It’s been a little over three months since my accident and after spending most of that time with family in Rhode Island recovering, I’ve finally returned to Charlottesville—my other home of the past six and a half years. I’ve quickly realized, though, that my life here is no longer quite the same and the experience has reminded me of something the narrator says in the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: “It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed, is you.”
I often thought of this quote over the years in the context of coming home from college. As my sense of self matured and my worldview shifted, I found myself no longer fitting in the mold I left behind for Virginia. I would bristle at and clash with my family’s rules and beliefs, but eventually an equilibrium would be found. In this iteration of home-coming though, the change was not in an incremental internal shift, the essence of growing up, but a physically-altering event that was beyond my control. I was plucked off my path and dropped back down only to find that the landscape I once knew could never be navigated the same way again.
Feeling lost in a place where you should feel most centered is deeply unsettling, frustrating, and disheartening. Getting back into the kitchen though has been my therapy. The more I cook and bake, the more my sense of self returns. I gravitate to those dishes that evoke a sense of home and the familiar and one prime example of this has been roasted buckwheat groats, or grechka.
A staple of the Russian diet, it was the only thing I wanted to eat after my surgeries in Rhode Island. A glass of sweet warmed milk poured over a bowl of buttery groats is a simple marriage that transports me back to my childhood each and every time—my mother setting this dish before me so many countless times and my grandparents counting down my last bites as we ate together in their little apartment right outside of Moscow. When I came down with a stomach virus traveling through Eastern Europe one summer, I rented an apartment in Prague so that I could cook and feed myself to health. I turned to buckwheat, of course, and in a kitchen halfway across the world from my own I made it with mushrooms and onions. Sitting down to eat, I had found that not only was the food nourishing and comforting, but also the act itself of preparing a meal was just as therapeutic.
It made me feel right at home.
Buckwheat kasha — Grechka
Buckwheat has only recently gained popularity in the US, but it has been an important staple of the Russian diet for centuries. Not only is it gluten-free and a complete protein, but this seed, similar to quinoa and amaranth, is also nutrient-dense. These properties are just a bonus though—I eat it because it is tasty and comforting. There are two sorts of buckwheat, brown (roasted) and green (not roasted), and it is the former that we are referring to here. The green kind is tasty too, and makes a great addition to dukkah, like the one my friend Renee makes here. Buckwheat is super versatile again, like quinoa, and can be eaten as is, as a side, or made into a main vegetarian dish with the addition of vegetables. It goes particularly well with mushrooms and onions, and some dill thrown in there would be nice too. I provide the recipe for the way I ate it most commonly growing up, with warmed milk, but not the other way—with ketchup.
1 cup roasted buckwheat groats
2 cups water
1-2 tbsp. butter, unsalted
½ tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
1 cup milk of choice, warmed
- Rinse and drain buckwheat well.
- In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add buckwheat, butter and salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook on low until no water is left, for about 15-20 minutes. You want the buckwheat to be moist, not dry.
- Remove from heat, cover with a dishtowel, and let sit for 10-15 minutes.
- Spoon desired amount of grechka into a bowl, pour the warmed milk and enjoy!
Note: Without the milk, buckwheat makes a perfect accompaniment to meat or poultry. Stir in sautéed mushrooms, onions and dill for a heartier dish, or chopped hard-boiled egg with parsley and green onions (crispy bacon bits won’t hurt either).