CHEF JP GOES FLAT OUT WITH BREAD
As a chef, JP knows which side his bread is buttered on – flat breads are a great way to serve healthy, flavoursome meals.
Wheat has been our staple food element since day 0 – but, it seems that the more that we consume this natural gift, the more complicated things get. Yes, our food is highly processed. Yes, there are people with food intolerances and food allergens. But, for many, it seems that our taste buds have changed and our mindsets have shifted to the point where we have rolled out – all puns intended – a real life food dilemma.
When all is said and done, the modern road ahead to good food is paved with many challenges. The modern take on our daily bread Has left us dazed and confused. To be honest, we don’t always know what goes into our bread anymore.
That’s why, to put it bluntly, bread is no longer in foodie fashion.
But, what we do need to acknowledge is that bread – which incidentally forms the basis for many meals served by top restaurants – has also had some really unfair bad press.
As a chef, I still find it strange that mass volume produced bread is inexpensive. There are food subsidies and tax concessions. But, why do we find that as soon as we move away from the highly processed version that is as good as produced in a factory and go back to basic breads with wholesome natural goodness, the more we pay. Eating healthy comes with a price tag, it seems.
RISING TO THE OCCASION
I’m not about to ban bread from my kitchen.
Making your own bread, irrelevant of the shape, and with just the ingredients that suit your taste buds or lifestyle, is truly satisfying. When baking your own homemade bread, there is nothing quite like the smell of that freshly baked bread coming out the oven.
A good chef sticks to the basics and then adds his or her own touch of magic. So, I’m still going to celebrate bread in its many modern day and back-in-the-day guises – from rye bread to breads made with wholesome stone ground flour,
from gluten free bread to the many health breads that celebrate an array of different ingredients as well as breads that are central to the cultures from which they have evolved using wheat, corn, you name it.
When it comes to including bread in your meals, remember, too, that it is not all about loafing – all puns intended. Simple flat breads add a special touch to some of the most distinctive cuisines around the world and they come complete with their won colourful names even if they are prepared along the same lines from continent to continent.
When dreaming up new dishes, I am often inspired by people and their food choices and habits. Often, when I step into a shop, I just pick an ingredient whilst thinking of a colleague or a friend or family member. By the time I am back in my test kitchen, I will have started to create at least three different dishes using that same ingredient, served in my own expressionistic way.
This time round, it was all about flat breads. Now, every country around the world would like to claim flat bread as its own. It’s something like the constant feud between Italy and New York about who came up with the pizza. As a quick aside – I have gotten to the stage in my culinary book of innuendoes where I just don’t care. As long as you enjoy the experience and good food, it doesn’t make much difference. Just love the food and enjoy the moment.
This shawarma was inspired through my best friend, Lauren. Whilst she was abroad for five weeks, she sent me a picture and a message telling me that she was so was so excited because she could get a decent shawarma in London, now the modern capital of Pakistan and Turkish cuisine.
Much to her disappointment and eight quid later (x20 to get the rand equivalent), she phoned me in despair. So, I made her my shawarma which I could only send her on Instagram to tide her over until she could get home and enjoy the real deal with me.
The original or traditional shawarma hails from the Ottoman empire, sort of where Turkey is today. Shawarma is a popular street food in the greater Middle East.
The word shawarma, means turn in Arabic. Since ancient times, meat (mostly lamb) has been roasted on horizontal spits. As it is ready, shaves of meat are sliced off and then served as a sandwich or wrap in a flatbread.
The shawarma is traditionally served in a pita bread. This crisp bread has an air pocket into which you can insert your filling, keeping it firm, warm and moist.
The modern rotisserie is a perfect way to slow cook your meat horizontally, usually over some hot coals. This probably explains the increasing global popularity of this dish which soon travelled to Central Europe and is enjoyed in most of the world’s capital cities, especially in Germany and the UK.
So, here we go Lauren ….
FROM YOUR ARABIC PANTRY:
4 cups stone ground flour
1 ½ cups lukewarm water
2 tablespoons active yeast
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
pinch of salt
The trick to this pita is to create two layers of dough, pressing them down together and then baking them in a pre-heated oven at 180°C.
Once you have rolled your dough into 3 inch balls (yup, we’re using the colonial measurements in honour of the recently deceased queen), flatten them and roll them with a rolling pin, adding some self-raising flour, until you have a small dinner plate size flat dough. Repeat this process and put another layer on top. Press down the edges with your thumb. Coat the disk with some yogurt and bake it in your pre-heated oven on butcher paper for 10 to 12 minutes. The dough will have not risen but you will have a puffy interior. Let it cool down and gently slice it open. You are now ready to add your fillings and enjoy.
MY CHOICE OF FILLINGS:
Beef, strips marinated overnight in some buttermilk
red onion, sliced
shavings of cucumber to give the shawarma a nice fresh crispy balance
some cocktail tomatoes
a nice jeera and cumin spice rub
fresh rocket for that peppery touch
a side of chickpea tahini
fresh double cream yogurt
and a lot of love
NONNA’S CURRY ROTI
Roti or chapatti is everyday Indian flatbread which is an important part of North Indian cuisine and is often served with dal and curries.
To make a whole wheat roti, you have to use whole wheat Durum flour, luke warm water, a pinch of salt and a dash of vegetable oil. I prefer grapeseed oil. Make your rotis and then add your filling.
As I still miss Cape Town, I added a special Cape Malay style touch to mine this time round. This is comfort food just the just the way Auni wanted it to taste – with lean beef mince, Mrs Balls fruit chutney, jeera powder, 031 masala mix, turmeric, coriander and some mustard seed.
We’re back to Middle Eastern street food with this deep-fried ball or patty-shaped made from vegetarian ingredients.
These flat breads require no yeast but, instead, yogurt as a substitute. You can even go completely vegan with a non-dairy alternative.
My falafel balls are made up with mashed chickpea, tahini, onion and a binder of either arrow wood or xanthan gum. You can use gluten free bread crumbs. It’s best to fry these in peanut oil. Bread doesn’t get healthier than this…
VEGAN MUSE NAAN BREAD WITH HEALTHY TOPPINGS
Flatbreads are an intrinsic part of all Indian cuisine as those of us who are lucky enough to live along the East Coast of KZN will know. Most are served along with the delicious curries for which the province is known – but, as I show you below, they can be adapted to provide healthy and fun variations with vegan friendly toppings.
The basic ingredients for Naan Bread include about two cups of flour, half a cup of warm water, a sprinkle of salt, two teaspoons dry yeast, a teaspoon of sugar a large egg, 2 tablespoons of oil and about a third of a cup of plain yogurt.
Prepare your yeast as per the package instructions and set aside. Whisk together the wet ingredients and add the yeast once it is ready. Mix together your dry ingredients and add slowly to the wet ingredients until your dough is soft but too thick to stir with a spoon.
Kneed your dough on a floured surface, adding extra flour to keep it from sticking. Cover your dough and let it rise for about an hour until it has doubled in size. Then, gently flatten and divide your dough into about eight pieces for rolling out.
Roll out each ball and then place in a skillet that has been heated to a medium heat. Cook until golden brown and then flip and complete the other side.
For my toppings, I chose two simple down-to-earth combinations:
Grilled aubergine, zucchini, tomato and fresh rocket
Corn kernel, tomato and red cabbage
I spread canola mayo (or nay other vegan friendly alternative) on the base to prevent this from being too dry. Once all is combined, you have to mouthful of goodness that is not just visually appealing but also crunchy and flavourful.
PERFECT PUFFY PARATHAS
This Indian roti dish with mushroom is another tribute to my vegan and vegetarian friends – you know who you are.
The difference between naan bread and paratha is that naan includes ingredients like yoghurt while paratha is made from strictly non-dairy ingredients.
Parathas are made with about two cups of whole wheat flour, a teaspoon of oil or ghee, a sprinkle of water and some water to form the dough. Mix the dough, adding dashes of water to the dry ingredients as you go. When you have a soft, smooth dough, let it rest.
When your dough is ready, form it into balls and roll out on a floured surface with a rolling pin. The trick to getting the characteristic flaky parathas is what you do next. Spread some ghee or oil on to the surface of your dough and then fold it together to form a half circle. Repeat the process and fold in half to form a quarter circle.
Finally, dust with flour and roll out all over again into a flat circle.
This can be cooked in a medium to hot skillet until golden brown on both sides. As you go, you’ll notice those air pockets forming.
Now for my most interesting topping yet – black bean, onion and chickpeas (with no yeast), bread crumbs and arrow root as a binder, served on slices of peaches, herbs and dressed with canola mayo- and, of course, Chef JP’s favourite aromatic… turmeric.
I also created a Puff Paratha, drizzled in olive oil and dairy free yogurt, served with a medley of braised onion, healthy greens, (baby spinach, crisp green beans) and a selection of grilled mushrooms.
A blog on flat breads wouldn’t be complete without the westernised version – the wrap that appears on many café and coffee shop menus.
A wrap is essentially a soft, flatbread rolled around a filling. The usual flatbread that is used is either a tortilla or pita bread. Wraps are believed to have originated in Asia or in Mexico where they are called burritos. The modern day version is said to have originated in California during the nineties.
When it comes to the filling, the sky is really the limit. Just make sure that your wrap look colourful. Some ideas include grilled chicken breast, served with rocket, chives and red cabbage and smothered in a teriyaki drizzle made from soy and honey.
Although many restaurants tend to serve their wraps with chips, for a healthy September, they are best plated with a small salad which is a far healthier alternative. Alternatively, they can be served as is and make a great mid-day lunch or snack. They taste even better when handled like any street food – with your fingers!
So, that’s a wrap then ….