Sometimes sweet, sometimes savoury: Semolina

Ghee wizz, do I have a blog for you- and it’s all about ghee! Well, technically it’s all about semolina, but never let the truth get in the way of a good pun, I say. 

Before we get down to the nutritional nitty gritty, let me take you on a tangent. Now, you know you’ve found a keeper when your boyfriend has a mum who can cook not only pretty amazing food, but pretty amazing Indian food. This poor little Italian girl has been deprived of this culture for most of her life; dating Josh has opened many doors that lead beyond takeaway butter chicken and garlic naan. So, for my second ever blog, why not live life on the wild side and attempt one of India’s most loved sweets, Sooji Halwa (Semolina pudding)? I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid, and I'm certainly no expert on Sooji Halwa, so to ensure I’m somewhat on track to creating an authentic dish, I've enlisted the help of Josh's mother, a real-life expert. So, here goes nothing... apart from possibly my relationship...

First I’ll let ghee take the back seat and give semolina some time to shine. And really, it deserves to. It’s a food that features all over the globe, and has so for centuries- from Nigeria to Romania, Sweden, Pakistan, Cyprus, India, and of course, my beloved Italy. Now I don’t want to appear biased, but it was actually named from the Italian word for bran- but that doesn’t mean to say it is used in Italy more than in other parts of the globe. Why is it named so? Well, actually that has left me a bit stumped. As you may remember from a previous blog, wheat kernels are processed to remove the outer, nutritious portions (the bran and germ) from the endosperm, that starchy white centre. The endosperm particles extracted in the processing is the semolina! These semolina particles can then be ground into flour and used to make all sorts of lovely things, like bread and pasta, or made into couscous. Therefore, flour, semolina, and couscous are essentially the same product (the inside of the wheat kernel) in different forms. So the fact it is named after bran, rather than endosperm, to me suggests a bit too much vino was being drunk at the time of naming.

It’s interesting that couscous is taking over cosmopolitan menus as the ‘superior’ alternative to bread or pasta. How does it actually compare nutritionally?

 

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This really just means they are all super low in fat, and that semolina has the lowest amount of energy and carbohydrates gram for gram, and pasta has the highest. But really, they are all very similar, and it's what we add to them that will make the world of difference to our love handles.

Italians, bless them, can be an odd lot. Since the country was formed over 100 years ago, there has been an endless battle between the economical north and agrarian south for superiority- naturally who produces the best food is top of the list in topics to be argued over. Semolina as a dish is unique to the north, and whilst I’ll stay out of any arguments, southern Nonna turns her nose at the thought of eating such food. Northern Nonna, meanwhile, makes the most delicious semolina gnocchi.  This is a situation which suits me just fine, as it leaves southern Nonna to master the potato gnocchi, whilst northern Nonna bakes semolina gnocchi in the oven, adds them to chicken soup (brodo), or cooks semolina with milk for breakfast- Italy’s answer to porridge. But for now let's whip up those amazing gnocchi.

And finally ghee. Apart from being a great word to use in puns, it is a staple in Indian cuisine. However, it is not commonly used here in the outback, and considering my town is officially one of the most overweight in Australia, that's possibly a good thing. To understand ghee you need to understand plain old butter. Butter is about 80% fat from cows milk with the remaining 20% including water, lactose (a carbohydrate) and salt. Ghee is simply that 80% of butter that is milkfat. The other 20% has been removed, leaving us with 99.9% pure, solid fat that melts down into oil. Unfortunately, it is extremely high in saturated fats, the type that increases our cholesterol levels and leads to heart problems. As Indian’s traditionally use ghee in small amounts, and have a diet low in saturated fats from other sources (such as meat, cakes, takeaway, deep fried foods and my personal favorite chocolate), this is fine. However if you use ghee regularly PLUS have a typically unhealthy diet, well don’t say I didn’t warn you. Today's Indian dish of choice, Sooji Halwa, is a semolina pudding which uses both semolina and ghee, however Josh’s mum was very kind to share her ghee free version, so naturally I couldn’t resist trying both. Without ghee, the dish is definitely more sweet and less rich, which means you can eat more of it (whether that is a good or bad thing I’ll leave up to you). However, the ghee dish did taste very “traditional”- so I guess I passed! 

Semolina. A staple across the world. Sometimes sweet, sometimes savoury, let’s savour it in all it’s forms!