This little dish of Pasta with Bechamel Sauce represents the exact reason why cooking for oneself is not only an act of self-care, but also an experience of empowerment. Why? Because it embodies the art of knowing how to survive and thrive on less- less money, less stuff (i.e. ingredients), fewer cooking tools & gadgets, and more time for the things you actually want to do.
Since I’ve been in Turkey, I’ve had to learn to manage high prices for things that are relatively cheap back in the US (in this case, Parmesan). I’ve also had to substitute for ingredients I simply can’t find very easily (also, Parmesan). I have to stretch fresh seasonal vegetables from one market day to the next or until they come up in my garden because they are way pricier and not nearly as good quality in the larger grocery stores. This is simply not the case in the U.S., as you can still find great looking and tasting organic food products in many reputable grocers nowadays- but that sometimes makes it more tempting to overstuff your fridge with fresh things that will quickly go to waste before you can use them up. Instead, knowing how to cook has saved me from spending money on eating out, eating food I don’t enjoy, or even snacking instead of having a proper meal; and instead using my self-taught cooking skills to be creative and a master of stretching the food budget while never sacrificing on taste. Now that is empowering.
So what happened here and why the big deal over Béchamel? Typically, any type of French sauce is considered difficult, but they’re really not once you’ve practiced them. Béchamel is the first types of French sauces one anyone would learn in culinary school because it uses basic ingredients we always have on hand (flour + butter) and the sauce is used as a base in soufflés and added to dishes to either stretch them and/or give them more flavor. In fact, once you master it you can basically get even more creative with the dishes you serve it on, too. It requires a little bit of juggling ingredients in that you have to get the roux (flour + butter) mixture just right and you have to whisk the butter in vigorously and quickly so that the flour doesn’t clump your sauce, but you get the hang of it once you practice- just like any other skill.
I was very limited on ingredients at home and was actually craving pasta Alfredo, but without the Parmesan that I didn’t have, I was able to make Béchamel, so that’s what I did- without a recipe, because it’s already in my head.
I’m not an Executive Chef at a fancy restaurant; I’m a home cook just like you, which means you can do this, too. Wouldn’t you feel like your very own Master Chef at home if you made something like this for yourself, without fuss? It’s doable, I promise you.
Both recipes and easy instructions for making Alfredo and Béchamel can be found in the My Halal Kitchen cookbook and only require a few essential base ingredients: flour, butter, milk, salt, black pepper. Red pepper flakes on top make it more Turkish, but you can leave those out and add some fresh herbs or nothing at all. It’s your dish, so you do you.
You can get the My Halal Kitchen cookbook here.