One of the things that vegetarians often miss out on is a really great plant-based, commercially made stock. Sure, we can make our own at home, but home-made vegetable stock is often problematic as it is difficult to achieve that elusive umami taste. When I make my own vegetable stock, my savior is dried Chinese shiitake mushrooms. They just hold so much flavour in their tiny dehydrated bodies. They are essential in creating vegetarian broths for noodle soups.
So I was pretty excited when the very charming fellow-Aussie-living-in-Brooklyn Sam Hillman came by my place with a sachet of Stock Merchant’s Umami Rich Mushroom Stock in hand. This stuff is the real deal. It is made with locally grown Aussie mushrooms, with a dash of tamari, and imparts an unexpected depth of flavour that I’ve never tasted in commercially made vegetarian stocks.
I decided to cook a kasha salad, using the mushroom stock Sam had so generously supplied. I have only had one previous experience of cooking buckwheat, many years ago during the early days of Arthur Street Kitchen. That time, I tipped the buckwheat in a big pot of boiling water, like I cook all my grains, and ended with a big pot of mush. That day, I relegated buckwheat to the shelf of ‘things that I don’t need to cook again because I can substitute with pearl barley instead’.
But I was wrong. Because kasha is nothing like pearl barley. Kasha, which is buckwheat which has already been roasted, is a cereal which has a nutty, earthy flavour and texture all it’s own. Plus, it’s gluten free and packed with fibre and other good stuff that keeps the digestive system healthy. It is also a good alternative for diabetics as it slows down the body’s absorption of sugar.
I’m sure there are many ways to get the cooking of kasha right, but, with Sam as my witness, I found my own way. I coated the grains in olive oil first (to aid separation when cooked) and gradually added the liquid, a little at a time (much like risotto, with less stirring) until the grains tasted soft enough to eat. The result is a mighty kasha salad, with a unique texture and earthy flavour, which simply bursts with the deep umami goodness of mushrooms.
Wild mushrooms with rainbow chard and kasha
- 400g kasha
- 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 litre (1000ml) liquid vegetable stock (try Stock Merchant’s Mushroom Stock if you can find it)
- 4 cups mixed wild mushrooms (any mushrooms are fine)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 30g butter
- 1 bunch rainbow chard, sliced thinly with stalks
- 4 radishes, very finely sliced
- 1 cup mixed herb leaves (mint, coriander, parsley or chives)
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Sea salt and black pepper
Coat the kasha grain in a drizzle of olive oil and ½ teaspsoon of sea salt. Combine well to coat the grains.
In a large shallow frypan, add the kasha and cook for 20 seconds. Then add a little stock, stir and allow to simmer on low-medium heat. When the liquid has been absorbed, add more stock and continue to do this until the kasha has softened enough to eat. Don’t let it cook too long as it will turn to mush. Place the kasha into a bowl.
In the same frypan, add some olive oil and garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, season with sea salt and black pepper and cook until all the mushroom juices have evaporated. Add the chard stalks to the mushrooms and cook for 60 seconds. Finally, add the chard leaves and cook for another 30 seconds or so, just enough to wilt the leaves. Take off the heat, and add the butter to the mushrooms and chard, allowing it to melt through the mixture.
To serve, combine the kasha with the mushrooms, chard, herbs and radishes. Squeeze over some lemon juice, another drizzle of olive oil and season with a little sea salt and black pepper.