GGC note: the following post was written by my mother
Several Novembers ago, Larry and I took a wonderful trip up the Northern California Coast and ended in Oregon to visit my aunt and uncle. (As we wended our way through Sonoma vineyards, we realized we had chosen, by accident, the perfect time to take this trip. Seeing fields of grapevines in late autumn is like viewing fall colors on miniature trees in Munchkin land!
Plus, not many people travel the week before Thanksgiving so we had the wine country, redwoods, elk herds, and the Mendocino coast all to ourselves.I know this isn’t a travel post, but I had to mention this in case any of you are planning on exploring the California coast any time soon!).
Anyway, we stayed several days with my lovely Uncle John (Nana's brother) and Aunt Dot in Ashland, Oregon. I have been thinking long and hard about a way to best describe them and after a lot of thought, have come up with the term “Bohemian Naturalists.”
Aunt Dot protesting the slaying of redwoods. Hell to the yes.*
Now in their eighties, they have been organic gardeners and active environmentalists since before I was born, and cooking with them for several days had a huge impact on my decision to chose an alternative way to eat. We devoured delicious soups and huge chopped salads, all created from their garden bounty and co-op farm, but my favorite meal of the day was the very simple breakfast Uncle John made for us using whole grain.
At the time of this trip, I had recently had an emergency hysterectomy, which afterwards affected my digestive system, so I had been experimenting with a high fiber diet, adding oat bran (which basically tastes like shredded cardboard) to everything, including my morning granola or muesli. I LOVE both granola and muesli, but they are expensive to buy and time intensive to make. And I have never been a huge fan of oatmeal… something about the consistency of the stuff has turned me off since I ate some paste in kindergarten. So when Uncle John served us his morning grain, or “kasha,” I thought I had gone to heaven.
Kasha in this country is often defined as cooked whole buckwheat, but in Slavic countries, Kasha (translated as porridge) is a mixed grain meal made up of any of the following whole grains: oat groats, rye, barley, winter wheat, or whole buckwheat groats. Along with cabbage, kasha is a staple in the Russian and Eastern European diet and is eaten both sweet and savory. It is easy to make, DELICIOUS to eat—not pasty but chewy and flavorful—and is very inexpensive when you buy the grains in bulk…one pound of these grains is about a dollar and feeds a family of four for about 5 days. That means each serving is about 5 cents!!! The grains are high in fiber since they are unprocessed (no more oat bran for me!) and contain tons of iron and protein. Plus, a breakfast of kasha stays with you all morning. Using several grains increases your nutrition, for just as it is important to eat lots of different types of vegetables, it’s equally important to eat from the rainbow when it comes to grain.
from left: oat groats, rye, hulled barley and hard winter wheat
Always use WHOLE grain or groats. You can combine any whole grain (except millet…it is too mushy) in any combination. Make sure if you use barley you use the hulled barley, not pearled, since pearled barley, too, gets mushy. You can use the ancient grains, spelt or kamut, if desired. Or, you can use whole oat groats by themselves, which is great if you are gluten intolerant. (Oats are gluten free, but can be contaminated with other grains, so if you are on a STRICT gluten free diet, buy one of the gluten free oat groats available online or at your natural food store).
raw oat groats
Kashi makes a 7 whole grain Pilaf which is already combined for you and put in packets, but it’s three times the cost and honestly, it takes no time to mix the grains yourself (plus the Kashi pilaf doesn’t have oats in it which is my favorite part of the mix!)
You can buy bulk grain at any Whole Foods, natural foods market, food co-op, or at many specialty food stores. If you can’t find a market that sells in bulk in your town, all of the grains can be ordered online (or you can use the Kashi pilaf). I buy a bag of each of the grains and then combine them together and store in an airtight container until I’m ready to cook them. My uncle’s Kasha is made with about ¼ hard winter wheat, ¼ rye, ¼ oat groats, and ¼ hulled barley, but now that I am eating a gluten free diet, I use only oat groats and it is also delicious and has a great consistency. It takes almost an hour to cook these properly, so I make up a huge batch of grain and keep them in the refrigerator, warming them up every morning for my breakfast. My uncle cooks them the night before for 45 minutes and then turns off the stove, letting the pot sit all night. This works great. My sister-in-law makes them in a crock-pot (on low) overnight and says the grains are perfect in the morning.
Warm up what you need in the morning and then add fruit and berries, seeds and nuts (I love sunflower seeds and walnuts), kefir, yogurt, almond or rice milk, dried fruits, coconut, or whatever else you like on hot cereal (real maple syrup or brown sugar for a special treat!!).
with blueberries and walnuts
You can also serve this grain as a side dish with dinner and add stir-fried vegetables, tamari or Braggs amino acids. Or…use in a savory salad instead of rice.
Here is the basic Kasha recipe. I double this recipe, making enough for about 5-7 days, depending on how many people you are feeding. This is a tasty and wholesome substitute for all of the sugary and over-priced processed boxed cereals bulging from the cereal aisle at the grocery store.
(1) cup of any combination of the following WHOLE unprocessed grains:
(3) cups water
1.Combine grain and water in a saucepan. Bring to boil and turn down to low.
2. Cook for 45 minutes-1 hour, or until the consistency you like:
3.Let grain sit, covered, until cool and then refrigerate.
4. Warm up as needed. Serve with any combination of fruits and nuts you desire:
grains with kefir, raspberries and figs, topped with brown sugar = heaven
If you use the “Kashi Pilaf,” use 3 cups of water instead of 2 and cook as above. The package instruction says 2 cups of water and to cook for 25 minutes, but the grains are too hard that way and I don’t think as tasty.
I hope you enjoy these grains as much as I do. I look forward to this breakfast every morning. (I have been known to travel with a bag of grain and a small electric pot!!) And kids love them, especially mixed with yogurt or kefir and fresh berries!!
*Rebecca, here. That photo of Aunt Dot was on the cover of "Earth First" magazine several years ago. Great aunt Dot is currently backpacking ON HER OWN in the Sierras at eighty-two years old. My favorite Dot story = the time she went skinny dipping with Anais Nin. The women in my family were/are feisty forces to be reckoned with. Here's to age keeping all of us young.