken or vegan salt. 

2. Shallots lend a delicate and slightly sweet undertone to the dish, however, if you’re in a pinch or prefer a more robust oniony flavor, regular onions can step in seamlessly. They have a bolder flavor, so adjust quantities based on your preference.

3. When tearing the mushrooms, ensure the pieces are relatively uniform; this ensures that every bite is cooked through evenly.

4. While farfalle (bowtie pasta) is recommended for its ability to hold onto flavors, you might explore other medium-sized pasta shapes known to cradle sauces well. Think penne or fusilli. Just ensure you cook al dente.

5. Parsley isn’t just for color. Its fresh, herbaceous notes can balance the rich flavors of the dish. If you’re feeling adventurous, consider other fresh herbs like cilantro or chives to add a different layer of freshness.

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cuban style kasha varniskes
Photo credit Orge Castellano

Cuban-Style Kasha Varnishkes Recipe

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Old-world comfort food gets a bold, colorful twist. 

  • Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 medium shallots, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 medium-to-large red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup fresh shiitake or portobello mushrooms, roughly torn
  • 3 cups canned chickpeas
  • 2 ½ cups fresh spinach, finely chopped
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 8 oz pasta farfalle (bowtie)
  • 1 ½ cups buckwheat groats (kasha)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, torn, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once heated, add the shallots and garlic and cook for 7-8 minutes until soft. Stir in bell peppers and cumin, cooking until peppers are tender, about 10 minutes. Tear the mushroom caps in medium, uniform pieces and integrate them with the sofrito. Once they brown, fold in the chickpeas and spinach until wilted. Pour vegetable stock, reduce heat and let it simmer for about 15 minutes or until most of the liquid is reduced.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and ½ tsp salt and cook following the package instructions or until al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside.
  3. In a separate, medium to large saucepan, bring 1½ cups water and 1 cup vegetable stock to a boil; stir in the kasha and about 1 tsp kosher salt. Cover and simmer until the groats are soft, about 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork, cover and let stand off the heat.
  4.  Transfer the vegetable mixture to the pot with the pasta, followed by the cooked buckwheat, and mix all together. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving bowl; garnish with chopped parsley (optional) and serve warm.

Notes

  1. While this recipe uses vegetable stock for its neutral flavor profile, you can opt for a more robust taste by dissolving two chicken stock cubes in hot water. For a quicker alternative, use 3 Tbsp chicken or vegan salt. 
  2. Shallots lend a delicate and slightly sweet undertone to the dish, however, if you’re in a pinch or prefer a more robust oniony flavor, regular onions can step in seamlessly. They have a bolder flavor, so adjust quantities based on your preference.
  3. When tearing the mushrooms, ensure the pieces are relatively uniform; this ensures that every bite is cooked through evenly.
  4. While farfalle (bowtie pasta) is recommended for its ability to hold onto flavors, you might explore other medium-sized pasta shapes known to cradle sauces well. Think penne or fusilli. Just ensure you cook al dente.
  5. Parsley isn’t just for color. Its fresh, herbaceous notes can balance the rich flavors of the dish. If you’re feeling adventurous, consider other fresh herbs like cilantro or chives to add a different layer of freshness.
  • Author: Orge Castellano
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Category: Entree
  • Method: Quick
  • Cuisine: Ashkenazi

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