Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Pita and Mana'eesh

Today, instead of wasting my time watching Maury Povich and All My Children, I decided to bake some bread.

I used a recipe from Claudia Roden's New Book of Middle Eastern Food from Khubz, or pita bread. Luckily, the dough can also be used for Mana'eesh, a sort-of Arabic pizza, with a savory thyme and sesame topping. Hubby and I procured a big bag of Zatar (thyme) yesterday, and I wanted to give him a treat of freshly baked Mana'eesh.

1 tbsp active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups luke warm water
1/4 tsp sugar
About 6 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
More olive oil for frying
About 1 cup Zatar*, mixed with 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Mix together the sugar with 1/2 cup water. Dissolve the yeast in this sugar water, then set aside for about five minutes, until it begins to froth. Pour into the mixer bowl, along with the remaining water.

2. Using the paddle attachment, mix in 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time. Remove the paddle and allow to rest for ten minutes.

3. Using the dough hook, mix in the salt and oil. Add the remaining flour gradually, a few tablespoons at a time, until a the dough forms a ball. (you may have leftover flour.)

4. Continue to knead with the doughhook for about 10 minutes. The dough should be soft to the touch, but spring back when you poke it!

5. Remove the dough to a greased bowl, and turn to coat it with oil. Cover with a cloth or Saran wrap. Allow to rise 2 hours in a warm place, or until doubled in bulk.

6. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fareinheit and place a baking sheet in the center of the oven.

7. Punch the dough down and divide in two. One for Mana'eesh and one for pita. First, for the pita, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, and roll them out to about 5 inches in diameter. Cover a soft cloth and set aside to rise again, for another twenty minutes. Meanwhile, for the mana'eesh, roll out the other half of dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Grab a large glass and cut out circles. Repeat with leftover dough. Cover the circles as you go with a soft cloth.

8. Using the rolling pin, roll out the circles until they are as thin as possible without breaking. Stretch with your hands too!

9. Place a frying pan on medium-high heat. Spread 1/2 to 1 tbsp prepared zatar onto the dough. Heat 2 tsp oil in the frying pan and drop the dough onto the pan, zatar-side up.

10. Once the dough has crisped up on the bottom and bubbles begin appearing on the surface, (about 2 minutes) place it into the oven on the baking sheet. Pop any very large bubbles. Bake in the oven for approximately four minutes. Continue to prepare the rest of the dough!

This recipe makes about 20 5-inch "pizzas" of dough. They freeze exceptionally well, and I eat them all the time as a mid-morning or afternoon snack. I put a frozen disc on top of my two-slice toaster and it tastes as good as it does fresh!

Back to the pita bread: after twenty minutes, they should have risen some more. Bake them for 5 minutes on the hot baking sheet, about 2 or 3 at a time. Once they come out of the oven, wrap them in a towel to prevent hardening. They will be puffed up and soft and fluffy on the inside! Yummy!

* "Zatar" translates in Arabic to "thyme" but it is also used to refer to the mixture of 1 part dried thyme with 1 part toasted sesame seed and 1/4-1/3 part sumac. This is what you want whne making Mana'eesh. Check when you are buying it whether or not it has sesame seeds. Otherwise, just buy the sesame seeds as well and mix it up!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Spicy Thai Chicken salad

This sweet, sour, and spicy salad has been known to cause sweating, salivating and smiles of satisfaction.

For the sauce:
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/8 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tb lime zest
1 tb lemon zest
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
2/3 cup sweet chilli sauce*
1 1/2 tb oyster sauce*
1 1/2 tb fish sauce*

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
Makes 1 1/2 cups sauce.

For the salad mix:
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup julienned red peppers
1/2 cup julienned orange or yellow peppers
1/2 cup julienned red onion
1 cup fried chow mein noodles**
1/2 cup bean sprouts
5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
15 pieces of leaf lettuce, washed and trimmed.

1. Fry chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Allow to cool, then julienne.
2. Combine all ingredients. Toss with 3/4 cup sauce immediately before serving.
3. Spoon salad into lettuce leaves to enjoy out of your hand, or julienne lettuce and pile salad mix on top.


*Sweet chilli sauce, oyster sauce, and fish sauce can be found at all Asian markets and most big brand-name grocery stores. Here's a picture:

**And here is a picture of the chow mein noodles I use.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

LA Farmer's Market

Today G and I took a small trip to the Los Angeles farmer's market. Located at Third and Farifax, it holds a piece of prime real estate and I was excited to see what a farmer's market in the heart of one of The United State's largest cities would be like. I've had a few experiences in with markets in the past, and even as a teenager I learned to love the market atmosphere.

My mother would coerse me with promises of freshly made cheese peirogies to get me from bed early on Saturday mornings. Together with my grandmother and her little pomerainian, we would drive out of the city to a small village called St. Jacobs.

A small community in the Waterloo region of Ontario, St Jacobs boasts of the largest Year-round farmer's market in Canada. However, ten years ago when my mother and I first began our weekend trips there, it was a small country market, with Mennonite farmers hawking produce and a few artisan vendors. It was not as 'lame' as I feared- I suppose I was just begining to nuture my life-long obsession with food.

Farmers we selling fruit from the beds of trucks and large folding church-basement bake-sale type tables. Women wearing bonnets prepared corned beef briskets, peirogies with sour cream and belgium waffles with real fresh maple syrup. They set the bar high in St. Jacobs, from that day on I expected low prices, excellent produce and a 'country' atmosphere from any farmer's market I encountered.

I was excited to see what was in store for us at the Los Angeles farmer's market.
I hoped for a 'country-comes-to-the-city' atmosphere, an oasis of real life inside this city of plastic surgery, entertainment and all it's falsehoods. "This market has been here ever since the Depression," I said to hubby as he drove us into West Hollywood. "It was developed to help the farmers generate income." My eyes were wide, taking in all new scenery as we drove through Inglewood and past many oil pumps. I was already thinking of what I would buy at the market: a basket of strawberries, maybe a couple steaks for dinner and some pastries if they looked REALLY good.

I knew farmer's markets inside big cities were different than St. Jacob's. Back in Toronto, in college, my friend Paul and I would plan lunch outings to the St. Lawrence market with a few of our classmates. It was a short walk to the pier on Wednesday afternoons to procure something a little more satisfying for a few budding chefs than the cafeteria had to offer. We would walk the full length around the oblong circle, watching fish mongers in rubber gloves filet fish and butchers wearing soiled aprons manhandle sides of beef. We argued over which butcher had the best looking steaks, and monitored prices between them all. There were often long lines at favorite lunch spots, such as the Italian deli downstairs where we often ate veal milanese or chicken parmesean sandwiches. Another favorite was churasso chicken, on a soft white bun with extra sauce and mayo. The line would stretch across the walkway: full of students, professionals looking impatient, and sometimes, local chefs carrying parcels meant for their restaurants. After lunch, we would hit the produce vendors, who had their products piled in boxes with small handwritten signs proclaiming their cost. Which ever vendor had the best fruit at the lowest price usually won our buisness, and we would often buy a box of strawberries or a bag of cherries to munch on during the walk back to school. 'Wouldn't it be great to buy all your groceries here?', someone was likely to comment. A lofty goal, and one on which we all could agree.
I couldn't wait to see how the LA market measured up to my rose-coloured view of Wednesday afternoons at St. Lawrence, and the fading memory of Mennonite fruit. As G and I approached the building, I immeadiatly noticed how well-kept and clean everything was. The first shop I noticed was selling waffles and panckes with strawberry sauce and I immeadiatly regretted the bowl of oatmeal I ate for breakfast. Around the corner, and we found a butcher, a wonderful-smelling bakery and a produce vendor. I stopped in shock at the 'Whole Foods'-quality of the displays of produce.

I was expecting to find ripe and beautiful products, but the set-up was perfect and not at all what I have come to anticipate from farmer's markets. It actually turned me off buying anything, since it was so much like a grocery store. I only counted two produce vendors, two butchers, and one fish monger. And I didn't see a single person in a dirty apron. The market was fitting for Los Angeles- everything is dressed up and super-clean. The prices were NOT cheaper than the grocery store. In fact, I didn't notice many people buying groceries at all- it seemed like everyone was there just to wander around and bask in the glow of BEING AT a farmer's market rather than embracing it, and actaully purchasing stuff.

The farmer's market at the Grove is a perfect example of how commercialism can engulf and consume anything in it's path. The purpose of farmer's markets is to give the farmers a chance to interact with both the consumers and their competition,, and cut out the middleman to offer their products at a reduced cost. It is supposed to create community between the consumers and the producers and also friendly competition between vendors. At the Los Angeles farmer's market, I found no community or competition. What I did find was a tourist destination with inflated prices and the bland facade of just another grocery store.
I always
Here's what they should do: by giving spcae to many farmers, at a low rent, it will encourage both low prices and people to buy their groceries there. Other than lower price, freshness, and supporting the farmers directly, what is the point of having it at all? As a tourist destination? Maybe it is. It was just SO commercial.