As a self-declared foodie, I gravitate toward Sephardic cuisine. The rich, intense flavors of North Africa, the Mediterranean and Middle East created from the robust array of traditionally Sephardic spices make my mouth water. Glass jars of turmeric, cardamom, sumac, cinnamon and cumin line my kitchen shelves like trophies of honor.
Yet, as the days grow shorter and cooler, I find myself drifting toward that comfort zone created by my Ashkenazic heritage.
The contrast between the foods generated from the warm, Sephardic lands and the cooler climate crops that form the base of Ashkenazic foods is vast. Ashkenazic dishes, which often rely on potatoes and onions to form their flavor palate, are generally much less vibrant to me.
Despite that, traditional Ashkenazic food speaks to me on a spiritual level that doesn’t rely on taste buds alone. A steaming pot of chicken soup and an overflowing bowl of kasha varnishkas (buckwheat with bowtie pasta) evoke feelings of warmth and comfort that take me back to my mother’s kitchen.
But how does a gluten-free girl handle the classic kasha varnishkas? Despite the growing selection of gluten-free pastas on the supermarket shelves, the bowtie-shaped noodle traditional to this dish is not yet among them.
So, after much trial and error, I’ve landed on gluten-free elbows. They have a similar “mouth feel” and texture to the traditional bowties. If I close my eyes, I am back in my mother’s kitchen gobbling up her traditional kasha varnishkas. (And, because so many people have asked, these are my favorite elbow noodles, Ancient Harvest Quinoa Organic Pasta. You can find them in most supermarkets).
To add even more nutrition, I include broccoli in the bowl—though a staunch traditionalist could easily omit it. And just to clear up any confusion, buckwheat is not wheat or related to wheat; it’s not even a grain. The raw triangular seeds come from a flowering plant related to rhubarb and are called “buckwheat groats.” When toasted, buckwheat is usually called kasha.
For me, I just call it gluten-free and delicious.