Friday, October 23, 2009

Bolani flatbread

Makes 6-8

Bread seems to be the bomb right now, after a myriad of Lebanese treats last week, here's something so easy, but just that little bit different. Bolani is a delicious flaky flatbread, originally from Afghanistan, but is something popping up all over the shop now. Can be cooked and served just as it is, but is also pretty fine stuffed with anything from cooked and choppe spinach to some gorgeous simmered lentils.

500g plain flour
1 tsp salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
150ml olive oil, plus extra for cooking

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre, and add the eggs, olive oil and 250ml water. Bring together to make a ball of dough. Knead on a floured work surface for 10-15 minutes until very soft and elastic. Roll the dough into balls, each roughly the size of a tennis ball.

Cover with a damp cloth, and leave to rest for 30 minutes. Oil the work surface and spread out one of the balls of dough, gently pulling the edges to stretch it as thin and wide as possible.

Dust the surface with a little flour, and pleat the pastry over and over like a fan. Roll up this pleated piece of dough to make a curled ball. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough. Leave to rest for another 15 minutes.

Heat a heavy frying pan over a medium-high heat. Use your hands to pat a curled ball of dough into a circle 20cm in diameter. Add a little oil to the pan, and cook the flat disc of layered dough so that it is golden brown on each side. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough.

Serve the flatbread warm, either as they are with dips such as hoummus or tzatziki, or with pickles and yoghurt. Alternatively, folded and filled with anything that comes to mind.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Having just come back from the most amazing weekend in Beirut, I can now safely say that a properly made manakeesh for breakfast is one of the true culinary finds I've made this year. If you don’t have time to make your own bread, I guess you can use a pita instead, but trust me on this one, if close to perfection is sought, you might as well gloss over this recipe and plan your next holiday in Lebanon, the only way to do this kind of food justice is to go to the source.

250g all purpose flour
20g fresh yeast or 2 tsp dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
about 125ml warm water
2 tblsp olive oil

In a large non-metal bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Form the mixture into a mound and create a well in the centre. Pour the warm water and sugar into a bowl and when the sugar has dissolved, crumble in the yeast.

When the yeast is frothy, pour it into the well in the flour. Mix it together with your hands or a wooden spoon. You’ll end up with a dry, crumbling mixture that isn’t much like dough. Cover and set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes.

Now add 2 tblsp olive oil and knead it into the dough. Add a little more warm water and knead it in to create a more dough like consistency. You’re done when the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.

Form the dough into a ball, place in a lightly greased bowl and turn it over again to make sure the top is greased. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for 1 hour.

When the dough has risen, turn in out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until the dough becomes firm again. Now you’ll need to decide whether you want one big manakeesh or several small ones. Take the amount of dough you want (a small section or the whole thing), and roll it out with a rolling pin until it’s a little less than half an inch (about half a centimeter) thick. Move the dough rounds to a lightly greased baking sheet and pinch all the way around the edges to form a raised edge.

Now add your toppings, place in an oven pre-heated to 200c and bake for barely a few minutes.

Manakeesh toppings should be applied fairly thinly, for an authentic taste, don’t pile them on thick.

Olive oil and za’atar. Spread a thin coating of olive oil over the top of the bread and then spread on a layer of za’atar.

Cheese - jibne and akkawi or ricotta will work fine. Avoid Greek feta, though, as it tends to be too salty. Another option is to spread on some labneh after baking, while the bread is still warm.

Vegetables - a mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, and olives.

Minced lamb - sauté the lamb in vegetable oil until lightly browned, then add finely chopped tomato, along with pepper and parsley if you like, spread it on the bread, and pop it in the oven.