For Cleopatra, it may have been the milk and honey baths, or perhaps those rumored snacks of pickles. But for Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, it was the legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds she ate that kept the legendary queen beautiful. Actually, she stumbled on the beauty secret by accident: married to King Ahasuerus, Esther contented herself at his fabulous banquets with plain peas and beans because she would not eat the unkosher meat at her husband’s palace.
So while hamantaschen, those luscious little triangular filled pastries, get top billing at Purim, dishes featuring beans and grains, like kasha varnishkes (kasha mixed with noodles), play starring roles on the holiday table too.
This recipe is from my new book, Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Treasury of Classics and Improvisations. This deconstructed kasha varnishkes features sliced portobellos, marinated and grilled to enhance their resemblance to meat. Instead of noodles, the pasta is orzo, cooked in broth so it is flavorful and very moist when combined with the dry, fluffy kasha.
Deconstructed Kasha Varnishkes (Kasha and Orzo with Grilled Portobello Mushrooms)
Yield: 6 servings
- 6 large Portobello Mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon Garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon Soy Sauce
- 1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
- 3 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons Olive Oil
- 1 tablespoon Rosemary, chopped (to make the mushrooms even more meat- like; optional)
- 1 cup Orzo
- 4 cups Chicken Broth or Vegetable Stock
- 1 large Egg
- 1 cup Kasha, preferably coarse-grind
- Black Pepper, freshly ground
- 3 cups Onions, chopped (3/4 pound)
- Olive Oil Schmaltz (I make a vegetarian version using olive oil and onions), Poultry Schmaltz (rendered chicken or duck fat), Butter, or Margarine, if needed
- Optional garnish: 2 to 3 tablespoons Parsley, chopped
Clean the Mushroom caps and stems with a damp paper towel. Carefully cut the stems off flush with the caps. Trim off the woody bottom section of the stems and discard. Chop the stems coarsely and set aside. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine 2 teaspoons of the Garlic, 1 tablespoon of the Soy Sauce, the Lemon Juice, 2 teaspoons of the Oil, and the Rosemary, if using. Add the Mushroom caps, press out the air, and seal the bag. Let the caps marinate at room temperature, turning the bag over occasionally, until you are ready to broil them.
Soak the Orzo in a bowl of fresh cold water for about 5 minutes to remove some of the starch. Empty into a strainer, rinse, and drain. Bring 2 cups of the Broth to a boil, stir in the Orzo, and cook, covered, over low heat for 15 minutes until the Orzo is tender and all the liquid is absorbed. Keep warm and covered until ready to combine ingredients.
Preheat the broiler.
In a medium bowl, beat the Egg with a fork. Stir in the Kasha and mix until each grain is thoroughly coated. Heat the remaining 2 cups Broth to simmering. In a heavy lidded skillet with high sides or a wide heavy saucepan, toast the Kasha over medium heat, turning and breaking up the Kasha constantly until the Egg begins to dry and the grains separate, about 3 minutes. Add the hot Broth and Salt and Pepper to taste, cover, and simmer over very low heat until tender and all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Keep covered and warm.
In a 10-inch heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining Oil over medium-high heat and sauté the Onions, stirring, until they are deep golden brown. Season well with Salt and Pepper. Transfer the Onions to a large bowl. In the same skillet, sauté the reserved chopped Mushroom stems and remaining 1 teaspoon Garlic in the remaining 1 tablespoon Oil over high heat. Cook until the Mushroom edges are tinged with bronze. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon Soy Sauce and Pepper to taste and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes to marry the ingredients. Transfer to the bowl, keeping it covered and warm.
Arrange the Mushroom caps on a foil-lined broiler rack, and broil them, gill side down, about 4 inches from the heat, for about 5 minutes. Turn, baste with any juices (or spilled bits of Garlic), and broil for 5 to 6 minutes, or until tender and cooked through. Transfer the Mushrooms to a cutting board.
Add the cooked Orzo and Kasha to the Onions and Mushroom stems. Combine the ingredients well and season with Salt and Pepper, if needed. If dry, add a little Schmaltz, Butter, or Margarine.
To serve, spoon some of the Kasha-Orzo mixture onto each plate. Slice the Mushrooms on an angle and season to taste. Arrange the Mushroom slices decoratively over the Kasha mixture and nap with any accumulated Mushroom juices. If desired, sprinkle with chopped Parsley. Enjoy!
Links to other delicious-sounding Purim recipes:
- Poppy Seed Kolache from Simply Recipes