flour

Communal Meal: Fresh Pasta

Inspired by a pasta-making class, a friend suggested that we hold a pasta cook-off. The ingredients were identical – flour and eggs. The combination of semolina flour and “00” flour gave the pasta both texture and lightness, while the eggs added density, color, and richness to the dough. We could agree on those basic components, but we differed in our processes. Our challenge lay with the implements used to mix the flour and eggs (fork versus fingers) and in the rolling and stretching of the kneaded dough (her KitchenAid versus my hand-cranked pasta machine).

There was flour on both sides of the kitchen counter, as we sieved and measured the night away! My friend used a fork to mix in the beaten eggs, whereas I used my fingers for a more old-fashioned approach. While we waited the 30 minutes necessary for the dough to rest, we cleared the kitchen, set the table, and drank wine. Then we rolled (rolling pin versus hand-stretching) and folded the dough before passing it through the KitchenAid or the hand-cranked machine. She trimmed the dough by hand into wide strips, while I got more uniform spaghetti-thin and wider strips from my cutting attachment. However, both of our pasta was uniformly delicious! We served the pasta with three different sauces that we’d previously made and brought to the cook-off, matching flavors with the differing widths of pasta. The widest pasta was reserved for the rich pork ragout, the medium-cut pasta with an eggplant and roasted pepper sauce, and the spaghetti-thin pasta worked well with the plain marinara sauce.

We ended up with the best of a potluck and communal meal at the end of the evening. Cooking together allows people of all ages and abilities to contribute to a meal, something to keep in mind for the holiday visitors soon to come! (If you need ideas, other favorites include cheese fondue, shabu shabu, and injera)

Pasta

“00” flour – 2 cups, sieved

Semolina flour – 2 cups, sieved

Eggs – 4, plus two yolks

  • Heap the two flours separately. Bring them together, forming a small well in the middle.
  • Break an egg into the middle, and using your fingers (or fork) start to form a mixture pulling in the two flours from the sides of the well to combine with the egg – until you get a runny consistency. Keep pulling the flour into the middle of the well and mixing and kneading as you go.
  • When the mixture loses its stickiness, break the next egg into the middle. Continue the process, until all the eggs and two yolks are incorporated into the dough.
  • Pull, stretch, and knead the dough, adding flour as needed. The dough is ready, when pulled apart there are no sticky bits in the middle. The dough should be just firm enough, such that an indented thumbprint would show.
  • Place the dough in a wet towel to prevent drying.
  • Set aside for at least ½ hour.
  • Sieve the excess flour and keep it aside, ready for dusting.
  • When the dough is ready, slice the dough into four equal parts.
  • Work with one portion at a time, while keeping the others covered in moist cloth.
  • Flatten the dough with your fingers. Feed the dough through the machine that is set on the lowest setting (1). The first pass lengthens the dough a little. Fold over the dough and pass through the setting at least 4-5 times, continuing to fold the dough both in half and along the edges. Dust with sieved flour to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.
  • Move up the setting to 3, and repeat at least three times, making sure you get a straight edge, working with aligning the dough. Continue, until you have an even sheet of stretched dough.
  • Move the setting to 5 or 6 and pass the now lengthened sheet through at least twice, dusting with flour as needed.
  • Cut the thin sheet into shapes, or use the cutter on the machine to make thin, medium-size or fat ribbons.
  • Repeat with other sections.
  • The cut pasta can be placed on parchment paper, until ready to cook. Alternatively, freeze the pasta to use within a month.

 

Serve with your favorite sauce. Tomato sauce.

 

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Injera (Ethiopian Flatbread): Fermented Gluten-free Batter (2)

The batter used to make Injera relies on fermentation to rise. My carefully-planned Ethiopian dinner was to be a surprise for N, but when the batter didn’t rise even after 24 hours, I panicked. Trying to eke out warmth from this late spring weather into the batter was futile – the optimum temperature for fermentation is between 75-80°F.

 I ended up using the “oven” method to coax both batters (one batch made with dry active yeast and another with air-borne wild yeast) to rise. This endeavor reminded me of some tips to help with fermentation of a batter made with flour, yeast, and salt:

  • Use a wide stainless steel pan to increase the surface area exposed to air; this helps more of the batter to be exposed to capture both wild yeast from the air and heat to start the fermentation process.
  • Use non-chlorinated water (chlorine inhibits yeast from fermenting).
  • Use kosher salt, as iodized salt slows down fermentation.
  • If the air is not warm enough, heat the oven to 200°F. Once the temperature is reached, turn off the oven. Put the batter in to the warm oven for an hour. This warms the yeast and starts up the fermentation process. Remove the batter from the oven and let the process continue naturally outside. Another method using the oven is to turn the oven light on, and leave the batter in the oven overnight. Remove the batter from the oven and let the process continue on outside.
  • In cool weather, plan for the meal two days ahead! The ideal temperature for dry yeast is 75°F and for naturally-occurring wild yeast found in the atmosphere is 80-90°F.

Injera

Teff flour – 1 cup

Water – 1 cup + 1 tbsp

Kosher salt – ½ tsp

Yeast (instant active dry) – ¾ tsp

  • Sift the flour
  • Warm 1 tbsp. of water. Add the yeast to the water. Mix until yeast granules are dissolved.
  • Add the water and salt to the yeast solution.
  • Add the liquids to the flour. Mix well.
  • Keep aside in a warm place, for 24-48 hours. Bubbles on the surface of the batter or cracks that appear on the puffed up surface indicate that the batter is ready.
  • When ready to cook, add a little water to get the batter to a pouring consistency.
  • Heat a non-stick skillet.
  • Using a ladle, drop in 2 tbsp of batter into the middle of the pan or skillet. Using the back of the ladle spread the batter in one continuous motion, working from the center in concentric circles toward the edge of the skillet. When little bubbles appear on the surface of the batter, the injera bread is ready. There is no need to flip the injera over, as the steam causes it to cook through.
  • Keep the bread stacked. Makes about 6 pancakes.

 

The batter can also be made without yeast.

 

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N., who is a Nutella fiend, came home for the weekend, and I used the remaining gluten-free teff flour to make Nutella-based cookies. The texture of the cookies is more like bran muffin, which also balanced out the sweetness of Nutella.

Teff Flour and Nutella Cookies

Teff flour –1½ cup

Agave nectar – ½ cup

Nutella – ½ cup

Oil – ½ cup

Cinnamon (or your preference) extract – 1tsp

  • Preheat the oven to 350F
  • In a food processor, mix the agave nectar, Nutella, oil and cinnamon extract.
  • Add the teff flour and combine well.
  • On a greased cooking sheet (stains the cookie pan), add a tablespoon of the cookie batter. Flatten the batter with the spoon.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes. Makes about 10-12 cookies.

 

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Injera: Communal Meal (Part 3)

Blogging about communal meals (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) made me aware of the importance of the main cooking pot: The flavors developed here enhance the taste of the accompaniments. In Ethiopian cuisine, the central “pot” is injera bread, which is both the dish that holds the accompaniments as well as part of the meal itself. Breaking bread becomes a communal experience as pieces of injera are torn to scoop up the side dishes that are piled in small mounds on the bread platter.

Injera is made from an ancient gluten-free grain called teff. Teff flour batter is fermented overnight and gives injera its characteristic sour taste. The cooked pancake-shaped spongy bread balances, both literally and figuratively, an assortment of cooked vegetables, lentils, and meat. Side dishes range from lightly spiced to the richly spiced flavors aided by the spice blend, berbere (pronounced burr-burr-ee). Berbere gives the meat stew (wot) and red lentil sauce its rich red color and complexity. Depending on family or regional traditions, there are at least 8-10 different spices in the berbere blend.

Proper etiquette requires that you eat with your fingers, working your way from the edges of the injera toward the middle. This has a practical aspect since the soft spongy center soaks up the sauce from the stew by the end of the meal.

Doro Wot – Chicken Stew

Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 4-5 tbsp

Onion – 2 large, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 6, peeled and minced

Ginger – 2-inch peeled and minced

Chicken –1 lb, washed

Berbere powder – 2 tbsp

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Salt – 1 tsp

Boiled eggs – 2 (optional)

  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes, until cooked down
  • Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat. Process the cooked onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor, until it becomes a fine paste.
  • Add the paste back to the pan and continue with the cooking.
  • Add the berbere powder and sauté for one minute.
  • Add the tomatoes and incorporate into the mixture.
  • Add the chicken. Cover and cook on low for 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
  • Add the boiled egg during the last five minutes of cooking, so that it will absorb the flavors.

Misir Wot – Red Lentil Stew

Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 3-4 tbsp

Red lentils – 1 ½ cups, cleaned until water runs clear

Onion – 1 medium, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 8, peeled and minced

Berbere powder – 1-1/2 tbsp

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Salt – 1 tsp

  • Heat a pan with oil.
  • Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the berbere spice powder and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook them until incorporated with the contents in the pan.
  • Remove from heat and process them to a fine paste.
  • Add the paste back into the pan and bring the contents to a simmer.
  • Add the lentils to the paste. Mix well, and add  3 cups of water.
  • Cook on low heat, until lentils are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Add more liquid as needed, but the consistency of the lentil stew should be thick such that it can be scooped up with injera.

If you do not want to make all the accompaniments, make one meat or lentil dish with berbere spice and keep the rest of the accompaniments easy – such as a simple steamed greens or salad.

Suggested Accompaniments:

Red Lentil Stew

Ethiopian Green Salad

Marinated Beet and Potato Salad

Collard Greens

Steamed Kale

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Note: This time I used store-bought injera for convenience. I am planning to include a recipe as part of a series on fermented breads.

 

I was introduced to the three communal meals, the inspirations for the last few blog posts, by my friends (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) and relatives who had lived and worked in Ethiopia (injera). I would love to hear from you about your personal favorite communal meals.

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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