pita pita patter

When I did my experimenting with sourdough (starter and loaf) at the end of last year I became a little obsessed with reading about different kinds of bread; how they are all made, the differences in each process and the origins and stories behind them.

My main question that I desperately needed answered was how pita bread gets the big bubble of air in the middle, that convenient little pocket we all use to stuff in our favourite ingredients.

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Surprisingly it has nothing to do with a cleverly shaped or hollowed out wheel of dough but it actually is all on the way it’s cooked.

Similar to the way a naan bread is speckled with charred air bubbles from the immense heat of the oven they are cooked in, the expansion of a pita bread comes from the heat of the pan or oven they’re cooked in. Essentially, as the active yeast begins to rise, the water within the dough begins evaporating – splitting the dough in half as it tries to escape, forming the helpful hollow we find so useful.

And this is how easy they are to make:

1 cup of warm water
2 teaspoons of instant yeast
2 ½ cups of flour
2 teaspoons of sea salt
2 teaspoons of olive oil

Step one: mix it all together.

Step two: knead I for five minutes.

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Step three: place in a bow, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for an hour.

Step four: divide into eight equally sized discs, a bit like a UFO.

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(Note: step 3.5 should be heat the oven to 240°C with a tray in to heat as well)

Only once the oven is hot enough should you even think about cooking your pita breads, if it isn’t hot enough then they won’t balloon up and you may as well have just made bread rolls.

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Keep an eye on them: they will only need about 3 minutes – oh, the beauty of a hot oven!

They are best served hot, but delicious at room temperature too. I smeared mine with roast pepper hummus and stuffed them with pomegranate meatballs and fresh spinach. But to be completely honest, I would have eaten them plain, that’s how good they are.

 

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homemade: pomegranate lemon tea

I saw an article the other day about a retired couple who had embraced sustainable living and the very in-vogue concept of ‘zero waste’ to such an extreme that they took an entire year to fill up one rubbish bag.

Now, I am nowhere near this level of dedication and while I can admire it, I am not completely sure that I could aspire to it. That being said, like much of my cooking, my recent pomegranate obsession (here and here – if you’re interested) left me with one by-product that I could bear to see go to waste – the pomegranate skin.

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Even though it isn’t something I would want to eat, the pomegranate’s skin is brightly coloured and fruity scented, it would be sad to see it go to waste and it also has a whole truckload of health benefits.

Trawling through the internet looking for interesting uses, many people suggest adding dried pomegranate skin to your shampoo and other beauty products for silky hair and smooth skin.

I’m not one to put the hard yards into anything if there isn’t going to be a benefit to my taste buds so instead I made a pomegranate and lemon powder to make tea infusions and flavour dishes in a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean way. Any added beautification is just a bonus!

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Using as much concentration as possible, I sliced the outer layer of blood-red skin away from the soft, white pith, and did the same with two small lemons. You can dry the skin in the oven like I did for my dried citrus peel or in a slow cooker like these limes – I used the slow cooker so I didn’t have to pay so much attention to them. Leave the lid slightly ajar once the pot has heated up and mop up any condensation with a paper towel.

Once the pieces are brittle enough to snap, you know they’re done. Remove them from the slow cooker and once they are cooled, crush them into a relatively fine powder in a mortar and pestle.

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Steep a teaspoon of the powder in hot water for a fruity, homemade tea, add a sprinkling into a sauce for a fruit punch. Or make your own grenadine syrup without any sugar by mixing equal parts of powder and hot water before diluting with ice cold sparkling water.

how to: roast pepper hummus

The beginning of the year is always a hard time to get back into the swing of normalcy and even though we are almost a month into 2016, I am still finding it difficult to function.

The beauty of it being summer means that I can get away with running on 70% manpower; it’s easy and acceptable to focus dinners around salads, masses of raw vegetables and things easy to cook; like corn.

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I recently tried my hand at making hummus; it’s fun, it’s healthy, and because it doesn’t involve any cooking, its quick and stress-free to whip up and still elevates the flavour and vibrancy of even the simplest of dishes.

Here is the recipe I use; it’s the most basic of basic recipes and works as a great template for experimenting with a variety of flavours. I added slow roasted red bell pepper in these photos, but roasted eggplant, olives or even carrots could be used.

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Into the food processor we add: 400grams of chickpeas – that’s one can, 2teaspoons of tahini paste for a rich and nutty sesame flavour, a clove of garlic (or more!), ½ a teaspoon of salt, 3tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil and the juice of ½ a lemon. Top this off with whatever additions you choose and whiz it up until it’s smooth and creamy.

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Summer is the time for cheese boards and meze platters in the sun; a vibrantly coloured bowl of hummus makes a brilliant addition served alongside toasted pita chips, dotted on a pizza or even added to your favourite salad.

new year, new me

Quite frankly, I am not one for New Year’s resolutions. I do, however, think that it is important to take some time to both reflect and look ahead – why it must happen at the end of one year, I am not really sure.

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But I am not here to critique people’s life choices, I am here to put down in written form some of my musings for the year to come. Similar to much of the work that we laid out in Blogging 201, I have been tossing about some ideas of how and where I will take this blog in 2016.

It has been rather difficult to evenly distribute between all that I have wished to; Travel, Food and Life in general. Not that I have ever really struggled to find something to write about but I have noticed that the general content focus has varied significantly from time to time.

Travel
Now that I am in one stationary spot for the foreseeable future, I find it really hard to write about travel. At this stage there isn’t a lot more I can do apart from writing in retrospect, which I guess I can make do with but I feel like there is something slightly untruthful about it. Rose-tinted glasses some may say.

Food
I will always have a focus on Southern European cuisine, even though I’m no longer based there. It’s my automatic go-to and what I enjoy researching. Even so, I find myself branching out a bit; I do love Middle Eastern cooking and I have noticed that more and more international and fusion dishes are making their way onto the blog. I guess it all depends on what I have time to make.

Life
This is something I am a little stumped with; how much of one’s life should be incorporated into one’s blog? It is talked about at length in Will Write for Food but I can’t decide where I sit. I think that’s be I think as long as it fits with the blog’s concept, then it’s fine with me.

Writing 201
I have enrolled in another writing course for February of 2016 to work on finding, and expanding what my story really is. If anyone wants to join me in this, let me know; here’s the link.

The January Cure
I have also signed for another month long task – this one is aimed a little bit at Life Admin and decluttering the home before the year gets into full swing. It’s called the January Cure and it’s a collaboration between Apartment Therapy and the kitchn. I’ll post updates as I go, but once again, please feel free to join me!

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As 2016 swings into action, there’s how I see it going, or at least beginning, for me. But we don’t know what we don’t know, we know where we are going to start (for me it’s lying in the sun!) but where we will end, is all part of the fun!

 

 

spiced, sweet stuffed eggplants

I originally had planned to write a post on eggplant steaks but then I found this recipe and it seemed like a way better idea.

I recently bought myself a copy of Ghillie Başan’s book, Flavours of the Middle East – two-for-one deals always get the better of me – and it is filled with beautiful dishes, vibrant colours and interesting stories. Stuffed eggplants was my first dish, in a long list that I wanted to experiment with. They are a great combination of savoury aubergines, sweet dried fruit and a good kick of subtle spice.

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To begin, I mixed a diced onion with 150grams of minced beef – Ghillie’s recipe uses lamb but I wanted something a little leaner. I also added a tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon each of cumin and nutmeg and a few teaspoons of brown sugar. I also added two tablespoons of dried cranberries for sweetness, two chopped dates for a caramel undertone and two tablespoons of pine nuts for a little crunch. I mixed it all together with half a can of diced tomatoes, a big grind of pepper and a pinch of dried thyme, and set it aside so the flavours could meld together.

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After bathing three partially peel aubergines in salt water for 15 minutes, I gently pan fried them in equal parts oil and butter until the skin was glossy and the flesh changed to a pale shade of yellow.

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I slit each aubergine down the middle lengthways, through as much of the flesh as possible, without puncturing the skin on the other side. With a tremendous balance of delicacy and might, I prised the eggplants open and compactly filled them with the meat mixture.

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I transported my eggplant boats into a bright red oven tray and doused them in the juice of a lemon, a healthy gulp of olive oil, a crack of sugar and a bit of water mixed with a teaspoon of sugar.

I baked at 200°C for 50 minutes – the first 25 minutes with a layer of foil overtop, the rest of the time uncovered. I basted each of them with the juices once I removed the foil just to insure they were nice and moist.

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Perfect hot or cold, this dish doesn’t require any sides or special garnishes – they are delicious (both visually and to the tastebuds) just as they are!

 

when life gives you limes

My love of Middle Eastern inspired food is not something I ever shy away from talking about, in fact, I will often try and drive a conversation towards it where possible. And today, I don’t have to try and subtly change the subject, I can very blatantly exclaim about my latest feat – black limes.

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Black limes; also known as dried limes or limoo amani, originate from the Persian Gulf and are often used to add a depth of flavour to stews and soups or as an alternative to spices when seasoning meat.

The traditional method of preparing black limes is to blanch them whole in hot, salty water and then leave them to dry in the sun until their skin darkens and their flesh becomes dark and brittle. I had to be a bit more resourceful with my drying technique because I don’t live in a city anywhere near as hot or as dry as the Iranian dessert – even in the middle of June!

The internet was obviously a very helpful tool in my investigation of possible methods; I don’t have a dehydrator so that one was out of the question. The idea of drying them in the oven did seem the most practical, but on further research it was likely that the oven would actually burn the limes instead of drying them, and I didn’t like the idea of having the oven on for three days!

My chosen method was in a slow cooker. A slow cooker on the lowest setting – on my one it is ‘warm’ – is the closest way of emulating the warm baking on the Middle Eastern sun. Because it is not so much a setting for cooking anything, there isn’t the risk of burning the limes and the gentle warmth is just enough to dry them out nice any evenly.

Begin by placing your limes in a large saucepan with a teaspoon of salt per lime. The kind of salt you use doesn’t particularly matter; I used rock salt but table salt would suffice. Next pour boiling water over top until the limes are just covered. The salt will dissolve in the water creating a lovely warm brine. Leave the limes to soak for at least 5 minutes. The reasoning behind blanching the fruit first, instead of drying them from the get-go, is to remove some of the bitterness from the rind and pith.

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The limes that I had acquired were larger than the ones usually used so I sliced mine into 1cm thick rondelles. If you happen to have smaller limes then this method will work just as well when keeping them whole or even just slicing them in half. Arrange them along the bottom of the slow cooker, if you have cut them up; arrange them evenly so they are all touching the bottom on the pot. Cover and leave them for about 3 days, or until they become crisp and light ebony-coloured. I turned mine twice a day for a consistent dryness and drained any juice that collected once a day to avoid soggy, poached limes.

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When I use my dried limes, like any of my dried citrus that I have curated, I usually drop it into a sauce or stew, it soaks up the liquid; becoming soft and edible, while infusing the sauce with its deep, rich and slightly tangy flavours. You can also crush it up in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to combine with oil or vinegar as a chicken marinade, or with flour and breadcrumbs as a crunchy coating for pan-fried fish.