February 23, 2015

Pita Bread


My Ful Medames post included home made pita bread as a serving suggestion, so it seems reasonable to follow it up with a recipe.

Pita bread tends to be either a thick, soft, solid-piece flatbread, or a thinner bread with a pocket created by steam pressure. You could of course use either style quite handily for serving with your Ful, but this version is for the pocket-style. It is tremendously fun to watch through the door of the oven as the breads slowly inflate before your eyes into bread balloons. When you pull them out of the oven, they immediately start to deflate, leaving behind the pocket created by the ballooning effect.

This recipe is really very close to my pizza dough recipe, and you can in fact use that one (just follow the instructions here for rising and baking).

Pita Bread

Adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Rheinhart

Makes 4 large pocket-style pitas

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 tablespoon honey or agave syrup (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup room-temperature water (plus extra)

Combine the flour, salt, and yeast in a mixing bowl. Drizzle the honey and the olive oil over the flour. Add the water gradually, stirring with a big wooden spoon (depending on your flour, you might need less than 1/2 cup or you might need more - I needed a couple of tablespoons more). When the flour and water come together into a fairly firm dough, turn it out onto a counter and knead for about ten minutes, or until smooth and silky feeling. If it is too wet (ie. sticky), add a bit more flour as you go.

Return the dough to your cleaned and lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for about 90 minutes - the dough should double in size.

Put a large, clean, dry baking sheet in the middle of your oven, and preheat to 500 F. The pan must be very hot for the pita-pocket effect to work properly.

Turn the dough out onto the counter, and gently press the air out of it. Divide into four portions, and roll each one into a ball. Flatten each ball into a thick disk, and cover three of them loosely with the plastic wrap.

Take the remaining piece of dough, and gently roll it out until it is very thin - not paper thin, but no more than 1/4 inch thick (a bit thinner is better). This means a round of dough that is about seven or eight inches across.

Carefully peel the disk of dough from the counter, slip on an oven mitt, and place the round of dough on the oven mitt. Open the door and slap the dough onto the hot baking sheet, quickly closing the door again.

Watch through the window of your oven in astonishment as the dough rises before your eyes, becoming fully inflated in about two minutes. When it is fully inflated, let it continue cook for the slow count of ten, and then remove from the oven (using a spatula). Place the hot, puffy (and rapidly deflating!) pita on a rack to cool. If you like a bit of colour on your bread, you can simply use a spatula to flip it onto its other side instead of pulling it out right away, and let it stay in the oven for an extra ten seconds or so.

Prepare the next round of dough, and repeat, until all four pitas are cooked. Once all the pitas are done, wrap them loosely in a clean kitchen towel so that they stay soft.

Serve right away, or allow to cool completely. When completely cool, pop them into a plastic bag to keep them from drying out. If you want to use them as pockets, cut them in half, and gently pull the two sides open to fill as you wish.



February 15, 2015

Ful Medames


Ful Medames (also transliterated as Foul Mudammas, or Fuul Medammes, amongst other spellings), commonly referred to simply as Ful (pronounced "fool"), is a middle-eastern bean dish that deserves broader recognition in the western world. It is a popular breakfast dish in Egypt, but its reach extends easts through Saudi Arabia, north throughout the eastern Mediterranean countries, and south into the horn of Africa. It is cheap, filling, and delicious.

As can be expected from a dish that reaches through so many disparate cultures, there are countless iterations. The essentials appear to be fava beans, olive oil, cumin, and lemon juice, but there are variations that include any of (or a combination of) garlic, chopped onion, parsley, tahina, and even chopped tomatoes.

Ful is most commonly served with flatbread, which is used as a utensil to scoop up the beans. The type of flatbread used is going to vary by whichever culture you're in - the good news being that you can safely use whatever flatbread you've got on hand. I served mine with freshly made pita bread (because it was Sunday and I had no choice but to make it if I wanted it), but you could easily use lavash, Somalian canjeero, or heck, even tortillas or chapati. You can also spread it on toasted sandwich bread.

Ful is often served on its own, but equally often as part of a larger, tapas-style meal, especially at lunch or dinner.

While sometimes other beans are used to make Ful, depending on culture and geography, the fava appears to be dominant. Fava beans are a bit more intensely flavoured than chickpeas. They are quite earthy tasting, and therefore pair really well with cumin, and stand up very well under the pungency of fresh garlic and the sharpness of lemon.

You can store it in the fridge for a few days without ill effect, simply adding a little more water to loosen it up as you reheat it. I find that I can make a double batch on Sunday, and have it for breakfast for the rest of the week.

Ful Medames

Adapted from Serious Eats

Serves 2 - 4

2 cups cooked fava beans (or a 400 gram can)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small cloves garlic, lightly smashed
pinch of salt
1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons tahina (aka tahini, aka sesame paste)

In a small skillet, toast your cumin seeds until fragrant, and then carefully pour them out onto a cutting board (or into a mortar).

Into the emptied, unwashed skillet add your beans (with their liquid if they're canned, otherwise with about 1/3 cup water) and heat over a medium flame.

On the cutting board, add your garlic cloves and a pinch of salt, and run your knife through a couple of times until the garlic is finely chopped (or, in a mortar, pound the garlic and cumin together until the garlic is a smooth paste). Scrape the garlic/cumin mixture into the beans, and stir through. If you like things spicy, feel free to add in a few chile flakes, too.

The beans should be gently bubbling away at this point. Once the garlic and cumin have been stirred around a few times, add the tahina and olive oil, stir through, and continue to cook, stirring. At this point, you can mash up some of the beans against the side of the skillet, to make a thicker gravy, or if your skillet is looking a bit dry, you can add a little more water to thin it out. Add a tablespoon or two of the lemon juice and stir through. Taste, and decide if it needs more salt (if you use canned beans, probably not, but if you cooked them up from dried, probably yes). Stir and mash the beans as needed until everything looks well heated and the texture is somewhere between baked beans and thick soup. I know, that's a lot of leeway, but you really do get to choose how thick or thin you want this to be. This shouldn't really take more than about five minutes total cooking time.

Pour/scrape the beans into a bowl. At this point, you can add any final finishing touches that you like (an extra drizzle of olive oil, Egyptian style, or a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper, Syrian style, for example, or maybe some carmelized onions, or some parsley).

Serve with warmed flatbread.

February 07, 2015

Prawn & Pumpkin Risotto


This is the traditional Hallowe'en dinner in our household, but really, you can make it all winter long when the winter squashes are cheap and plentiful. I've used a butternut squash here, but you could of course use any cooking pumpkin with firm, dense flesh (acorn or muscat squash might not be at their best here, because they would likely turn to mush with all the stirring). The final colour of the dish will depend greatly on which squash you decided to use, but usually ranges from an intense yellow to a vibrant orange.

For the shrimp, please check out this Oceanwise resource page for prawns/shrimp if you need help making an informed choice about sustainable harvesting.

If you're vegetarian/vegan, or just not a fan of seafood, you can omit the prawns and still have a beautiful, delicious side dish. Either way, don't drown in in cheese at the end - it really doesn't want or need it.

Prawn & Pumpkin Risotto

Serves 4

4 cups diced-small pumpkin or winter squash
250 grams risotto rice (arborio, carnaroli, or similar)
1 small onion, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup white vermouth or dry white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
250 grams raw prawns or large shrimp (frozen is fine)
Hot water from a recently boiled kettle (just in case)

If you've read my other risotto recipes, you will know that I am extremely particular about the size of ingredients in my risotto. My theory is, broadly, if it's not a featured ingredient, it should be no bigger than a (cooked) grain of the rice that you are using. Basically, onions, I'm looking at you. Because the squash and prawns are features, they get to be bigger, but I do find having a small dice for the pumpkin here makes a more visually and texturally pleasing choice.

First step, as always, is get your mise en place ready: Peel, clean, and dice your pumpkin, and set aside. If you have a little less pumpkin than 4 cups, it's still fine, although 4 cups gives the best result. Finely dice your onion, and mince your garlic. Warm up your broth and keep it on a low flame on the stove, so it's ready to be ladled into the rice. Clean the shrimp, removing shells (if necessary) and veins. If frozen, rinse them in a sieve under cold running water until they are mostly defrosted. Basically, get all ingredients prepared, measured, and standing by, because you get no further time to prep once you've started cooking. Be sure to boil a kettle, and have the hot water standing by in case you need it later.

In a large saucepan, heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat until quite hot, and then add the shrimp and quickly sauté them until they just barely change colour. Remove to a nearby plate/bowl to add into the risotto later.

In the same saucepan, without cleaning it, add the onion and garlic, and sauté just until the onion begins to turn translucent. Add the salt and white pepper, and stir through.

Next, add the rice and stir well, to get a nice, thin coating of fat on the rice grains. Add the tomato paste, and stir through until it is completely integrated and there are no streaks of red running through the rice. Add the diced squash, and stir it through gently. (You can also reverse the order of adding the rice vs. the squash, no biggie as long as everything is nicely coated in the end. I find it easier to add the tomato paste before adding the squash, though, to get it evenly distributed.)

Add all of the wine/vermouth at once, and stir, carefully scraping up the bottom of the pot so that nothing sticks. Lower the heat to medium-low, and begin to add the warm vegetable broth, one ladleful at a time, stirring gently but pretty much constantly in between each addition until the liquid has been absorbed before adding more. It should take about 25 - 35 minutes to add all of the liquid, and that variable is based on how hot your burner is.

If you get to the end of your broth and find that the rice is not quite cooked enough to your taste, add a little of the hot water from your recently boiled kettle, and continue until the texture is just right - a little bite to the rice, but not crunchy. Next time, you might want to lower the heat a bit more.

When the rice is ready, stir the prawns gently into the risotto. If you want an especially luxurious dish, add in another tablespoon of butter or olive oil, but it's not strictly necessary. Cover the risotto, and remove from the heat. Let stand for five minutes, and then spoon into shallow bowls and serve. Feel free to add a garnish of parsley if you like, but steer clear of the parmesan.