Saturday, May 25, 2013

Kasha, Soviet Army, WWII

     Kasha (каша) is probably most accurately defined as grain porridge. It has often been described, including in some Western intelligence manuals from the Cold War era, as a porridge made from buckwheat groats. While buckwheat is preferred in many areas, kasha is not exclusively made from buckwheat and may be made from most any whole grain, to include millet, rice, semolina, oats or barley. Soviet Army kasha consisted of grain, liquid (water, broth, whole or diluted milk), fat, and sometimes onions. Kasha was classified as fluffy, sticky or slurry, depending on the ratio between the amount of liquid and cereal grains.
          Published in 1947*, the kasha recipes given here are the World War II (Great Patriotic War, if you prefer) version. Soviet Army food was somewhat repetitive and bland by Western standards, with a preponderance of kasha, soup and bread. The diet was based on whole grains, primarily in the form of bread and kasha. These were supplemented by root vegetables and leafy greens (primarily cabbage), with small amounts of meat and fats. Much of the time the vegetables and meats were canned or dehydrated.
     When cooking kasha pay attention to the cooking time needed when making your first batch, as cooking times can vary somewhat due to differences in the grains being used. Once the grain and boiling water have been mixed together, lower the heat to prevent excess moisture loss. Slow cooking over low heat is important to insure that the grain is fully cooked, as incompletely cooked kasha is quite unappetizing. Soviet soldiers had many disparaging terms for half-cooked kasha, such as “bullets”, “bolts” or “shrapnel”. Kasha has completed cooking when all of the liquid has been absorbed and the grains are not dry inside. Sticky kasha should have a texture similar to risotto, without any excess liquid.
     If using broth, beef broth is preferred. Sunflower oil was a commonly available fat, although any type of fat may be used. Tushonka was a popular accompaniment to buckwheat or barley kasha. If adding tushonka, shred the meat into small pieces, add it to the kasha as soon as it is cooked, while still very hot, and mix well.
     The amounts given in the following kasha recipes are for one serving.

*в помошь войсковому повару, составил л.и.артамонов, поднолковник медицинской службы
 (Assistance for the Military Cook, edited by L.I. Artamonov, Lieutenant Colonel, Medical Service)

Three varieties of Soviet Army kasha, served in M36 mess tin lids. From left to right: barley, buckwheat and  oat kasha.  Each mess tin lid contains one portion. The bowls in front of the cooked kasha contain one portion of the uncooked grain. 
Soviet M36 Mess Tins. A close copy of the German M31 Kochgeschirr, it had a capacity of approximately 1.7 liters for the body and 0.5 liters for the lid.
Buckwheat Kasha, Fluffy
Toasting the buckwheat groats before boiling is basic to making good buckwheat kasha. In the US, buckwheat groats are available either raw or toasted. If you are buying raw buckwheat, take care to toast the groats only until they are lightly browned. Over-toasting will result in kasha with a burnt taste. Ten grams of finely chopped onion is approximately one rounded tablespoon in volume.

US                               Metric                         Ingredients
4.25 oz                        120 g                           buckwheat groats
6.5 oz                          180 g                           water
.35 oz (2 tsp)               10 g                             fat
.35 oz (1 tbsp)             10 g                             onion
to taste                        to taste                         salt
yield: 9 oz/250 g

Sort through the buckwheat groats and remove any impurities.
Boil the water in a separate pot.
Toast the groats in a dry pot over medium high heat until lightly browned. Stir constantly to avoid burning. After toasting, let the groats cool for a couple of minutes.
Pour the boiling water over the groats while stirring continuously until the groats begin to swell. Then add salt to taste and cook over low heat until it thickens.
As soon as the kasha groats begin to swell, cover the pot tightly, lower the heat, c and simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes until the buckwheat is well cooked.
While the kasha is cooking, cut the onions into fine pieces and saute in the fat until lightly browned.
Once the  kasha is nearly cooked, add the onion and mix well until it is evenly distributed.
Buckwheat groats, raw (left) and toasted (right).
Barley Kasha, Sticky
Pearled barley is used in this version. Sticky kasha requires a long cooking time which results in a creamier texture.

US                               Metric                        Ingredients
3 oz                             80 g                            pearled barley
15 oz                           400 g                          water
.35 oz (2 tsp)               10 g                             fat
to taste                        to taste                         salt
yield: 15 oz/400 g

Bring salt and water to a boil.
Pour the barley into the boiling salted water and simmer until tender
Add the fat and mix in well, cover the pot, and let rest for a few minutes.
Required cooking time is up to 2 hours.

Oatmeal Kasha, Sticky

US                               Metric                          Ingredients
3 oz                             80 g                              oat groats
10.5 oz                        300 g                            water
.35 oz (2 tsp)               10 g                              fat
to taste                        to taste                          salt
yield: 15 oz/400 g

Bring salt and water to a boil.
Pour the oats into the boiling salted water and simmer until tender
Add the fat and mix in well, cover the pot, and let rest for a few minutes.
Required cooking time is up to 2 hours.