February 19, 2015
In the Kitchen with Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Congresswoman shares recipe for kasha varnishkes from her vegetarian lunch club
by Ruthanne Johnson
Some people just aren’t that into cooking. Scratch that—a lot of people, given the sheer number of restaurants and convenience foods in the market. That’s how it was for Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who jokingly admits there was a time when she couldn’t even boil water.
As chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Wasserman Schultz maintains a grueling schedule when Congress is in session, one that usually means leaving for work at 8 a.m. and returning to the row house she shares with two other congresswomen around 9 or 10 p.m. Such long days make healthy eating tough, she says.
In college, Wasserman Schultz dreamed of being a veterinarian. But a stint with the University of Florida’s student senate drew her into politics. She has since championed bills to protect animals such as polar bears, wild horses, puppy mill dogs and great apes.
In 2007, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The surgeries that followed and weight gain from medications ignited a desire to eat better. She didn’t want her three kids to have to grow up without a mom. “It was time to really focus on my life as a survivor,” she says, “and the lifestyle I was going to adopt in order to be able to make sure I was going to be around.”
At her south Florida home, the vegetable garden her husband and kids built for her as a Mother’s Day gift offers a bounty of fresh ingredients for home-cooked dishes, as do a variety of fruit trees they planted. But back in the Capitol, wholesome eating continued to present a challenge. “Every lunch, every reception, there’s constantly calorie-laden sugary or savory foods or hors d’oeuvres,” she says.
Then a newly hired staff assistant told her about a vegetarian lunch club at a previous job. Wasserman Schultz encouraged the assistant to start one at the DNC. Since its inception in December 2014, the Vegetarian Lunch Club has grown from eight to 24 members. Groups are divided into eight people, who each cook a vegetarian dish twice a month. Lunches are served Monday through Thursday.
Her favorite dishes brought in by staffers include mango cashew fried rice and Mexican quinoa. She posts her own creations on Instagram, such as lentil stew with whole grain cornmeal dumplings, eggplant gyros and this recent serving of kasha and bowtie noodles, which she bills as Jewish soul food and one of her and her dad’s favorite dishes.
Serves 4-5 // Recipe courtesy of Debbie Wasserman Schultz
2 large onions, sliced in rounds
2 tablespoons margarine
Juice from 1 can of chickpeas, drained [replacement for large egg or egg white, slightly beaten]
1 cup medium or coarse kasha
2 cups vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¾ pound bow-tie noodles
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1. Place onions and margarine in a heavy frying pan and cover. Sauté until golden and scoop on to a plate.
2. Whip the chickpea juice with a mixer until frothy. Stir in the kasha and mix until all the grains are coated. Place the kasha in the frying pan on high heat. Flatten, stir and break up the juice-coated kasha with a wooden spoon for 2 to 4 minutes—or until the juice has dried on the kasha and the kernels brown and mostly separate.
3. Add the broth, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add the onions, cover tightly, and cook over low heat, steaming the kasha for 10 minutes. Uncover, stir and check to see if the kernels are tender and the liquid has been absorbed. If not, cover and continue steaming for an additional 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the bow-tie noodles according to package directions. Drain.
5. When the kasha is ready, combine with the noodles. Season to taste and sprinkle with parsley.
PER SERVING: Calories: 191; Fat: 8 g; Carbs: 28 g; Protein: 5 g; Sodium: 380 mg.