Béchamel for Beginners
What kind of food do we need during this turbulent time? Comforting. Delicious. Home-cooked. Pair this tasty sauce—a family recipe shared with us by a 15-year-old cook—with pasta for a meal that fits the bill.
Climbing up the ladder from the designated “stand-and-stir” job to being the actual cook in the kitchen can be a daunting task for most teenagers, one that can include many stumbles. As a recently emerged teen baker and cook in the family kitchen, I can certainly attest to that.
My name is Serene Tarabishi, and I am a 15-year-old writer, baker, and daughter of two Syrian immigrants. I have spent a decent portion of my life in the kitchen, watching my mother cook. After years of observation, I have endeavored to learn many of the recipes that characterized my childhood.
However, this is not as easy as it seems.
Arab cooking is very chaotic, and in my search to finally write down some of my mother’s family recipes, I have found myself diving before her to measure out that vague cupful of flour or mug of milk. Since my mom mostly relies on her memory and ink-scrawled paper scraps, trying to actually write down the recipes can be a nightmare.
However, after a couple of tries, I have finally pinned down my favorite béchamel recipe. Béchamel is a sauce based on a roux of flour, butter, and milk, and it is one of the most basic essentials in French cooking. My family is of Syrian background, a country steeped in many different cultural influences, including French cuisine.
This French influence results in the common use of béchamel sauce in our food, especially with pasta, for a nostalgic childhood treat. Béchamel provides a blank canvas to mac and cheese—allowing teens to add whatever flavor they fancy, be it ginger, curry powder, or garlic. And despite the recipe’s daunting French name, learning to make it is a surprisingly easy and constructive way for teens to gain more experience cooking.
Cheesy Béchamel Sauce
SERVES 7 | PREP TIME: 10 minutes | COOK TIME: 15 minutes
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed into a paste
- 1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk
- 3⁄4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 3⁄4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- Fresh and finely grated ginger (powdered ginger works as well)
- 1⁄8 tsp ground nutmeg
- Black pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Melt butter in a saucepan on medium-low heat, and add garlic once melted. Allow garlic and butter to simmer for about 2 minutes while whisking. Always keep a close eye on the butter while simmering; don’t allow the butter to brown in the pan.
- Add flour slowly and whisk on medium heat until butter and flour are combined (about 2 minutes). Add milk slowly in 1⁄2-cup increments, making sure to keep whisking quickly as the milk is being poured into the pan to prevent it from burning.
- Add nutmeg, salt, pepper, and ginger to taste into the béchamel while constantly whisking (about 5 minutes).
- Add shredded cheese into the sauce, and whisk vigorously as the cheese melts into the mixture. Continue whisking until béchamel has reached the desired consistency (about 5 minutes). Add milk to thin if necessary.
- Serve with freshly made pasta and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
Top Tips from Serene…
• Béchamel can also be used in casserole-type dishes or lasagna as a substitute for any white sauce you normally use.
• Pay close attention to the dish while cooking; don’t leave unattended, or you’ll risk burning your sauce.
• When whisking and stirring, make sure to whisk fast enough to keep the sauce from burning, and scrape the bottom to ensure nothing sticks to the pot.