Category Archives: Breakfast

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


DC Food

Just returned from a convention in DC this week.  Although I didn’t have much extra time and was pretty much tied to the area around the convention center, I was able to find some pretty good food!  The first night in town I met up with friends Eric and Tini (who got married and moved to DC last summer) at Haad Thai restaurant. We pre-arranged our meeting, and it wasn’t until I arrived at the restaurant that I realized I had been there before – when I was in DC for a conference 2 years ago!  I ordered “rama in jacuzzi” – steamed watercress and chicken with a spicy peanut sauce.

The next morning, I walked a few blocks to a diner across from Ford’s Theater called Lincoln’s Waffle Shop. The name would suggest that waffles were the star of the menu, but it was really only one of many options.

It was the most diversely populated greasy spoon I’ve ever seen, with asian, latino and black servers and cooks working together behind the counter; and patrons from the construction worker taking a break from his work down the street, to 4 guys in suits having a breakfast business meeting. All the while, a Latina cook was singing softly in the background. And it was “redskins country” – what more could you ask? :)  I had scrambled eggs, bacon and french toast – they brought me so much food that it came on 2 plates and I couldn’t finish it all!

For lunch that day, 4 of us from the convention went together to Ping Pong for dim sum. I didn’t get any photos of that meal, because we were trying to rush back to our work at the exhibit booth, but it was delicious. And in the evening on Tuesday we had dinner at the NC Reception, hosted by our Center and the Department of Commerce at the Newseum.

The next morning, I went to Eastern Market to meet up with Megan – a friend who participated in our Service Adventure unit in Raleigh a few years ago and is now finishing college and doing a summer internship in DC. The market wasn’t very exciting that early on a Wednesday morning, but we found a lovely cafe with outdoor seating for breakfast. We both had Belgian hot chocolate and the special omelet of the day, made with turkey chorizo and cheddar cheese.

Since it is Italian month, I also looked up some Italian restaurants around the convention center. Most of those are very pricy, but I noticed that Potenza Trattoria has a reasonably-priced lunch option. In addition to their restaurant, they have a bakery that offers a daily “blue plate special” with a new set of specials each week. Wednesday was baked ziti with homemade salami and roasted vegetables, with a drink and a slice of bread pudding for only $9. Delicious and highly recommended!

That evening after we closed up at the booth, we decided to try Zaytinya, an upscale Mediterranean restaurant that my friend Amber really wanted to visit again after having eaten there on a previous trip. It is a mezze restaurant (like Spanish tapas) where you order small plates and share around the table. Three of us ordered 9 wonderfully flavorful small dishes, followed by dessert. I took pictures of some of the favorites.

Kibbeh, a beef and bulgur patty with pine nuts and currants, served with labneh (thickened yogurt).



Bakaliarou Mavro Skordalia, a lightly battered fried cod (think ‘fish and chips’) on a bed of skordalia (garlic mashed p0tatoes) with pieces of orange and chives.


Firik pilavi – smoked green wheat (bulgur?) pilaf, with mushrooms and apricots.




Crispy fried brussel sprouts with garlic yogurt, coriander seeds, and barberries (kind of like tart raisins)



Bamya – stewed okra, tomatoes and chick peas





I forgot to take a picture of the yeasty fresh-out-of-the-oven pita bread that was served with the meal, probably because we were gobbling it up so fast! As an appetizer, we ordered hummus, baba ghanoush and a roasted red pepper and feta dip to eat with this bread.  Even though we were incredibly full by the end of the meal, we couldn’t resist trying the small desserts as well.

This was my dessert, a couple of scoops of walnut ice cream, sitting on what I think was apricot and honey flavored yogurt (or something similar), a piece of crunchy phyllo crust, toasted walnuts, a drizzle of honey around the outside with 4 little cubes of apricot jelly.

That’s pretty much it for my DC dining experience. Thursday morning I had hot chocolate and a blackberry white chocolate scone at Caribou Coffee with a former high school classmate Krista. After a final couple of hours working at the booth, we headed back to Raleigh. I’m very glad to be back in town with no major travel plans for the month of July. As expected, I haven’t had much of a chance to really dig into Italian cuisine yet, which is why I planned for two months of Italian cooking!





Huevos Ranchero – Cuban-style

I’m still focusing on quick recipes during the week, and I found this version of huevos ranchero – or ranch-style eggs. They’re considered Cuban mainly because of the side of refried black beans, but similar options would be found throughout Central America. Tasty and quick meal, though – for breakfast or dinner!

Huevos Rancheros
corn tortilla
2 eggs
1/4 c. salsa (or sauteed onion & pepper with some hot sauce)
1/4 c. shredded Cheddar cheese
refried black beans

Heat some olive oil in a small non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Brown one side of the corn tortilla in the pan. Flip the tortilla, and break 2 eggs onto the browned side that now faces up. Add the salsa and cheese on top and cover with a lid to steam. Keep covered until the eggs reach your desired state of done-ness. Slide off onto a plate and serve with black beans.

Recipe adapted from: Cuba Cocina! by Joyce LaFray


One of the breakfast meals mentioned in Scandinavian cookbooks is a rye or oat porridge. I didn’t have any rye berries in the house, so decided to try the version with old-fashioned oats.  I enjoy cooked oatmeal on a winter’s morning with some raisins and brown sugar, and I assumed that porridge would be a similar dish. Unfortunately, I must admit I didn’t enjoy this porridge nearly as much! It’s an easy recipe:

1 cup oatmeal
3 c. water
pinch of salt

Mix these three ingredients in a casserole dish and cover tightly. Place in a larger dish with water in it, making a water bath for slower cooking. Bake overnight (~8 hours) at 250 degrees.

I could immediately see why this would be a popular dish during times when food is scarce. One cup of dried oatmeal stretched into 3 or more cups of finished porridge. But the result is very different from a more quickly-cooked oatmeal. The tougher fibers dissolved into something softer and gelatinous, much like the texture of a custard.

The recipe suggested topping the porridge with lingonberry jam and butter, or cinnamon and sugar, plus a little bit of milk or cream. I added ALL of the above (substituting a mixed berry jam) and it was still barely edible. The porridge had hardly any flavor of its own and tasted watered down from a typical hot oatmeal dish – not surprising considering it absorbed three times it’s volume in water during the night’s cooking.  Also, the texture was just too gummy to be very enjoyable. I’m sure there are many other recipes for “porridge”, and perhaps using a more whole grain like rye berries, or mixing in sugar or other flavorings during the cooking process would result in a tastier product.

To give this oat porridge one more chance, I followed another suggestion and pressed the leftovers into a loaf pan to chill.  The next morning I sliced the porridge and fried it in butter, topping it with maple syrup and pear jam. This was slightly more enjoyable and it was a filling breakfast, but I have to say that I doubt I’ll be trying this porridge recipe again.