Before summer definitely comes (if only it does !), I’d like to introduce this dish, said to be a spring meal. Humble as it is and looks like, perhaps isn’t it worthy to be featured in a restaurant’s menu, but it’s so easy and soothing that I couldn’t help sharing my knowledge of it with you.
I came across this recipe or whatever you would call it (yes, it may hardly be qualified as such) thanks to a colleague of my fiancé’s, who said of few words to him about this being one of his all-time favorite comfort foods, thus a nice use for buttermilk (which was actually the point of their conversation). I’m glad that my fiancé always lends a goodwilling ear to informations that may support my cooking inspiration, as this was something that would never have crossed my mind.
My interest had indeed been aroused and after a look around, I found that it was a traditional way to use up semolina leftovers in Maghreb (same concern than for rice in Asia), named « saykouk ».
Leben or lben (Arabic لبن , that is « milk ») buttermilk – produced through a different process than your ordinary buttermilk -, resembling a thin yoghurt in terms of taste and texture, is a common North African and Middle Eastern drink made from churned fermented milk (Arabic رَآيب, râyeb, râïb). But it is also likely to be served as a sort of fresh tasting sauce to liven up the cold, slightly dried out cooked semolina. If I got it right, it is rather eaten as a snack or in the way of a « dessert » (though it is not sweet), more often than not without toppings (if any, they’re raisins).
As for me, I’d be glad to have it as a side for this kind of spicy dish (dairy products helping to temperate the heat), or even as a light meal, then by preference in a different form I came to, inspired by tabbouleh and its numerous variations – the one displayed here actually. This however is but a suggestion (well working though), so feel free to play around with herbs, nuts and spices associations to take it over too. Anyway, if you’re a huge buttermilk fan, do try the one without any topping !
- 2 rice bowls of cooked or 300 gr. uncooked couscous semolina (medium-size grain)
- 3 cups buttermilk (rather leben if available), or to your liking
- ~ 5 stalks mint, leaves only (optional)
- ~ 1.5 tbsp raisins (optional)
- ~ 3 tbsp pistachios, shelled and peeled (optional)
- ~ 5 pods of fresh broad beans (fava beans) (optional)
- ~ 1/4 tsp ground allspice (optional)
- salt to taste
Make sure that the milk would be cold when serving by chilling it long enough.
Soak the raisins in water till soft and plumped up (you want to make this at least 30 mns ahead). Drain well, pat dry and set aside.
If needed, cook the semolina according to the package instructions* or by traditional steaming method** (see below). Let it cool thoroughly, stirring from time to time, and chill if you like.
Shell and boil the broad beans in salted water till cooked through. Drain well, peel once cooled enough to handle, and set aside.
Wash, dry and finely chop the mint (not too long ahead because the stabs cause the leaves to darken on the edges).
Divide the semolina into bowls, arrange all toppings on the table and allow people to help themselves.
Add milk to desired consistency, considering that the semolina would soak it up gradually, thus you might need to add more in the course your meal to keep that ideal thin porridge-like texture.
Sprinkle each bowl with a pinch of allspice and salt to taste, mix and enjoy !
* Which are in general :
- sprinkle the semolina with some oil,
- pour an equal volume of boiling water (lightly salted) over it,
- let stand a few minutes,
- separate the grains with a fork,
- chuck in the microwawe with a lid for a couple of minutes,
- separate the grains a second time, adding a knob of butter if needed.
(/ wash-saving shortcut of the shortcut method : pour the semolina into an equal volume of boiling water with added oil and pinch of salt, cover, let stand off the heat until the water has been completely soaked up, and separate the grains directly in the pot, with a fork)
**Which is :
- in a steamproof dish, rinse the grains with fresh running water, separating them by rubbing between your palms, till they’re evenly moistened,
- steam for 10 mns,
- add gradually more water so that the grains plump up better,
- sprinkle with some salt and mix into it the semolina 1 tbsp + 1 tsp oil (for 300 gr.),
- steam again for 10 mns,
- transfer to a large serving dish and break up the lumps with a wooden spoon or spatula.