|Rehydrating kasha on my Bushbuddy Stove. My go-to backcountry meal!
A couple of months ago, while working the Royal Gorge Anglers booth at the Denver Fly Fishing Show, RGA founder Bill Edrington and I quickly started discussing food and cooking, as we usually do when we spend more than ten minutes together. Bill used to write an interesting column in High Country Angler Magazine (the now out-of-print online-only Colorado Trout Unlimited magazine), entitled "Tight Lines and Tasty Spoons", which was based on his blog of the same name. The only thing Bill loves to do more than fly fish is cook (and eat well), and in that he and I have much in common. It was my conversations with Bill about food that got me thinking about sharing my backcountry food with others on my blog.
I have a number of bulletproof meals that are suited for backpacking, and I also use them for the backcountry fly fishing trips I guide each year for Royal Gorge Anglers. Some of them are only prepared for backpacking, and others are tailor-made for full-day guide trips. I'll share a bunch of them here, and explain the differences.
The first meal I'll showcase is kasha. It's the one I use the most when backpacking solo, or when I'm day hiking in the canyons with a tenkara rod in my hand. It's extremely versatile, easily customized, and it's very nutritious. It's my go-to backcountry meal above all others. Here we go...
Kasha. In simplest terms, it's a a buckwheat-based porridge. It's been around for at least a thousand years, and has historic roots in Central and Eastern Europe, especially Belarus, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. Kasha is generally made of toasted buckwheat groats, with a wide variety of ingredients added, although in the Slavic region it can also be based on wheat, barley, millet, oats, or rye. I have focused only on kasha made with toasted buckwheat groats.
In historic Russia, kasha was made either savory or sweet, by using either water or milk as a base. I prepare my kasha the savory way, and only use water, simply because water-based kasha is better suited for dehydration. More on that later. While Russian kasha is served as a side dish, mine ends up being a one-pot meal. So, I've taken a very traditional Eastern European side dish and adapted it into a backcountry meal staple that includes both vegetables and meat.
I have no doubt that historic Siberian promyshlenniki, those 17th and 18th century traders, trappers, and craftsmen, added meat and available vegetables to their kasha as well. One-pot meals, prepared over open fires, just make sense to an outdoorsman, whether it's 1719 or 2019. As you'll see, kasha has excellent nutrition, which is needed when living outdoors in the wild. I've read, and re-read, the wonderful book, Notes of an East Siberian Hunter, and can find no mention of kasha. However, given it's historic widespread use all over Eastern Europe and Siberia, I can't see why those folks didn't eat it.
So, here we go...Sawtooth's Kasha:
* 1 cup toasted buckwheat (I use Uvelka toasted buckwheat groats, straight from Russia via
* 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
* 1/2 yellow onion, diced
* 1 cup diced crimini mushrooms
* 1 cup oven-roasted Brussels sprouts (something I have on hand often)
* 1/2 cup roasted chicken breast, diced (you can also use any pre-cooked meat like venison, pork,
beef, bison, etc. Think "stew meat" and you'll get the idea. I like it with leftover pork chops meat
* 1 cup chopped spinach
* 2 cups water
* 3 chicken bouillon cubes
* Spices (smoked paprika, garlic powder, Montreal steak seasoning)
**Note: make sure your meat and vegetables are diced up nice and small. It really helps rehydrate and cook up better later on if you are going to dehydrate your kasha. If not, leave it big and chunky.
In a non-stick deep dish fry pan, pour the buckwheat into the preheated pan. Toast the groats until they start to "pop" (watch them closely, you'll see them wiggle and crackle). This is just before they get hot enough to smoke. I like to stir them often during this toasting. It only takes 5 minutes or so.
|Buckwheat groats during final toasting.
Once the onions have softened, pour in 2 cups of water and drop the bullion cubes in. Season with your choice of spices. Stir, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes (at 5,400 feet elevation). If you're lower elevation, it won't take as long. I test the groats for doneness, and I like them soft, but firm. If you need to add a little water along the way to get the groats done, do so.
Dump in the Brussels sprouts, meat, and spinach. Season it some more, cover, and turn down to low so you can heat the whole thing up. I like my finished kasha to be about the consistency of thick oatmeal. It's a certain "goopiness" that lends itself well to dehydrating, which is the final step.
I usually can't stay out of my kasha once it's cooked! Once it's done and set off the stove to cool, it's time to lay it out in your food dehydrator.
|A batch of Sawooth's Kasha, ready for the dehydrator!
Once the dehydrated kasha has cooled, I pack it into 1-quart Ziploc freezer bags, and stick it in the freezer. You can leave it out of the freezer in a cool, dark place, but because it has some olive oil in it, I like to have it in the freezer. It'll last for months, and beyond, if stored this way. You can also vacuum seal it to make it store even longer.
When I'm cooking it back up in the backcountry, I use 1 part dehydrated kasha to 1 part water. This will cook up nice and thick, and will come closer to the consistency it was when fresh, rather than a watered-down soup. Either are tasty, but I like my kasha thicker. Adjust your water accordingly when cooking it back up. I've found it takes about 10-15 minutes to boil it up on a gas backpacking stove, Bushbuddy, or open fire, to get it done. Once the meat is tender it's done.
As I said earlier, kasha can be VERY nutritious, and is gluten-free. You can tweak it with ingredients to your heart's content to adjust the nutrition. Here's the breakdown of just the buckwheat, which is the main ingredient and base for the kasha...
Nutrition value: Per 100 g. proteins – - 12.6%, fats – 3.1%, starch – 60.7%, cellulose – 1.1%. Minerals
(mg): Na - 3.0, K – 380, Ca – 20, Mg – 200, P – 298, Fe – 6.7. Vitamins (mg): B1 – 0.01, В2 – 0.43, РР – 4.19.
Energy value – 355 kcal.
Many years ago, Patrick Smith and I arrived at a 100 cal./ounce measurement for really good backcountry food. I think, with the right ingredients, kasha will meet that measurement. It's easy to prepare, tastes great, dehydrates and rehydrates well, and has some deep history as a staple for adventurous outdoorsmen. In all, it's my go-to meal! Enjoy!