Semolina for Breakfast

One morning during my parents’ visit to Japan in the early 70’s, they were offered an “American breakfast”. When they ordered it, they received a tossed salad! Breakfast is an interesting and diverse concept around the world, so perhaps it’s not surprising that such misunderstandings would exist. After having perused so many cookbooks over the past year, I’m amazed at how few of them actually include specific breakfast recipes. I’m increasingly intrigued by the concept of breakfast and how it has evolved in different cultures.

Many cultures have coffee or tea, bread and fruit, and maybe a sweet pastry. In communities where folks are doing manual labor, fishing or farming all day, a hearty breakfast with more protein and carbs is preferred. But this can vary from a big bowl of Pho noodle soup in Vietnam to the more familiar hearty eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast, etc. breakfast of the U.S. and U.K.

In the Middle East / North Africa, semolina seems to be the base of a number of breakfast foods, as well as many desserts. Semolina is similar to a fine cornmeal (I’m referring here to a coarse-ground semolina rather than a semolina “flour”). Here are two semolina breakfast recipes that I tried recently – Harcha (Moroccan) and Semolina Porridge (Syrian).

Harcha is very easy to make, and tastes like a dry cornbread. I probably didn’t add quite enough water to the mixture this time, it seemed a little too dry in the end.  Here are the directions – and a video of how to make it. By itself it wasn’t very flavorful, but while still warm and drizzled with honey it was a decent breakfast. If I make it again, I think I’ll try the suggestions of adding some honey to the dough itself to sweeten it up a bit.

The second dish was a Syrian Semolina Porridge from a friend of a friend who submitted the recipe for our International Festival cookbook.  He says this was a traditional breakfast in Syria, particularly on cold winter mornings. From some of my reading, it looks like semolina porridge is also popular in Russia and Eastern Europe as a breakfast food, and in other parts of Europe and Scandinavia as a dessert.

I found this recipe with the added sugar to be a bit sweet, so added a pinch of salt (if you like olives you might try that addition as suggested by the recipe author).  A rich flavor develops from toasting the semolina in butter first until it is golden brown, then adding the hot water for it to absorb. The texture is something between grits and cream of wheat (to which semolina is closely related). I think I might try it as a savory concoction the next time, perhaps adding a bit of cheese to mimic the cheese grits concept. How you dress up this dish really depends on whether you prefer sweet or savory items for your breakfast, so don’t let my savory preference turn you off from trying this recipe as it is written.

Semolina Porridge
1 c. semolina
3/4 c. salted butter
4 1/2 c. cold water
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. olive oil
pine nuts and/or slivered almonds
cinnamon to taste

Melt 1/2 c. of the butter in a medium sized pot. Add the semolina a cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until golden brown and fragrant. Remove from heat and cover. In another pot, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil. Add this syrup to the semolina with the remaining butter and stir well. Set aside covered for at least 5 minutes to absorb. In a small non-stick pan, heat the olive oil and toast the nuts over medium heat until fragrant and golden brown. Stir the porridge again, then portion out into bowls and garnish with nuts and cinnamon as you like. It can also be served with green olives and cheese. This recipe

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