Category Archives: Appetizers

Barbari Flatbread

with burrata and tomatoes
I was first introduced to Barbari bread at Byblos, an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in Toronto. I have baked many different loaves of bread from all over the world, but I had never encountered Barbari. I became a little obsessed with wanting to recreate it.

Barbari bread is a type of Iranian flatbread. It is fairly thick and more commonly known as Persian Flatbread in North America. Neighbourhood bakeries in Iran bake this bread three times a day for their customers. A typical Iranian breakfast begins with hot sweet tea followed by barbari with feta or salted butter and jam. Kids are greeted with barbari, feta, walnuts and fresh herbs for their after-school snack. Beats Oreos any day of the week!

If you have never baked with yeast before, don’t be scared. I’ll walk you through what you need to know. There are 2 types of yeast commonly available at the supermarket, Rapid Rise and  Active Dry yeast (also called Traditional). Active dry yeast needs to be dissolved in water before using while rapid rise yeast can be mixed right into the dough. I like to use the active dry yeast because I can see that it is indeed active when I watch it bubble up in the water. Always check the expiry date on the package.

The key is to make sure the water is at the right temperature, between 95°F -115°F. Any hotter and it will kill the yeast, and any cooler and the yeast will take a very long time to activate. Get the water to the perfect temperatureI usually stir a teaspoon of sugar into my water to give the yeast something to help activate it. Yeast uses sugar as food. It takes a few minutes for the yeast to activate.Yeast is activeThe dough comes together in a stand mixer in about 6-8 minutes. Then set the dough aside to rise for about an hour.

This recipe makes 2 flatbreads. They are easily formed by shaping the dough into two 9 inch logs and then gently stretching each into a 14×5 inch rectangle. To prevent the bread from puffing up too much in the oven, drag your fingers (or the handle of a long wooden spoon) to press five lengthwise grooves into the dough.dragging channelsBefore baking the bread is brushed with the special glaze made from flour, sugar, oil, and water. It sort of looks like wallpaper paste. This glaze, known as “roomal” is an ancient solution to “steaming” your oven. The roomal adds additional moisture directly to the surface of the bread as it bakes, allowing it to rise fully. It has the added advantage of giving the crust a satiny shine. brushing on pasteI sprinkled my first loaf with sesame seeds, nigella seeds, and salt.  sesame, nigella and saltI gave the second loaf a generous sprinkle of za’atar.  zaatarI prepared a batch of honey roasted tomatoeshoney roasted tomatoes I served the sesame and nigella flatbread with burrata cheese, roasted tomatoes, fresh basil and a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil. Don’t forget a sprinkle of coarse sea salt, please.drizzling olive oilI did a more typical Iranian topping for the za’atar flatbread.  I doctored up some storebought labneh with pomegranate molasses and pomegranate seeds. Labneh (Middle Eastern strained yogurt) is similar to Greek yogurt but thicker in consistency, almost like soft cream cheese. It’s tangier and creamier than yogurt. If you can’t find it, it’s easy to make your own. labne, pom molasses and walnutsI spread the flatbread with labneh, scattered some toasted walnuts and fresh mint on top and finished it with an extra drizzle of pomegranate molasses. wedge with labne, pom molasses and walnuts

Click here to print recipe for Barbari Bread.

 

 

Passover Party Mix

in 3 gold bowls On the next full moon, Monday April 10,  Jewish families, all over the world will gather to hold a Passover Seder. Passover commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt over 3000 years ago, and the formation of the Jewish nation.

The word “seder” means “order” in Hebrew. It refers to the 15 parts of the Seder ritual which are followed in a very specific sequence. In the retelling of the story, the goal is to relive the Exodus, both symbolically and vicariously, with tastes, sounds, sensations and smells. We do this to link our past to our future, to teach the next generation. This is no mean feat and can make for a long night! 

Every family has their own unique customs and traditions. My youngest sister (I have 4) likes to decorate the table  with items that symbolize the 10 plaguesPlastic jumping frogs,  wild animals, cattle, and stale mini marshmallows (plague of hail). One year my mom covered the table in blue, green and purple jelly bellies to represent the River Nile. We have had Cadbury Cream Easter Eggs (much tastier than the roasted egg on the seder plate and the hard boiled egg dipped in saltwater we eat to represent the tears shed by the Israelites in slavery). I fully expect Dark Chocolate Moses this year.

That same sister is fond of making guest appearances at the Seder, dressed in various costumes. Some family members find this humorous. Others do not.Dressup Bunny 2Dressup Mascot 2Dress Up Steph and pigDress Up ProfessorThis year, I’m planning to get the party started by bringing little bags of Passover Party Mix to the table.

Salty, spicy, sweet and addictive. Not normally adjectives associated with a snack that contains matzoh and kosher for passover crispy o’s cereal! But, add mixed nuts, sugar, salt, cayenne, cumin, cinnamon, coriander and smoked paprika and magic happens.Ready to mixWatch the culinary alchemy occur.

Put them out on the table in little bowls, paper cones or little bags and let everyone munch. I doubt anyone will be offended.in gold bowlIn paper conesbags 2

Click here to print recipe for Passover Party Mix.

 

 

White Bean Hummus with Herb Olive Salad

on white plateThe curious folks over at America’s Test Kitchen have launched a new digital brand, Cook’s Science. I have a great fondness for understanding why things work in the kitchen. If you’re a food science geek like me, you’ll love it. I subscribed to their newsletter right away, and one of the first recipes to pop up in my inbox was this one for a white bean hummus.

The recipe was actually created to highlight the tepary bean. The tepary bean is higher in protein and fiber than other beans and is one of the most heat and drought tolerant crops in the world. At this time they are only available by mail order. Since I was in a hurry to make this, I just substituted dried white kidney beans (also called cannellini beans).

Of course you can buy ready made hummus at the supermarket. And, in a pinch, most of them are ok. Moving up a level from store bought is hummus made with canned beans. Ultimate hummus can really only be made with dried beans. Yes, it takes a bit of planning ahead, but the ultra smooth silky texture you get is worth it. Soak BeansBaking soda and salt are added to the soaking water. Both of these contribute to breaking down the tough cell walls of beans and contribute to the creamy consistency of the finished hummus. LemonThe usual suspects of lemon juice, garlic, tahini and cumin are added to this version. Where the similarity ends however, is how the garlic is added. The garlic is first pureed with the lemon juice and allowed to steep for 10 minutes. The infused lemon juice is strained out and the garlic is discarded. Turns out that the acidity in lemon juice, tames raw garlic’s harsh pungent bite. I love this kitchen hack. I’m excited to try it with vinegar and garlic in my next batch of vinaigrette. Taming the garlic beastBe patient when pureeing the beans. It will take a good four minutes to get a silky smooth hummus. smoothThe hummus is finished an herb and olive salad. Parsley and dill add a bright verdant freshness and olives pack a briny salty punch. herb olive toppingA  topping of toasted pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds add a delicate crunch.with seeded crackers

Click here to print recipe for White Bean Hummus with Herb and Olive Salad.

spread on pita

 

 

 

 

Muhamarra (Red Pepper, Walnut and Pomegranate Dip)

dip with beerI don’t often remember my dreams, but last night’s was so vivid that I feel compelled to tell you about it. In my dream, I led a protest march at the McGregor sock factory. We all carried signs, designed by me, that read, “We demand equal rights for all toes.” I was so confused when I woke up. I avoid confrontation at all cost, so I can’t for the life of me, figure out how I came to be leading a protest. If anyone is skilled in dream analysis, please enlighten me.

Clearly I don’t have answers to all the world’s injustices, but I can suggest a great new dip for Super Bowl Sunday. Small steps folks!

I first had this dip a few weeks ago at Fairouz, a Lebanese restaurant in Ottawa. When I moved to Ottawa over 25 years ago, it was one of the only great ethnic restaurants in town. We went often, but never on a Saturday night, as that was when they featured live music and belly dancers. Watching them always made me uncomfortable. Sadly, they closed their doors in 2005, and I really missed it.

When I heard that they had reopened, I was thrilled. Fairouz 2.0, as I call it, is just as delicious, but with a fresh modern twist on Middle Eastern food. Luckily we went with a bunch of friends, because we wanted to try almost everything on the grazing section of the menu. Our favourite was the muhamarra dip. Much easier to make than it is to pronounce. I googled the pronunciation and heard it pronounced like this, this and this.

Of course I quizzed our waiter about how to make this dip. All I could get out of him was red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses. I came home, did a little research and got to work creating. Almost all the recipes I found used some sort of binder, usually breadcrumbs. The go-to spices were commonly cumin and some sort of hot red peppers. Since Aleppo pepper is sadly unavailable, I went with a dried Turkish red pepper called Maras (or sometimes Marash).  I buy mine at Damas, a Middle Eastern supermarket in Ottawa. You can easily find it on Amazon as well. Pomegranate molasses (the syrup of boiled pomegranate juice), is also readily available at Middle Eastern supermarkets. Dip ingredientsMost recipes called for roasting and peeling fresh red peppers, but I was feeling a bit lazy, so I just used jarred roasted red peppers. Some brands are heavy on the vinegar, so taste the peppers first and rinse them if they taste too vinegary. Measure out all your ingredients and then start processing.

I garnished the finished dip with extra drizzles of olive oil and pomegranate molasses. A scatter of fresh pomegranate seeds and chopped toasted walnuts add a welcome crunch. Fresh mint sprigs look pretty. You can serve it with pita chips or warmed fresh pita. I used whole wheat mini pitas. on black plate

Click here to print recipe for Muhhammara.

ready to dip

 

 

Rustic Seeded Oat Crackers

butter 2I don’t really get the appeal of smoothies. Yes, I know they are jam-packed with tons of healthy foods, but honestly, they have no crunch. If I’m going to take in calories, I want to chew my food. (I make an exception for wine, because there are exceptions to every rule).with wine 3These crackers are ideal for when hunger strikes at 4:00 pm and I want to devour everything in sight. They satisfy my craving for salt and crunch. And, as a bonus, I know that they are densely packed with good- for-me ingredients.

The problem with most packaged crackers is that just a few never satisfy me. Plus, the list of ingredients almost always contains items I can’t pronounce, and probably shouldn’t be eating. The healthy packaged crackers, while packed with fibre, taste like cardboard.

These crackers are the creation of British food stylist and author Anna Jones. Her Instagram account is gorgeous. I just bought her new cookbook, A Modern Way to Cook, and I am so inspired to cook my way through it.

Oats are the main ingredient, the glue that holds all these seeds together. Feel free to play around with the seeds you add. I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, poppy, nigella and fennel.assortment of seedsready to mixAdd water, a few teaspoons of vegetable oil and maple syrup, and let it sit for about 10 minutes so that the oats can soak up all the moisture.mixedDivide the batter into 2 and roll each half out between 2 sheets of parchment paper. rolled outready for bakingOnce baked, let them cool and break into crackers. You can make them any size you like. I was curious to know the nutrient info for these crackers, so I did the calculations. Each large piece (recipe makes 16 large crackers) contains 85 calories, 1.5 grams of fibre and 3 grams of protein.

They are delicious plain, with butter and salt or with some olive tapenade. My friend Sandy has a great tapenade recipe.crckers in bowl on marble platterbutter 1

Click here to print recipe for Rustic Seeded Oat Crackers.

with wine 2