Unleavened Breads – Matzo, Flour Tortilla, Chapatti – Easier Than Expected!

N. didn’t run the Boston Marathon this year as she did in 2013, and so I didn’t get to visit Boston and support the runners. I missed hearing Bostonians, who came out stronger than ever, cheering on runners and their city; and I missed eating the famous creamy “chowda,” made with juicy, plump clams and topped with herb-scented oyster crackers.

I often wondered how the crackers, which do not contain oysters, came to be associated with chowder. As it turns out, the popular clam chowder had its beginnings as humble fish chowder. Fish chowder, like fish soup, included the catch of the day along with vegetables and leftovers that were also thrown into the cooking pot. Oyster crackers, or ship’s biscuit as they were also called, were used to thicken the chowder. Oyster crackers were made with flour and water and used no leavening agent (yeast or other agents that causes flour to rise), which meant that the crackers would remain fresh on long voyages. Old recipes don’t change completely, but instead, they adapt to what could be sourced locally. In New England, clams were available cheaply as were the cream and potatoes, which became the new thickening agents. The oyster crackers now serve as decorative crunchy elements.

Oyster crackers are comparative newcomers to the field of unleavened foods. Unleavened bread was the theme of last week’s Passover and Eucharist meals. When my friend shared her homemade matzo recipe (commenting how easy it was to make), I looked into the three unleavened breads that could be made at home with the most basic of ingredients: flour, water, salt, and oil. Matzo or matza, flour tortilla and chapatti (or roti) are all unleavened bread or flatbreads. (Note all flatbreads are not unleavened breads.)

You do not require special equipment, just a spoon to toss the compacted packaged flour to let some air into it and elbow grease (really your knuckles or base of your palm) to knead the dough. The dough is flattened to a disc with a rolling pin, and cooked in an oven (matza) or on a preheated skillet or griddle for the other two breads. It is as simple as that, and as a bonus, does not take up much time either.

Matzo Bread

Matzo is traditionally made with one of five grains, and follows strict guidelines if you make it for religious purposes. This version, using all-purpose flour, is an easy way to make a cracker-like snack. Matzo can be added to a soup or eaten with a dip.

All-purpose flour – 1 cup, plus 1tbsp.

Water – ¼ cup

Kosher salt – ¼ tsp.

Olive oil – 1 tsp.

  • Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  • Sieve the flour.
  • Mix the first three ingredients together, until they are well incorporated and form a ball.
  • Work in the oil. Knead lightly.
  • Spread the extra flour on a clean counter top.
  • Take a small amount of the dough and roll it out on the flour-dusted surface into a disk. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin to about the size of a water cracker.
  • Place it on a baking pan lined with foil. Poke the dough with a fork in several places. This allows the steam to escape and cook uniformly.
  • Cook for about 4 minutes on each side for a slightly soft center (more if you want it crispy).

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Flour Tortilla

I never thought I would go through the trouble of making flour tortillas, especially as they are readily available in convenient packages. Usually made with specially treated maize flour or corn, this is an all-purpose or wheat flour version. You will re-think  buying store-bought ones after trying this! I made these tortillas with both lard (new to me, given all the health warnings) and butter. Given that you will likely eat only a few at each meal, each tortilla was worth its calories: the taste was soft and flaky, and better still, there are no additives. To my surprise, the version with lard tasted better.

All-purpose flour – 2 cups, plus 1tbsp.

Water – ¼ cup of warm water

Kosher salt – ¾ tsp.

Vegetable oil – 1 tsp.

Lard (or butter) – 4 oz. at room temperature

  • Sieve the flour.
  • Mix the flour, salt, and lard (butter) together, until they are well incorporated.
  • Add water to the mixture. Knead the dough, until your can roll into one big, smooth ball. Cover with saran wrap and keep aside for at least an hour.
  • Preheat the griddle.
  • Spread the extra flour on a clean counter top.
  • Take a small amount of the dough and roll it out on the flour-dusted surface into a disk. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin to a 6-inch diameter.
  • Place it on a preheated griddle. Allow it to puff up, before flipping it over to the other side. It should have warm brown specks on the surface.

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Chapatti

This simple bread is made daily in India and neighboring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal as well as Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa and the Caribbean. Chapatti is eaten with meat, lentils and vegetables. It can be cooked on a griddle or cooked directly over the flame of a gas stove. If you prefer less dense bread, add a ¼ cup of all-purpose flour to the whole-wheat flour.

Whole-wheat flour – 1 cup, plus 1-2 tbsp.

Water – ¼ cup of warm water

Salt – ½ tsp.

Vegetable oil (ghee) – 1 tsp.

  • Sieve the flour.
  • Mix the flour, salt, and water together, until they are well incorporated.
  • Add the oil to the mixture. Knead the dough, until your can roll into one big, smooth ball.
  • Cover with a damp kitchen cloth and keep aside for a half-hour.
  • Preheat the griddle.
  • Spread the extra flour on a clean counter top.
  • Take a small amount of the dough and roll it out on the flour-dusted surface into a disk. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin to a 6-inch diameter.
  • Place it on a preheated griddle. Allow it to puff up with little bubbles, before flipping it over to the other side. It should have dark brown specks on its surface.
  • Continue with the rest of the dough.

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