Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Za'atar Semolina Cakes

Why are there pre-cooked tubes of polenta in every grocery store, while semolina remains that random stuff they throw under pizza to dry the crust? Both are finely milled grains with a mild flavor; both healthy and cheap to produce. Why does cornmeal get all the love, while wheatmeal is an also-ran?

I don't understand it, especially when semolina is so much easier to get right. Unless you simmer and stir polenta for 45 minutes, you have to drown the bitter, raw taste in copious butter and salt. Semolina is tasty in five minutes.

So why do my bags of semolina look like this?

Why do I have to use Google translate to figure out which sack of pulverized grain I'm looking for? I've bought Irmik at the Turkish market, Sooji at the Pakistani store, and Mahhar from the Russian grocery. Which is all well and good, since I love an ethnic store. Where else can you get food that is "Country Grown?"

Don't ask me which country. But, rest assured, wherever these sesame seeds were grown was in some country.

Seriously, though, the best Whole Foods can do is a Bob's Redmill bag of Semolina Flour? Lame.

To make basic semolina "mush" (for lack of a better word), boil three parts water and whisk in one part semolina. Season and serve. Like polenta, you can bake out some of the water to make it more slice and less mush. I'm not much of a mush-girl, to be honest. Squishy pudding squicks me out. So I made two variations of this recipe: one for pudding lovers, and one for those of us who fight for the corner brownie. Both are good - make the one that suits your preference.

And feel free to substitute whatever seasoning you like for the za'atar.

Za'atar Semolina
1 cup semolina (not semolina flour)
3 cups water
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon za'atar
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 teaspoon sumac (optional)
3/4 teaspoon sesame seeds (optional)

Bring the water to a boil and whisk in the semolina. Mix in the salt, garlic, za'atar and 3 tablespoons of butter.

Pudding Lovers:

Pour into a well-greased 8- or 9-inch square pan. Dot the top with remaining butter slivers and sprinkle optional sumac and sesame seeds. Bake at 425 for 40 minutes. Rest for ten minutes on the counter before cutting into squares.

Crust Lovers:
Scoop into twelve well-greased muffin tins. Dot the tops with the remaining butter slivers and sprinkle optional sumac and sesame seeds over each. Bake at 425 for 40 minutes. Rest for ten minutes on the counter before moving to a platter.

Note: just because you can pick up these little disks  right away doesn't mean you should immediately chow down. The inside will be molten lava hot for a good while. Just saying.

I like to serve mine with tahini sauce. But I like everything with tahini sauce ...

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