This recipe is from one of my old notepads, dated 1994. At the time I was living at Old Man Mountain, on the South Island of New Zealand. My hosts there were Susie, who owned the farm, and Nadia, who lived in the yellow house by the highway that wended its way on down the rugged Buller Gorge.
Nadia was one of the great food influences on my life, one of the three women who taught me about cooking, alongside my mother and Delia Smith1.
Despite living in the middle of nowhere in a sparsely populated country adrift in a massive ocean, Nadia had a voracious interest in food, and loved working with young international enthusiasts like me who came to visit, learn and share. She had a great cookery book library too, and we would spend hours chatting about food – either while making meals for Nadia’s large family and whatever friends were passing by or planning parties or catering jobs.
Such conversations, and poring over her cookery books, filled up pages in my journals from the period. Unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly assiduous in providing the sources of recipes. Sometimes I did, but not in the case of the two peda bread recipes I’ve got: this one, and another simply called Armenian peda bread.
Peda, pide, pita
The word peda is clearly related to the Turkish “pide” and the more familiar “pita” but not only do I not know the source of the recipe, I can’t really help with the etymology or relationship between these words as no one is sure.
There are various forms of flatbread that go by these names. Heck, the word pizza may even be in the same linguistic and culinary family, but I’d be spreading internet misinformation if I said that it was with any certainty.
From a little research I do conclude that peda is the Armenian variation on the words pide and pita. And rather than being just a bread developed by Armenian-Americans in LA, this recipe looks like it’s a variation on matnakash. According to that dream-of-the-internet Wikipedia, matnakash means “finger draw” or “finger pull” bread, which fits in totally for this recipe as you stretch and pattern it with your fingertips.
Pre-internet and inauthentic
Mine look a bit different to the ones I can see online now. It’s no wonder though as I’m a white Briton who learned to make them in New Zealand with the encouragement of a Maori-Indian-pakeha woman, from a book with no pictures, in an era when it wasn’t possible to just go online and check something.
My version may not be authentic (a troublesome concept at the best of times) but it is personal, makes for a great sharing bread, and is a reminder of my amazing, energetic, knowledgeable friend and culinary teacher Nadia, who sadly died last year and is sorely missed.
Makes 2 large flatbreads
Bakers’ percentages shown in brackets. So this is a 64% hydration bread, with a nice, manageable dough. I would also say that at 4.3%, this recipe contains too much yeast and rushes the fermentation. My normal bread recipe contains 2% yeast. However, I really just wanted to try out the recipe from my old notepad, and convert it into grams from cups.
In future, I plan to try it with less yeast or with a sourdough starter, or a preferment, and a proper long fermentation, for flavour and digestibility.
700g strong white flour (100%)
15g ADY or 30g fresh yeast (4.3%)
450g water, warm (64%)
20g caster sugar (3%)
6g salt (1%)
30g butter, melted (4.3%)
1. Mix the sugar with the warm water, sprinkle on the yeast and leave it to activate.
2. Put the flour in a large bowl, add the salt and mix it through.
3. When the yeast mix is frothy, add it to the flour, along with the melted butter.
4. Bring the dough together, turn out and knead until smooth.
5. Form a ball, put in a clean bowl, cover and leave to prove until doubled in size. With this amount of yeast, it won’t take long. Mine took about an hour at RT of 18C.
6. Divide the dough into two pieces. Mine weighed 1225g, so two at about 612g.
7. Form the two pieces into balls.
8. Grease two baking sheets with oil, then put the balls on them, cover and leave to rest, for about quarter of an hour.
9. Stretch out the balls to fill the shape of your baking tray. My trays are square but the traditional shape for matnakash is more rectagular2. Form a rim, or edge with your fingertips.
10. Cover with a damp cloth and rest again, until doubled in size.
11. Brush with water then form a criss-cross pattern with your fingertips.
12. Cover with a damp cloth and rest again, until doubled in size.
13. Preheat the oven – to about 220C if possible. Mine can only really muster about 200C, disappointingly, but it’s OK.
14. Bake the flatbreads for about 15 minutes or until nicely browned.
15. Make a flour glaze by putting 2 teaspoons of flour in 100g of water and bringing to the boil, whisking. Brush this onto the breads as soon as they come out of the oven, and sprinkle with seeds, such as sesame or nigella/kalonji.
I enjoyed mine with a dip (top pic) made from dried English peas. I’ve noticed since coming home from Italy, where I was able to buy Italian-grown lentils, chickpeas and other dried legumes, that most available here are imported from China. That seems crazy: it’s too far, too dubious. Sure different crops grow here compared to Italy or France, which also grows a lot of lentils, but pulses were a staple here for centuries: just think of generations of Britons partially subsisting on variants on pease pudding.
Luckily, a young-ish British company was thinking along similar lines, and now grows peas and various beans, including broad beans (sold as fava), here. They’re Hodmedod’s and I wish then every success, as not only are they supporting British food production, they’re reinvigorating ancient culinary traditions. And they have cute branding too, even including little recipe booklets in their packets of produce.
1. Delia Smith is not fashionable now – in fact, she was never exactly trendy. But the Complete Cookery Course, since its first appearance in print in 1978, has taught me so much. It was the default book for a child growing up in that period interested in learning the basics in pretty much any area of cooking, from stews to pastries.
2. In Armenia, matnakash and the unleavened lavash would be made in a tonir, the Armenian equivalent of a tandoor.