utensils

One Cup of Semolina: Three Tastes Semolina Snack (uppamav)/ Couscous (Part 1), and Gnocchi (Part 2)

One of my favorite Indian breakfasts (although I could eat it at as a snack or dinner too) is a semolina dish called uppamav. Its creamy texture is my comfort food, with a hint of aromatic ginger and a nutty crunch. Uppamav, couscous (or couscous pearls), and gnocchi are all made from semolina, the inner yellow endosperm of a variety of protein-rich wheat grain called durum wheat. While gnocchi is made using semolina flour, uppamav and couscous are made with semolina granules. They have this silky consistency because the granules easily absorb water, causing the grain to swell and soften.

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This makes uppamav and couscous a filling meal – the same grain appears in various guises in the Middle East and Israel, North Africa, and the Asian subcontinent. The fluffy couscous is paired with meat stew (in Africa) and combined with dates and pistachios and perfumed with saffron (in Israel and the Middle East). In North Africa, couscous is steamed in a couscoussier. It is a specially designed pot, featuring a steamer perched above the main pan that slowly stews the meat and vegetables. The process can be replicated with a homemade steamer, but the process is time-intensive as the couscous cooks slowly in the steam.

Semolina grain cooks quickly in boiling water, allowing the couscous to plump up and soften. The couscous pearls, which are bigger semolina granules, look like orzo or rice. The flavors vary when water is substituted with broth, stock, or wine or by adding vegetables or meat. Semolina dishes make a versatile standalone dish bulked up with meat or vegetables or can be served plain as an accompaniment to a stew.

 

Semolina (Couscous Pearls) with Soprasetta

Semolina or couscous pearls – 1 cup

Oil – 3 tbsp

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – ½ -inch, finely grated

Garlic – 3 cloves, finely chopped

Cooked meat  (soprasetta) or de-veined raw shrimp  – ½ cup

Saffron – 3-4 strands, soaked in 1 tbsp. warm milk

Salt and pepper – 1tsp

Water and white wine combined – 1¾ cup

  • Heat a pan with oil. Add the shallots and cook until golden brown.
  • Add the ginger and garlic for a about a minute.
  • Add the water and wine to the pan. Add the salt. Bring it to a boil.
  • Add the shrimp and cook it for two minutes.
  • Add the couscous in small batches, stirring vigorously as each new batch is added. Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 minutes for semolina and about 8 minutes for couscous pearls. The water should be fully absorbed.
  • Add the cooked meat and fresh pepper.
  • Fluff the semolina. Add the soaked saffron and milk. Serve warm.

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In Indian cooking, semolina granules are used to make both sweet and savory dishes. The following recipe combines previously cooked or frozen vegetables to serve either as a complete vegetarian meal or as a side dish for meat consommé.

 

Semolina With Mixed Vegetables

Semolina granules – 1 cup

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – ½ -inch, finely grated

Serrano chili – 2, chopped

Oil – 3 tbsp

Mustard seeds –1 tbsp

Lentils – 2 tbsp. (any, as it is for the crunch)

Chopped mixed vegetables (frozen) – ½ cup

Cilantro – ½ bunch, washed and roughly chopped

Cashew nuts – 2 tbsp. (optional for garnish)

Salt – 1tsp

Water – 1¾ cup

  • Heat a pan. Add the semolina (no oil) and sauté for about 3 minutes, until it is heated through and has a war aroma. Keep aside.
  • Clean and heat the pan. Add oil to the pan.
  • When the oil is warm, add the mustard seeds.
  • Once it starts to pop, add the lentils and sauté until it changes color.
  • Add the chopped shallot and sauté until brown.
  • Add the ginger, chili, and cashew nuts and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the frozen vegetables or cooked fresh vegetables and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the water and salt and bring the water to a boil.
  • Add a third of the toasted semolina to the boiling water, stirring vigorously to prevent it from clumping. Add another batch and keep stirring, until the final batch is added. Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 minutes. The water should be fully absorbed.
  • Fluff the semolina. Serve warm. Garnish with cilantro.

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Kitchen Gadgets

It is always shocking when someone close to you dies at a young age, especially when they are in their twenties. I spent this weekend sad and found myself pottering around in the kitchen: cooking my favorite comfort food, planting chili seeds in a pot by the windowsill, and grinding fresh pepper and steaming vegetables with my improvised kitchen gadgets.

Kitchen shelves are often stacked with tools for every cooking need. However, you can save space and money by using each gadget for multiple purposes. Remember that A. and N., when you are tempted by an aebelskiver maker or electric knife at that well-known kitchen store!

Coffee grinder as mortar and pestle

A coffee grinder can work for both grinding coffee beans and for making fresh pepper or spices. To prevent cardamom-flavored coffee (although this may not be a bad combination!), wipe down the grinder very thoroughly between the different processes. However, if you plan to grind coffee beans daily, it is better to invest in a second grinder just for spices.

Colander as steamer

You don’t have to buy a steamer; you can adapt a colander to work as a steamer. Place the colander over a pot with a lid. (It is typically cheaper to buy a colander that fits over a pot than buying a new pot). Fill the pot with water. Make sure the water comes up to but doesn’t touch the colander. Let the water start to boil, and then arrange the vegetables, clams, or mussels in a single layer on the colander. Cover the colander with the lid. Steam until the vegetables are done to your liking, and the clams or mussels open. If the food isn’t done, do remember to add more water as needed.

Grater as mini food processor

Food processors are expensive and it is worth investing in a good one. However, if you don’t plan to cook a lot, a good metal grater is nice stopgap tool. You can finely grate or slice cheese and vegetables like potatoes, cabbage, and carrots. Grated garlic and ginger are as good as minced.

Rice Cooker

I still don’t own one. I use the two-finger rule for cooking rice. (Note: I do not mean the rude hand sign!) After you have cleaned and washed the rice, fill the pot with water (a two-finger measure) above the rice. Once the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover with a lid and cook until done. White basmati rice takes about 12-14 minutes to cook and brown basmati rice about 20 minutes. Let the rice sit in the covered pot for 5-10 minutes. While the rice is cooking, you have enough time to prepare accompanying vegetables.

Muffin Pan as taco maker/bacon bowl

I saw this trick on the Food Network. Turn over your muffin pan. Place a soft taco in between the mounds, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. You have a shaped taco to pile on your favorite fillings. By wrapping overlapping slices of bacon around the mound and cooking it for longer, you get a bacon bowl. Clean up was messy, but it was a fun way to eat eggs for Sunday brunch!

Frying Pan or Skillet

The term for flat-bottomed pans are now essentially interchangeable. The difference is that a skillet is shallower and the sides flare outwards to a rounded lip, whereas a frying pan is deeper with sides that come straight up. Both frying pans and skillets are made of cast iron, aluminum, anodized aluminum, or stainless steel. You don’t need both. Buy either, depending on your budget. Just remember to use wooden or plastic tools to avoid scratching non-stick surfaces. Both work well for sautéing, frying, poaching, and warming up leftovers.

A Student’s Kitchen

When N. started an internship this summer, she was sharing a kitchen with three other students. She wanted to start cooking; we needed to buy her some inexpensive cooking tools as I didn’t want her to borrow and lose any of my favorites! For her summer rental, we bought two non-stick pans: a frying pan for omelets and frittatas and an 8-inch deep pan for boiling noodles/pasta/soup. She also needed a sharp medium-sized knife (for fruits/vegetables/meat). She did, however, borrow a colander, a baking sheet, and some Tupperware from home.

I would suggest buying a wok as a first addition to these basics – I love using a wok. Its shape has three main benefits: 1) heat is evenly distributed; 2) you can use less oil as a little goes a long way in terms of sautéing or stir-frying; and 3) the curved sides hold in food as you toss it. Less cleanup is always a plus!

Woks can be bought inexpensively at kitchen supply stores. Pick the shape and size first. Choose a wok that fits right above the heat source on your cooktop as the food should cook evenly. I like the round-bottomed ones because I have a gas range, but the flat-bottom steel woks work best for an electric range. Material is usually carbon steel, aluminum, or stainless steel.
I prefer non-stick carbon steel as it cleans up easily.

Note that a wok needs to be seasoned (seasoning and care directions follow) before use because manufacturers coat them with a protective layer. After that, a seasoned wok becomes a lifelong friend. Happy cooking!

As always, feel free to ask question or post comments below.

Seasoning:

Wash the new wok in hot water. Scrub with a non-abrasive sponge and a little liquid soap.

  • Rinse and dry.
  • Heat over high heat for about two minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Smear the inside of the wok with oil, wiping it evenly with paper towel. Heat for another five minutes. Wipe off any residue.
  • Repeat the process, a few more times, until the paper towel has no black residue.
  • The wok is ready to be used.

Cleaning:

  • Clean after every use with warm water and a non-abrasive sponge.
  • You might want to brush the surface with oil for a few more times to prevent food from sticking.