Tag Archives: Ana Sortun

Pita Bread – Puffy and Flat

Not winter; not spring

Last fall when I got my hands on two new cookbooks Soframiz and Molly on the Range, I was cooking out of both non-stop. Unfortunately the family (myself included) was eating the various recipes faster than I could whip out my iPhone. Everything was just too good. As winter is playing her pre-spring dance with us – where one day it is 16° and you need to dig through the mitten box to find scarves, hats and gloves, but the next day can be 50°, followed by an ice storm where you don’t want to leave the house at all – it’s an excellent time of year to cook and camera. I’m planning on remaking some of our favorites and taking pictures this time.

Molly on the Range and Soframiz cookbooks

I acquired both cookbooks within a week of each other, which of course lead to comparing them. Interesting to note all the recipes they had in common – homemade hummus, meat to top off aforementioned hummus, pita bread, za’atar bread, and pistachio cake. Flipping through the pages, reading the recipes and looking at the pictures was a pavlovian exercise at best. Flip, flip, drool. Then repeat.

Hummus with meat, morrocan carrots, greens and pita

The hummuses (is that the plural of hummus?) were the first dish I made since I’d never before bothered to make my own. With so many choices at the grocery store why bother I said to myself? The answer is simple – warm hummus. Honestly it is dreamy, something you should definitely try at least once in your lifetime.  As an accompaniment for the hummus, though not an afterthought, there is fresh pita bread.

Pillow pita

Moist dough

Pita bread cut into 2 ounce pieces ready to roll

Second rising

Pita bread you say? Yes, pita bread. I’d eaten the Soframiz pita when I visited Sofra, and so was familiar with their non-traditional, slightly golden puff balls, which Sortun and Kilpatrick describe as “puffy pillows”. Yeh makes a more traditional pita which she describes as,

“A thick, fluffy disk of warm bread that would make the ultimate sleeping bag if ever we entered real-life Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.

Puffy pillows or the ultimate sleeping bag – the truth is you probably want to make both. And if you can’t stop eating the pita bread, like I couldn’t,  you may also want need to take a nap. You’re probably thinking I’m nuts to want to bake something so readily available in every grocery store across the country, but trust me it’s worth making a batch or two of pita yourself. It’s not at all difficult and the results are delightful.

Pita pocket bread

Both recipes are pretty close to one another. Here are the very minor tweaks/choices I made:

  • I kneaded the dough by hand instead of using a stand mixer.
  • As a former beekeeper I chose honey as the sweetener to help proof the yeast.
  • I liked the suggestion of substituting some whole wheat flour in place of the white flour.
  • My hubby preferred all-purpose pita to bread flour pita. I couldn’t really tell the difference, but know they’re both good.
  • Perhaps because it is more or less still winter, and thus rather chilly most days, my rising times were much longer.
  • Oven temperatures were listed at 400° or 500°, choose according to how clean your oven is.

Pita Two Ways

1 1/2 cups warm water

1 package active dry yeast

1-2 Tablespoons honey

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 – 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2-3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided

In a large bowl mix together the water, honey and yeast. Give it a stir then let sit until the yeast starts foaming up to the top, around five minutes.

Add two cups of flour, stirring to make a loose, wet dough. Add the salt and then most, but not all, of the olive oil. It’s important to add the salt after you’ve added some of the flour so the salt doesn’t kill the newly activated yeast.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the remaining flour on your counter and dump out the wet dough and start kneading. Sprinkle the rest of the flour out and continue kneading till it has all been absorbed into the dough and the dough is soft and perhaps a wee bit sticky, about 5-7 minutes. Try not to be tempted to add more flour, since you want a slightly sticky, moist dough. Pour the remaining Tablespoon of olive oil in the bowl you started with,  and roll the dough ball around so it’s lightly covered with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let dough rise until double, 2-3 hours.

Punch down the dough, then on a lightly floured work surface knead once or twice. Cut into 12 pieces. I ended up using a kitchen scale and the chunks weighed just a smidge over 2 ounces each. Then using your cupped hand-roll roll each chunk of dough so it forms a small ball. I think of my hand as a five-legged daddy-longlegs spider dancing around the dough. Once the dough has been formed into balls set them on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper, sprinkle them with a whisper of flour and cover with another piece of parchment, and set aside to rest – about an hour.

Preheat oven to 500°F if it is clean and won’t smoke, or 400°F it it isn’t spotless. For the pillowy version gently transfer the balls of dough to a parchment covered baking sheet and bake 7-12 minutes until slightly browned on the bottom. For the traditional pita version (where there is a pocket)* gently flatten the balls with a rolling pin or pat down with your hands and let rest another 10-20 minutes, then bake on parchment covered baking sheets 7-10 minutes or until you see them pop-up like a balloon, then settle down as they cool, which forms the traditional space you can stuff things into. Serve straight away, or cool on a rack then store in a plastic bag.

*After much experimenting I’ve found the traditional pita with a pocket really does benefit from a hot, hot oven. So if you’re oven is going to smoke at 500°F consider making the pillowy version.

Note: this bread doesn’t last for a long time so if you’re not going to eat it all in a few days wrap and freeze.

Pita with pesto

I love both versions for scooping up hummus or topping with heaping spoonfuls of Moroccan Carrot Purée. Shawn enjoyed them slathered with pesto. Homemade pita bread is also the perfect base for a chocolate hazelnut spread sandwich. Especially when the pita is still warm. Decadent & delightful. Of course you may want to take a walk (or a nap) after munching all this deliciousness.

Chocolate hazelnut spread on homemade pita bread

Brook along Grass Hill Road

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Afternoon Tea

It’s fall, my favorite time of year. With the glorious blow-out of leaf colors it’s as if Mother Nature wants to give us one last hurrah before we enter the quiet time of late fall which then slides into winter.

Fall in the Pioneer Valley

I’ve loved waking up to misty mornings where you could barely see down the hill or cotton candy sunrises. Loved taking Oliver for walks as the leaves drifted down around us. Well okay, the ticks sucked, and there sure were a lot of them this year, but the leaves have been stupendous. I was even happy to watch the colors dampened down from bright reds and yellows to russets and burnt umbre.

Fall mornings

Fall walks

Fall colors starting to quiet down

The other night there was a frost advisory so I grabbed a flashlight and went out to pick the last of my mint. Bundled and tied, I hung it on a drawer pull to dry a save as a last vestige of summer. Then today it snowed. Seriously. October twenty–seventh. So when better to sip a cup of summer than during a weirdly early snowstorm.

Snow in October

Steeping a cup of home grown mint tea Continue reading

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Launch Number Two

Last Saturday I got up at 6 am to help pack the car and take Isabelle back to college. The start of year number two was completely different than it was for year number one. For starters it was just the two of us. No whole-family entourage like we’d done for her freshman year. Just two girls, a loaded Prius, and a couple of energy bars in case we felt peckish between Whately and West Haven. Even the weather was different –

UNH Weather

These screen shots from my radar app show the difference from one year to the next. Despite the lack of precipitation, for which we were very grateful, there was still some pretty intense cloud action to gawk at as we zoomed south on 91.

Coulds in the Pioneer Valley

Clouds in New Haven

Instead of the cutie little house she was in last year she’s in a big dorm, smack dab in the middle of campus. There are pros and cons. One of the pros was we could load all her stuff into a gigantic orange crate on wheels then ride it up the elevator to her room in two trips. Yeah for giant orange crates and elevators!

Easy Transport

One of the cons of said elevators is that she won’t be able to use them on ROTC days since there is a regulation which states that when cadets are in uniform they may not use the elevators – they have to use stairs. I think the government just wants them to get a little bit more exercise. Of course for my kid that is just fine and dandy since she loves to work out. When she was describing her dorm to us after the housing lottery this past spring the main pro of this dorm (in her eyes) is the fact that the gym is right behind it – literally a hop, two skips and a jump, which makes her very happy. After I left there were some texts saying she’d been to the gym, had gone out to dinner with friends, but somehow hadn’t quite unpacked her room (this via snapchat) –

Unpacking - not

 

I’m sure being on the quad will be noisy, but she went prepared with earplugs plus we picked up a box fan for the window which should at least provide some white noise to counteract the boisterous revelers who decided to skip the gym. And let’s face it – any college campus would be noisy compared with our house in the country.

As for me, once we finished with the requisite last minute trips to Target, Whole Foods and IKEA (which somehow took hours), I toodled home for my first night as an empty nester. Since Shawn had gone up to the Cummington Fair to watch the demolition derby, it was less empty nest and more a night of having the house to myself. Just me and the dog and about six loads of laundry left behind by my sophomore girl. I unpacked boxes and bags, threw a load in the washing machine, and settled onto the couch with some crackers and this amazing Morracan Carrot Purée. I’ve been whipping up vats of this stuff ever since my sister took me to Sofra Bakery and Cafe in Cambridge. It is delicious and zippy, exotic (the spices) yet familiar (carrots) and I am in love with it. I’d had something similar at a African restaurant in another part of Cambridge years ago but never managed to get my hands on the recipe. Now I have a recipe and it is a winner.

Sofra Meze plate with Basil Lemonade

Above is our platter of five meze dishes – the offerings change every day – including the Moroccan style carrots with dukkah (second from the right) all of which is served with crick-cracks. The green drinks were a very refreshing basil infused lemonade. Honestly it was some of the best food I’d had in ages, so much so that I made my sister go back with me the following day for breakfast.

Breakfast at Sofra

I know I’m a bit intense about this recipe, but I need to be honest with you –actually this recipe is three recipes (well four if you realize that one of the three has another recipe within it) in one, which probably will seem a bit daunting. I took the lazy woman’s way out and bought two of the components ready made, and when you do that this recipe becomes easy peasy. Hey, I bought Ana Sortun’s cookbook Spice just to get my hands on this recipe, so it seemed silly not to pick up a packet of dukkah and a jar of harissa paste at the same time. Even if you’re not near Cambridge you can call their store manager at 617.661.3161 and ask them to ship you your own supply, which will last for many batches of Moroccan Carrot Purée. Empty nest or no, you will be a very happy camper.

Harissa and Dukkah

Empty Nest Moroccan Carrot Purée

2 pounds of carrots, peeled

5-7 Tablespoons olive oil

2-3 teaspoons cider vinegar

2-5 teaspoons harissa *

1 teaspoon cumin (ground)

1/2 teaspoon ginger (ground)

1-2 cloves minced garlic

salt and pepper to taste

Dukkah **

French bread or crackers

Chop the carrots into smallish chunks and put into a medium saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer on medium high heat 20-30 minutes or until fork tender. Timing will somewhat depend upon the size of our carrot chunks. Drain the carrots but leave them in the saucepan and return it to the stove. Over medium high heat “dry” the carrots by shaking the pan constantly, sort of like you would for jiffy pop popcorn. You may be tempted to skip this step, but don’t or it will make your carrot purée watery. It only take a minute or so.

Then with a potato masher mash the carrots, cider vinegar and harissa to taste, cumin, ginger, garlic, and enough olive oil to loosen the whole mixture. You don’t want mashed potato smooth, you want the mixture to be smashed up, with a few chunks left for texture. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

You can serve this the way they do in the restaurant with a scoop of carrot purée, the dukkah sprinkled on top and crackers or bread to scoop it all up with. Or you can serve it in separate bowls of carrot purée, olive oil and dukkah. I’ve even spread some of the purée on a piece of bread then topped it with with a few slices of leftover steak and a handful of arugula to make a divine lunchtime treat. It would also be great to pack for a picnic.

Empty Nester Moroccan Carrot Puree

So you really want to go all out and make your own harissa and dukkah? Here are the recipes (though I have not tested them myself). All three come from Ana Sorten’s cookbook Spice.

* Harissa

1 cup ground Urfa chilies

2 teaspoons chopped garlic

1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, soaked in warm water for an hour

3 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cup water

1 Tablespoon Moroccan Ras el Hannout (yep, another recipe)

1/4 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredient in a blender and purée until smooth. Sore in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Moroccan Ras el Hannout

1/4 cup cumin seeds

3/4 teaspoon saffron

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 Tablespoon tumeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 Tablespoon fresh ground black pepper

1/2 cup paprika

In a cast iron frying pan toast cumin seeds for a couple of minutes until fragrant, shaking the pan vigorously. Cool seed and grind with the saffron in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Mix with remaining spices.

Dukkah

1/2 cup blanched almonds

3 Tablespoons coriander seeds

2 Tablespoons cumin seeds

2 Tablespoons sesame seeds

1/4 cup unsweetened dried coconut

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a cast iron skillet over medium/medium low heat toast the almonds until golden. Cool, then chop.

In the same iron skillet toast the coriander and cumin seeds until fragrant. Cool, then coarsely grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

In the same iron skillet toast the sesame seeds until just browned. Cool.

And yet again in the same skillet toast the coconut until golden and then cool.

Once everything is toasted and cooled combine together and grind or pound slightly to combine.

 

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