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.

sweet potato croquettes

Boys will be boys. We’ve all heard it before, usually from an emotionally exhausted parent in our youth, but some of us may have even uttered the words ourselves. I found myself in a bit of a ‘boys-will-be-boys’ situation recently; a phone call from my frazzle mother – my little brother had toppled off his skateboard as he raced down a rather speed hill, breaking his jaw in three places. Typical.

Gone are the days when doctors would wire a broken jaw closed like the monster from a B-grade horror film, but he is still restricted in what he was allowed to eat. Sympathetic of a diet of tired mashed potatoes and tomato soup, I graciously took on the task of inventing some delicious, yet soft and smooth meal ideas.

French cuisine is so much more expansive than many of us imagine, boeuf bourguignon and foie gras are not quotidian meals as any French-cooking themed film would lead us to believe. Au contraire, they are traditional – time-consuming and expensive to make, and like the variety of French wines, are very regionally specific. I have decided that I needed to increase my knowledge on the larger umbrella that is the way that French people actually cook. I have been flicking through my newly acquired copy of 100 Styles of French Cooking by Karl Wurzer, marking recipes to try in my own variation of Julie Powell’s homage to Julia Child in The Julie/Julia Project – the story behind Julie & Julia for those who have no idea what I’m talking about.

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Sweet potato is something that I grew up eating a lot of, I could never pass up a huge pile of deep-fried sweet potato fries, crisp and salty – the perfect picnic dinner while sitting on the beach. They are basically a more interesting version of a standard potato and when I stumbled upon Karl’s recipe for croquettes à l’algerienne – Algerian croquettes, I knew I had to try them out!

Like most delicious things, these crunchy globes of mustard coloured mash are best finished off in the deep fryer, but because I 1) don’t have a deep fryer and 2) am not using that much oil in one go, I decided to pan fry them and finish them off in the oven – kind of like my churros.

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Peel and dice one sweet potato per person and boil until cooked through and tender. Drain through a colander and leave so as much of the water as possible can drip through. Sauté ¼ of an onion per person in olive oil or lard – I used chicken fat from a roast the night before, it gives it a nice meaty flavour without making it seem too heavy. Mash the potato and stir the onions through once they are soft and syrupy, along with 2 tablespoons of ground almonds or cashews per person, ½ a teaspoon of cumin, ¼ a teaspoon of nutmeg, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a big grind of salt and pepper. I added a pinch of dried herbs too.

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Based on your skill and patience, there are two ways to shape the croquettes – you can either shape them into flat rugby ball shaped spheres with your hands, or into quenelles using two tablespoons. Either way, you’ll get the same result. If you are organised enough, I would recommend doing this much of the process the day before and refrigerating the quenelles so they hold their shape better. If that’s not possible then I guess that’s fine too.

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Fry your croquettes in as much oil or melted butter as you want – the more you use, the easier it will be, but as you increase the oil, you increase the un-healthiness – a lose-lose situation. I lightly fried mine on either side before baking them for a further 10 minutes to get an even crisp and to heat them the whole way through.

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I served mine with a yogurt and tahini dip and sprinkled over some more herbs, salt and pepper, just in time for my brother to tell me he couldn’t make it. More for me I guess!

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lemon and ginger preserve

Hi, my name is Dylan and I have a problem. I am addicted to preserving. I just can’t get enough of it; I dream about making jam all day long, I dry the skin of every citrus fruit I ever use and have an ever-growing list of chutneys and pastes that I’m dying to make.

Preserves are a great way of extending flavours to times well outside of their seasonality. Sometimes a rainy day can be brightened up a dollop of sugary strawberry jam; a stew can be taken to the next level with the addition of a few crisp fragments of citrus; the deep flavour bleeding into the sauce as it cooks throughout the day. On the flipside, pickled radishes; a delicious use of a winter vegetable are a great way to add a colourful crunch.

I have all of these great ideas, but I am running out of jars… and space in my pantry! I have promised myself that this one will be the last one for a while, so it’s a good thing that it’s such a stunner. Lemon, ginger and honey is just a comforting winter drink – good for the soul and good for the immune system, so I decided to see how it fared as a chutney combination.

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I wanted something warming – if it’s going to be of any use in the winter then its warmth has to emanate throughout the body with each bite. Lemon, ginger and turmeric seemed like the ideal combination; it’s tangy, fragrant and warm, but not too spicy or overpowering, and not too sweet.

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Here’s what you’ll need:
6 lemons
a decent size piece of fresh ginger
a handful of turmeric bulbs
a dash of vinegar
6 tablespoons of salt
1 teaspoon each of fennel and coriander seeds
the juice of 6 additional lemons

As you can probably tell, this recipe can easily be scaled up or down, depending on the size of your jars.

Begin by dicing the ginger and turmeric. I used three turmeric bulbs and grated them as finely as possible – biting into a big hunk of bright, bitter turmeric is a dreadful thought, something I really wanted to avoid. I julienned the ginger root with similar audacity, even though I am not crazy at the idea of a mouthful of ginger, it seems less unpleasant than the turmeric so I tried to keep the slices as thin as I could.

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Gently heat them in a tablespoon of olive oil, with the fennel and coriander, use a relatively low heat. I added a tablespoon of water to lightly steam them – I wanted to avoid crisping them up in any way possible. It might even work better to steam them over hot water first. Take the pan off the heat and toss through another dash of olive oil and a few caps of vinegar. I used apple cider vinegar for tartness and because it’s the only kind I had.

While that pan is filling your kitchen of smells reminiscent of an Arabian marketplace, it’s time to move on to the lemons. As most people on the internet will tell you; organic is best and freshly washed is also good. If you can help it, only pick your lemons once they are ripe, that way they will be juiciest as they stop ripening as soon as they are picked. The recipe that I based mine on (from Ottolenghi, duh) says to quarter them lengthways (but not quite to the bottom). For practicality, I diced mine into bite sized pieces; I thought this would make them easier to squeeze into the jar and easier to spoon out afterwards. Stir through the ginger and turmeric, the salt, and any herbs you think would suit; I used rosemary and a sprinkle of dried thyme.

Jam as much of the mixture into each jar as possible, it can be quite a messy job but try and keep the juice off the table and floor as much as possible! Seal the jars and leave in a cool, dark cupboard for a week.

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Side note: make sure your jars are sterile you could end up with a fungus forest instead.

If patience is not a virtue you are the beholder of, then this is probably not something you should be experimenting with as this is merely the beginning. After a week, squish the lemons down and pour the juice of the six remaining lemons overtop, that should almost take your jar to capacity, add water to make up the difference and add another little glug of oil. Reseal and leave in the cupboard for at least four weeks to ferment.

Wait.

The fibres within the lemon rind will slowly break down, absorbing its own juice and the flavours of the ginger; sweet, tangy and soft.

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Serve atop warm couscous, stir-fry with vegetables or any other kind of cooking. I added a few tablespoons to some sautéed mushrooms for a lemon and mushroom risotto and loved the tang it gave in contrast of the sweet chicken broth.

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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.

loubieh bi zeit

Summer is my favourite season, for many reasons. Not only because I hate the cold and wish that I could spend my life lying on the beach, but also because of the variety of vegetables that are available during Summer; the other day I found green beans at the market that were so cheap they were almost giving them away. Green beans are my absolute favourite, I will them whenever I can, often even just raw as a little snack. When I was six years old, one of my birthday presents was a ginormous bag of green beans and it remains one of my favourite presents of all time.

So I left the market with a 500gram bag of beans which cost me all of 27cents, I was ecstatic! However, I got home and realised that I had half a kilo of beans all for myself and they did not look like they were going to last very long so I had to find a way of using them ASAP.

This is an adapted recipe of loubieh bi zeit, a Middle Eastern dish that I discovered a couple of months back (as you might be able to guess, it is basically entirely beans). This is so quick and easy that I think it makes a perfect lunchtime meal, as a side salad for dinner or as a dish to take and serve cold at barbeque or picnic at the beach.

For this recipe you will need:
a large quantity of beans (I probably used between 200 and 250grams)
half a green capsicum
half a red capsicum
a clove of garlic
half a diced onion
a can of tomatoes or a fresh tomato
a decent collection of herbs and spices

However this is completely a guide; I added the capsicum because they were other things that I had which I thought would go nicely, I didn’t use the tomatoes because I didn’t have them, so you can add or subtract anything you want.

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Firstly, thinly slice the capsicums and break off the ends of the beans. Place the beans in a pot of boiling water, after five minutes add the capsicum and boil for a further five minutes before draining and setting to the side. I added the capsicum later than the beans because I wanted them to retain their a firmer texture to contrast the soft beans.

While they are cooking sauté the onions and garlic in a dash of olive oil, by the time they are nice and soft and slightly translucent the other vegetables should be done. Turn the heat of the pan up and add the vegetables; they should sizzle! This is what is going to help make the beans to get a little bit fried and crispy which is what I like so much about this dish, beans that are both soft and crunchy.

After a couple of minutes add whatever spices and herbs you have.
I combined a teaspoon of curry powder
a teaspoon of paprika
a teaspoon of cumin
a teaspoon of sweet red pepper powder
a teaspoon of herbs de Provence
a dash of salt and pepper
I know this sounds like a lot but it needs to be in order to coat the beans well.

I also added some sesame seeds and some ‘Orgasmic Buddha’, I have no idea what this actually is, I found it in the cupboard and thought that I was hilarious.

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Add the spice mix and turn the heat down, you don’t want to burn the spices or your smoke detector will not be too pleased. Stir constantly for a few minutes and it’s done! If you are using the version with to tomatoes add you still have a bit to do; add them and bring to the boil before leaving to simmer for about 10 minutes. Now you’re done.

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This dish is so simple, and so delicious. Perfect for any time of year, the spices will warm you up on a cold evening or get you sweating to cool off in the middle of Summer!