Tag Archives: flatbread

Burger buns and khobz variations

 

Aubergine and halloumi burger with khobz bun

Back in the old days, I’m sure we always ate burgers with a sesame bun. It wasn’t exactly the greatest bread, but at least it was savoury. These days, all the hip and wannabe burger joints sell theirs in brioche buns. I do not get this at all. Brioche is a sweet breakfast bread.* I don’t want a sweet burger bun, it’s just plain weird.

I was a vegetarian or pescatarian for about 20 years and although I’m more omnivorous these days I still don’t eat much red meat; in fact, I reckon I’ve only eaten beef about three times in the last 30 years, in part as I’m not a huge fan, in part as, in much mainstream modern industrial farming, beef can be reared in grim and environmentally unsustainable ways*. So meat burgers aren’t really my thing. But I do love the format, so when I saw this veggie option on Hermione’s Pantry for burgers with aubergine (eggplant, melanza) and halloumi – one of my desert island foodstuffs – I had to try it.

Khobz bun with aubergine halloumi 2

A month or so ago, I did a version of the khobz, an Arabic bread made with semolina and wholemeal wheat flour. I’ve been enjoying playing around with the recipe. I thought why not try the same dough for burger buns. I divided the same quantity of dough from my khobz recipe into eight and rather than making flatter, disc-shaped loaves, made balls for burger buns. I then used them for this aubergine and halloumi burger. I tweaked Hermione’s marinade and left it much longer than she says, but the result was great, with a juiciness that’s often lacking from veggie burgers and the khobz dough making for a good, suitably savoury, bun.

The khobz recipe involves a very satisfying combination of flours, and has also proved itself suitable for large, tear-and-share breads. Rather than dividing the dough into six for small loaves, I divided it in two and made these for a meal with friends a few weeks ago:

Large khobz

 

 

 

* Just read up on concentrated animal feedlots (CAFOs), deeply messed-up arrangements involving cattle being crammed into fenced pens, with no grazing, and instead a diet of maize – something they’ve not evolved to eat. They stand around in their own excrement and get sick, necessitating intensive regimes of antibiotics. CAFOs, or at least similarly brutal intense operations, are creeping into Britain and, likely, will become increasingly common as countries like China become wealthier and more of the world’s seven billion start shifting to more heavily meat-based diets.

Although it’s a US-oriented book by California-based writer Michael Pollen, I’d recommend anyone, even in Britain, read The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  It not only looks at meat (and, by extension, cheese) production in the food supply chain, it even evaluates the virtues, or otherwise, or locavorism, something that’s close to my heart but also something I’m happy to question and be further educated about.

In the meantime, I prefer my bovine products to come from cattle like this. Except for the one beast that isn’t a cow, but instead seems to be a fallow deer that has adopted the herd!

Cattle on the South Downs, Southerham, 30 May 2015

* Except when it’s not. I’ve got a few recipes for savoury brioche, eg the cheesy brioche de gannat.

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A version of khobz, khubz, khoubz Arabic bread

Khobz, torn open, with ful medames

Recently, I’ve been making various Middle Eastern, Asian and Mediterranean flatbreads, or at least flattish-breads that are leavened but formed into low profile shapes. These include types of Armenian bread (peda and matnakash), naan/nan (which I’ve been experimenting with, but haven’t quite cracked; watch this space) and of course pizza bianca and pizza. So I also fancied having a go at khobz, aka khoubz, aka khubz, aka khobez (all transliterations of خبز).

Now, before anyone says “Those aren’t khobz!” or “Those don’t look like the khobz I buy from my local Arabic deli”, bear in mind that the word simply means bread in standard Arabic, it’s not one particular type of bread.

Baked, wrapped in a cloth

Wikipedia says it’s a synonym for pita, but that’s not quite right. Whereas pita is, generally and most commonly here in the UK, a white wheat flour flatbread with a pocket, I’ve had khobz in various forms. For our wedding, where we had a Middle Eastern-inspired feast, a Yemeni-British friend sourced a load from an Arabic bakery in west London: they were foot-wide, thin and floppy. But I’ve also had khobz that are smaller, discus-shaped, not flat breads, but in this flattish category I enjoy. This latter, I believe, may be more typical to Morocco, but having never been there I’m not sure. Rather than being made with just white wheat flour, these can contain wholemeal wheat flour and semolina.

When I was a kid, semolina was simply a slightly off-putting gruelly pudding we had for school lunches, but it more specifically refers to a coarse flour or meal made from durum wheat.

Durum wheat is Triticum durum aka Triticum turgidum subsp. durum, a cousin to common bread wheat, Triticum aestivum. It’s principally used for making pasta – and not so common in England as a sludgy pudding any more, though I’m sure it’s due for a fancy revival.

Whatever the form the khobz takes, it’s designed for eating torn and smeared with stews and dips.

Oh, and I don’t have a tannuur, or tandoor, so they’re just baked in a normal domestic oven.

12g fresh yeast
320g water, tepid
200g strong white flour
100g wholemeal wheat flour
150g semolina
5g salt

1. Crumble the yeast into the water and whisk.

Different floursAdd the yeast water
2. Combine the flours, semolina and salt in a large bowl.
3. Pour in the yeasty water and bring the mixture together to form a shaggy dough.

Shaggy doughSmooth-ish dough
4. Turn out and knead to a smooth dough, or put in a mixer to achieve the same result with less elbow grease.
5. Put the ball of dough back into the large bowl, cleaned and slightly oiled. Cover with a damp cloth then leave for half an hour.
6. Take out the dough, stretch it into a rough rectangle then fold it in thirds. This is called stretch and fold, a useful technique for developing doughs. (See my pizza bianca recipe for more on the process, including photos.)
7. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover and leave for another half hour. Do one more stretch and fold, then put it back, cover and leave until doubled in size.

Doubled in size
8. Take out the dough and weigh it. It should weight about 790g. For six small loaves, divide it into six pieces, each weighing about 130g.

Divide into 6 piecesForm balls
9. Form the pieces into balls, cover and rest for about 10 minutes.

Form discs
10. Sprinkle the worktop with more flour, then, using the heel of your hand, squash down the balls into discs, about 15cm in diameter. Place these on baking sheets dusted with semolina, and cover.

Before baking
11. Leave to prove again, until doubled in size.
12. Preheat your oven to 220C.
13. Bake the loaves until slightly browned. Time will vary depending on how fierce your oven is, but at least 10 minutes and less than 20.
14. Wrap in a clean tea towel or cloth then serve, warm-ish.

Khobz wiuth ful medames

I made this batch to have with ful medames, the broad bean/fava dish that is arguably from Egypt but is found throughout much of the Levant and Arabic East Africa in various localised forms, and a lemony tahini sauce. I love beans, legumes, pulses, and I prefer to buy locally grown, or at least British produce. Sadly, a lot of the pulses we could get in Italy, just don’t grow in Britain, or the ones available in the shops are all from China. Too far, too dubious. At the moment, I’m favouring fava etc from British producer Hodmedods, and they include a regime for ful medames in one of the leaflets that comes with their pulses.

Apparently broad beans/fava – Vicia faba – have been grown in Britain since the Iron Age, that is the period of about a millennium prior to the comprehensive Roman invasion of 43AD. I love the idea of making an Arabic bread, to eat with an Egyptian stew, made with British grown broad beans, known by their Italian name.

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Armenian peda bread

Peda with wild garlic fava dip

A week ago I did a post for a bread recipe I had in an old 1994 notebook called Los Angeles peda bread. It was accompanied by another recipe simply called Armenian peda bread. The former, I subsequently discovered, is probably a version of Armenian flatbread called matnakash. This Armenian peda (their word related to pide and pita), meanwhile, is another minor mystery, with the source of the recipe I wrote down back in 1994 unknown. Similar breads can be seen online, but I’m afraid I can’t find a more specific Armenian name for it.*

Ignorance notwithstanding, like the LA peda, this is another great sharing bread, perfect for tearing up at a family gathering – like we did over the weekend with sister-in-law Sharon, niece and nephew.

As with the LA peda, this version is basically just a conversion and slight update of the one I had in my notebook. I did reduce the yeast slightly, but again, if I revise it further, I’ll reduce it more and do a longer fermentation.

15g active dried yeast, or 30g fresh yeast
80g water
400g milk
20g sugar
6g salt
780g strong white bread flour
50g olive oil

extra olive oil

1 egg
sesame seeds

Peda ingredients

1. Combine the water and milk and warm to about blood temperature. You can adjust the quantities of milk and water if you want, to make up 480g of liquid. More milk makes for a sweeter, richer bread.
2. Stir in the sugar, then add the yeast, crumbling it if you’re using fresh. Give it a whisk.
3. In a large bowl, combine the salt and flour.
4. When the yeast is starting to froth, add to the flour, along with the 50g olive oil (about 4-5 tablespoons).

Peda dough 1Peda dough 2
5. Bring the dough together, turn out and knead until smooth.
6. Form the dough into a ball then put the bowl (cleaned) with a splosh of olive oil and cover with a cloth.

Peda dough 3
7. Leave to prove until doubled in size. Time will vary depending on your room temperature etc but maybe around an hour at about 18-20C.
8. When it’s doubled in size, divide it into two equal portions. Mine weighed 1364g, so each portion was more or less 682g.

Peda pieces 1Peda pieces 2
9. Cut a piece weighing about 140g off each portion, then form all the pieces into balls.
10. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rest for about 15 minutes.
11. Take the larger balls and put them on lightly oiled baking sheets.

Peda shaping 1Peda shaping 2

Peda shaping 3Peda shaping 4
12. Flatten the balls out slightly, then poke through finger through the middle. Open this hole out to about 10cm. This is fun. If you’re confident, you can lift up the dough ring and stretch it in the air.
13. Take the smaller balls and put them into these holes, flattening slightly.

Peda shaping 5
14. Brush with olive oil then leave to prove again, until doubled in size. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic. Or you could leave them in the fridge, wrapped in plastic, overnight.
15. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Two peda 1Two peda 2
16. Beat an egg, or an egg yolk with 1 tbsp milk, and glaze the breads. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
17. Bake for about 40 minutes. If they’re browning too much, turn down the heat and/or cover the tops with foil.
18. If your oven doesn’t have much botton heat, you can take them out, take them off the baking sheets and put them back in for another 5-10 minutes.

Two peda 3
19. Remove and allow to cool on racks.

Enjoy. Perhaps with some dips. As with the LA peda bread, I’ve been eating mine with a hummus-substitute made with English grown pulses from Hodmedod’s. I used split dried fava and wild garlic. So much wild garlic at the moment. I love the stuff, but it is a tad pungent, especially when it’s included in every meal for several days running…

 

 

* This peda is not unlike another Armenian bread called choereg or choreg, which is a relative of challah, but made for the Orthodox Christian Easter. Like challah, it’s formed in a braid, though apparently it’s made distinctive by an ingredient called mahlep/mahlab – a flavouring or spice made from the ground stones of the Mahaleb cherry that isn’t what you’d call commonplace in England.

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Los Angeles peda bread, a version of Armenian matnakash

LA peda with pea dip

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.

Recipe

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.

Peda bread stretch and form rimPeda bread brush with water and make pattern with fingertips
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.

Peda fresh out of ovenPeda brush with flour glaze
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.

LA peda bread x 2

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.

 

Footnotes
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.

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