Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hummus and Yogurt Flatbread

This entry will feature two recipes that work great in conjunction: hummus (this time plain) and flatbread (this time with yogurt in it because I wanted it to be more like naan).

Hummus, simply put, is a ripoff at the store. It is about five times as inexpensive to make if you have the tools (a food processor is nice here), it tastes fresher and all around better, and it leaves the opportunity for you to experiment with it (hummus is another "platform" dish, like scrambled eggs, in my house upon which many exciting, delicious experiments are performed). Nice. Did I mention that it's crazy easy? No? It's crazy easy to make. Here's what's in it:

  • 1 can of garbanzo beans (chick peas) or preferably the equivalent quantity that you boiled up yourself in salty water;
  • 1 medium-small clove of garlic (choose the size according to taste);
  • the juice of half a lemon;
  • more extra virgin olive oil than you're probably going to like to hear about;
  • about a tablespoon of sesame seeds or sesame tahini;
  • a little salt (to taste);
  • usually a little water;
  • optionally garnish with fresh, chopped parsley.
How do you do it? Crush the garlic and peel it, cutting it roughly if you want to. Put the sesame seeds in the food processor and run them until they start to break up (that doesn't always really happen and certainly doesn't matter any). Add the garlic, salt, some olive oil, half the lemon juice, and around half of the garbanzos and give it a whirl. Don't overload the food processor! If it starts to incorporate nicely, then you're lucky. Chances are, you'll need more oil or a little water to get things to come out fairly smooth at this point. Add either, according to your tastes (note: olive oil, if you're unaware of it, has a flavor that is distinctive and somewhat peppery... try drinking a spoonful of oil straight sometime so you know what you're working with). Do pay attention that using too much olive oil will make your hummus taste very much like olive oil, but adding too little oil leaves your hummus tasting a bit too much like plain garbanzos. Scoop most of this out of the food processor (unless you have a big one, in which case, you don't have to do this in two steps) and into a bowl and then repeat it until all of the ingredients have been added (for one can's worth of beans in a small food processor, two goes is enough). Be sure if you do this in more than one step to stir well in the bowl since the two halves probably won't taste quite the same. Sprinkle freshly chopped parsley across the top. Done.

Flatbread is one of life's greatest joys, I think, both to make and to eat. It's very simple, perhaps one of the oldest foods and probably the oldest form of leavened bread, and it offers a wide variety of experiences by subtly changing the ingredients. Like any bread you make by hand, it is a lot of work. Luckily, any flatbread recipe will double as a great pizza crust recipe if you want to take it that way instead. Like pizza crust, flatbread is best if it's a little chewy, which means developing gluten, which means serious elbow grease is required to do it right (if you do it by hand).

Now bread-making is considered to be a science as much as an art, and so recipes are usually followed hard and fast, using careful measurements, always by weight, and precise proportions. I don't do that. There's a few reasons: I don't have a scale, it's less adventurous, I have worse results generally, and I think it's largely crap because factors like the humidity and temperature affect the outcome. If I'm going to have to adjust anyway, then I don't want a formula. A rough guide is fine, and then I can finish it by feel. That's more personal anyway. Here's a rough guide, in walk-through format with pictures!

making flatbread flour and bloomed yeastThis is where it always starts. Sift some flour (here 1 cup and a half) into a bowl. In a measuring cup, put a packet of yeast (rapid rise is pretty good for the purpose), a little sugar (agave nectar in this case), and about a quarter of a cup of warm (~90 F) water. Then wait. The yeast has to "bloom," which means activate. You can tell it's ready when it's got foam all over the top of it almost another quarter of a cup thick.

making flatbread dough slurry batterUsing a wisk is my favorite way to get the gluten started. After adding the yeast and water to the flour, add more water (and in this case 5 heavy dollops of plain, whole-milk yogurt because this is yogurt flatbread), and start to wisk. You want the mixture to have the consistency of rather thick pancake batter, so add more water or flour until that's about right. Mix vigorously with the whisk for about 15 minutes, stirring one way for a while and then the other (like a Harry Potter potion) to start to develop gluten. Note that this would wreck pancakes for the same reason.

making flatbread dough rise risenOnce you've whisked the fire out of it (the fire will go into your forearms and hands), let it sit somewhere warm for about an hour. It should roughly double in volume in that time due to the activity of the yeast. This is a good time to make your hummus, for instance, as I did. The picture shows the result after it sat for an hour.

making flatbread dough knead too stickyWhisk again. Add salt (about half a teaspoon, probably) and (optionally) some oil (olive oil is great for pizza crusts, maybe a tablespoon or two, a tablespoon of finely chopped up sweet cream butter went into this dough). Add flour. Whisk. Add flour. Whisk. Etc. until it gets too thick to whisk. Add flour (rough guide: 3 flours; 1 liquid starts to come together nicely). I stuck my hand in too soon and it was too sticky. Remedy: add flour. If the flour won't incorporate, add water. You're making bread here, not a rocket ship.

making flatbread kneading doughAfter you get all of the sticky mess off your hand and incorporate it back into the dough and you find the proper mixture of flour and water (it should be a little sticky but not awful unless you leave your hand still in it for too long), dump it out of the bowl, getting as much stuff out as you can, and begin to knead it on a clean surface. If it's too wet (really sticky), add more flour. If it's too dry (crumbly), add a few drops of water at a time until it feels about like you'd imagine it should (like slightly sticky Play Doh). Knead by folding it and pushing it away from you. Use body weight.

making flatbread dough not ready knead moreAt first, it will do this when you stretch it, i.e. tear and be all grainy looking. It's also springy and unresiliant. It's not ready. Knead it more, beating it and rolling it and messing with it however you like. If you're good at kneading, this will take about twenty minutes. If you're not good at it, you'll need at least a half an hour of this party. You want the dough to come out smooth and relaxed, like it just had a nice massage. The change is very noticible. For chewier bread, keep going after gets that way.

making flatbread dough is ready to cutRoll it into a ball when it's nice and relaxed (look how chill it is here) and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes. Seriously, you just beat the crap out of it (or lovingly massaged it) for a good while... you want it to perform for you right now? Get real. Let it relax for 10-15 and try to get the gunk off your hands and have some sports drinks to put yourself back together (you might need most of that time to do it).

making flatbread cutting dough with knifeFor making flatbreads, you'll need to break the dough up into more manageable pieces. For a pizza crust, you can skip this step if you want to make a big-ol' pizza. For miniature, single-serve pizzas, get a knife of some sort and cut your dough. Here, I'm cutting it in half, but I did that a bunch of times (eight) to get sixteen (in this case) roughly same-sized wedges of dough. If you want bigger breads, cut it into fewer pieces. If you want smaller breads, cut it into more pieces. Again, this isn't the space shuttle; it's bread.

making flatbread dough ballsHere's some of the wedges and some being formed into little balls. Notice they're not all the same size because I'm not perfect (or I like variety?) and because it doesn't matter. These are roughly the size of golf balls, though. There's no need to turn them all into little balls right away, but eventually all of the wedges will pass through a ball-shaped phase. This is when you should put a skillet or grittle on medium-high heat to get it ready for cooking these little beauties.

making flatbread pressing out rolling doughPress the balls out into flat shapes. I don't really use my fingers much for this (more the heel of my hands and the backs of my hands unless I feel like rolling them out with a glass bottle or rolling pin), but the pictures using other parts of my hands made it looked bad. This was totally posed. You should probably push out two or three of these at any given time and have two or three little balls rolled up and ready to go at any given time while cooking.

making flatbread cooking in panHere's one cooking in the pan (after it was flipped). Cook them about like pancakes, which means they cook on one side for a few minutes (3 or so in a hot pan), get flipped, and get similar treatment on the other side. Smaller breads can be cooked two or three at a time in a large pan like this. You want them to look a little toasty and feel cooked-through if you tap on them.

making flatbread finished loaves and doughHalfway done! Notice I have a few little balls of dough prepared, a few little (unevenly sized) flat, pressed-out doughs, and a plate on which I'm gathering the finished products (which could be kept in a warm oven to keep them hot, but they stay really hot that way). If the dough seems to be drying out, it doesn't really matter unless it crumbles when you try to flatten it out. If that happens, add some water to your hands and knead the doughballs in your hands again and then press them out. ...not a spaceship....

finished yogurt flatbread with fresh homemade hummus and a lemonAt last, at last, they're all cooked (actually, the last two were in the pan when I took this), stacked on a plate, sitting next to a bowl of the hummus I made with some parsley and a lemon for garnish. The lemon promptly was squeezed into my water and the sprig of parsley eaten as soon as this photo was snapped. Then we got down to business and ate it up, no utensils required.

A fun variant on the flatbreads (or little pizzas) is that they can be cooked on a grill to create grilled flatbread. That's good stuff, but we don't have a grill anymore. Grilling bread seems weird, but it's really, really a good idea. Make sure your grill is clean and the fire is burning clean (if it's wood or charcoal) before you put the dough on there, though. Summertime perfection!

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