Kasha Varnishkes with Fried Eggplant, Mushrooms, and Onion Marmalade

Properly cooked so it remains dry and fluffy, kasha, when mixed with noodles, could swallow up butter or chicken fat by the cupful. I remove the temptation to slather on lots of fat by moistening this hearty grain with plenty of caramelized onions and mushrooms, I also add sautéed eggplant for the same reason: fried cubes of it, like mushrooms, bring a melting butteriness to foods.

Though most American recipes for kasha varnishkes call for bow tie noodles, I find them too thick and starchy here, requiring, like the kasha, a lot of additional moisture. I break wide noodles in half to resemble the square noodles originally used—and best suited—for this dish.

The eggplant, mushrooms, and onions enrich and lighten the kasha varnishkes at the same time. You don’t really need all three (and if pressed for time, you could eliminate either the mushrooms or the eggplant—or the noodles), but cooked together this is a very satisfying dish, substantial enough to serve as centerpiece for a delicious vegetarian meal (or near-vegetarian, if using chicken broth). To simplify preparations, make it in advance, up to the point of heating the ingredients in the oven. And you need to use only one skillet for all the vegetables.

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Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant (1 to 1¼ pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • About ½ cup olive oil
  • pounds onions, coarsely chopped (6 cups)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh thyme or marjoram leaves
  • About ½pound mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed, and sliced (2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup kasha, preferably coarse-grind
  • 2 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade, Vegetable Stock, or good-quality, low-sodium purchased
  • 4 ounces broad (wide) egg noodles (broken in half, if desired)
  • Olive Oil Schmaltz, Poultry Schmaltz, margarine, or if using vegetable broth, butter (optional)
  • ¼ cup finely minced scallions or 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Method

Put the eggplant in a colander, and sprinkle evenly with 2 teaspoons salt. Weight the eggplant down (I use a plate or bowl with a large can of tomatoes on top), and let drain for about 1 hour, stirring the pieces around after 30 minutes. Rinse the eggplant and press it very dry with paper towels.

While the eggplant is draining, heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and salt and pepper them lightly. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring so they are thoroughly coated with oil. Cover, turn the heat down to the lowest simmer, and cook slowly until the onions are meltingly tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Stir from time to time to make sure the onions don’t burn. When they are very soft, remove the lid, raise the heat to high, and brown them to a rich caramel gold. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon to redistribute the syrupy juices. If necessary, turn the heat down a bit to prevent the onions from sticking and burning. When the onions are thick and jam-like, stir in the thyme or marjoram. Adjust the seasoning and transfer the mixture to a very large bowl.

Lightly rinse out the skillet and dry it. Add 2 tablespoons fresh oil and turn the heat to high. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until they release some juice, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add the garlic, and continue sautéing, lifting and turning often until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are golden brown, about 7 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the onions.

Wipe out the skillet and in it heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until hot, but not smoking. Add the eggplant in batches, if necessary, and fry until tender and lightly browned on both sides. Add more oil to the skillet, if needed, but always make sure the oil is very hot before adding the eggplant—this will prevent the eggplant from absorbing too much oil. Transfer the eggplant to the onions and mushrooms in the bowl.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Prepare the kasha: in a medium bowl, beat the egg with a fork. Stir in the kasha and mix until each grain is thoroughly coated with egg. Heat the broth to simmering. In a heavy medium 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, then cover and simmer over very low heat until tender and all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts water and teaspoons salt to a rolling boil. Add the noodles, and cook until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain and stir into the vegetables.

In a lightly greased 3-quart shallow casserole, combine the kasha with the other ingredients. Adjust the seasoning to taste. If the mixture seems dry, add schmaltz or dot with margarine or butter as needed. Bake just until heated through. Sprinkle with the scallions or chives and the parsley and serve hot.

“But Ephraim and lzzy, given their secret horde of Jewish soul food, were not as infected as the rest of the company … [The] ever-resourceful Izzy … was able to leaven their intake of poisonous meat with delicacies that Izzy had shrewdly held back. So one Friday night they might gorge themselves on kasha fried in chicken fat and the next on rice prepared in a similar fashion.”

—Mordecai Richler, Solomon Gursky Was Here

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