If you picture yourself walking down the path of your life, what do you see? A straight path? Hilly with amazing vistas? Through deep dark woods? All of the above? I’m starting to feel like in my own life, I’m taking a rather circuitous, meandering route. It’s as though I’m putsing and poking about, the actual path way off somewhere to the left. Back there, before I got distracted by a berry bush or a patch of wildflowers and wandered off. Sometimes it feels as if there is no continuity, no path at all. But, then I find myself looking at a familiar tree or rock and thinking, ‘hey! I’ve been this way before!’ And, each time I touch back onto the path, I have come at least a very short distance further than I had before. It’s another way in which my cooking, amusingly, mirrors life.
Maybe you do this too. You discover a recipe, or try making something new, and fall in love with it. So you go through a spurt of making it over and over and over. Until it starts to come burbling out of your ears, and then you stop. And completely forget about it. Until you come across it in your old notes to yourself, or a meal somewhere else jogs your memory, or, I don’t know, it comes to you in a dream. Then you start making it again, maybe tweaking it or experimenting with it, making it more your own, and you wonder, ‘Why on earth did I ever stop making this? It’s totally the bomb!’ (yes, I’m sorry to say that inside your mind you still call things ‘the bomb’). But, eventually you stop making it and forget about it, until you rediscover it and reclaim it once more.
Okay, maybe you actually don’t do this, but I can tell you for certain that I do. And, these Turkish flatbreads are a prime example of it. I first encountered a description of Turkish flatbread a few years ago in the great Paula Wolfert’s, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. It’s one of a small handful of foods in the book that don’t take between 4 hours and a week to cook, but even if it had, I probably would have made it. In the preface to the recipe Ms. Wolfert conjurs up the aura of a steamy, bustling marketplace in Turkey where she bought slices of the slightly flaky, fragrant bread, bubbling and oozing with pungent cheese, still scalding hot from a coal fired oven. Upon reading it, I immediately went and checked on the price of tickets to Turkey. Yikes! Nothing doing. So, I settled for baking flatbread, though settled is hardly the right word for it. Her version calls for simply stuffing them with runny, stinky (in the good way) teleme cheese, which is what I did. And, for several weeks I did my best to monopolize the local cheese shop’s supply of teleme, and baked veritable stacks of flatbread. But, as suddenly as I started, I stopped. I probably got distracted by a desire to eat tomatoes, or kale, or something.
About a year later I was trying to decide on a vegetarian supper to cook for some friends, and I suddenly recalled the flatbread, more specifically a version mentioned in the cookbook that was stuffed with parsley and feta. So, I made that. I loved the idea of combining herbs and cheese, but oh boy, you had better like parsley a lot if you’re going to give that one a try. However, the idea stuck vaguely in my mind, resurfacing recently and nudging me to experiment. And let me tell you, I think this time I’ve found some versions that will really stick!
I wanted greens, but not the intensity of just parsley. I also wanted some very distinct Middle Eastern flavors. Finally, I wanted gooey, bubbly cheese, but something mild enough that it would not fight with strongly spiced greens. I’m still quite taken with making herb jam, and I’ve been playing with different flavors and combinations of herbs and greens – the potential permutations are pretty much endless. It turns out it makes a fabulous stuffing for the bread! Especially if you spice the greens with Za’atar, a distinctively Middle Eastern spice blend that is a bit tart, tangy, herbaceous, and nutty. (If you invest in some Za’atar, you’ll discover you can sprinkle it on all manner of things – from eggs, to bread rolls, to vegetables, to soup – to jazz them up. If you don’t, then try spicing the greens with a pinch each of cumin, coriander, and paprika.) As for the cheese, well, if you’re looking for a mild but distinctive, eminently meltable cheese, what else comes to mind but fresh mozzarella?! Finally, to up the creamy factor and add a little tang, I dollopped in a bit of thick, Greek yogurt. Delicious. (Though next I’m going to give it a try with feta which I think might be even more amazing.)
Something about using fresh mozzarella reminded me of a sandwich I once had with figs and mozzarella. It’s a stunning combination. If I had been able to come by fresh figs, I would have made the second flatbread with mozzarella, sliced figs, and honey, and maybe a little lemon zest. Instead, I discovered that a little fig jam worked as a perfectly delicious stand in. Golden and crusty, zesty, and gooey, I’m already looking forward to rediscovering these many times.
Turkish Stuffed Flatbread Savory or Sweet (adapted from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert)
A dear friend of mine is married to a wonderful man from Turkey who also happens to be an awesome cook – I’m angling for some lessons – so, if these aren’t actually very true to Turkish cooking, I’m sure I’ll hear about it. But, they’ll still taste good!
- 1 ½ cups all purpose (or bread) flour
- ½ tsp. salt
- 3 Tbs. olive oil
- 3 tsp. lemon juice
- 5 Tbs. cold water
- You can either combine the ingredients in a food processor or mix them by hand in a bowl. First combine the flour and salt, then mix in the olive oil and lemon juice. Pour in the water while mixing, forming a crumbly dough. Press the dough together into a ball, then knead for a couple of minutes on a very lightly floured surface (if the dough is too dry, add in another splash of water).
- Divide the dough into two equal sized balls, then flatten each into a disk. Rub the disks with a little more olive oil and wrap them in plastic wrap and allow them to chill in the refrigerator over night or up to several days.
- When ready to use, remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to return to room temperature. Then, on a lightly floured surface, roll out each disk into a thin (about 1/8 inch thick) circle. It should be over a foot in diameter. To fill and bake the flatbread, see below.
Za’atar greens and fresh mozarella
- 1 large bunch parsley
- 6 cups spinach
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 tsp. Za’atar
- salt and pepper to taste
- 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced into ¼ inch thick slices
- 4 Tbs. Greek style plain yogurt
- Wash the spinach and parsley and cut off the bottoms of the stems. Steam the spinach, parsley, and whole garlic cloves for 10 minutes, then allow to cool. Squeeze some of the excess water out of the greens, then coarsely chop. Smash the garlic cloves to a paste. In a large sautee pan, heat the olive oil over medium, then add the garlic paste and Za-atar. Stir for a couple of minutes for the spices to release their fragrance, then stir in the chopped greens to coat with the spices. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the greens are somewhat dried. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Next, assemble and bake the flatbreads. Preheat the oven to 550F with a pizza stone in it if you have one. On a lightly floured surface, top the bottom rolled out dough round with mozzarella slices leaving a small amount of space around the edges. Spread the greens over the mozzarella. Dot the yogurt all over the top of the greens, then lightly spread it out a bit. Lay the other rolled out dough round on top. Pinch and press the bottom and top edges together to seal (it can help to moisten your fingers a bit).
- Lightly brush the top of the dough with olive oil, and if desired sprinkle with sesame seeds. Make a few short gashes in the center of the top of the bread for steam to escape. Use a pizza peel to move the stuffed dough into the oven onto the pizza stone (if you don’t have a pizza stone, it works fine to make and bake the flatbread on a parchment-lined cookie sheet). Bake, keeping the oven door closed!, for about 10-12 minutes. The bread should be golden with brown splotches (it should be a bit darker than in the photos – I was too impatient!) and the cheese will be bubbling. Remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly, then cut into wedges and serve. A chopped cucumber, tomato, and chickpea salad makes a wonderful accompaniment as does tabbouleh.
Fig and Fresh Mozarella
- Several Tablespoons of fig jam
- 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced into ¼ inch thick slices
- 4 Tbs. Greek style plain yogurt
- Preheat the oven to 550F, with a pizza stone if you have one. Spread the bottom round of dough with jam, leaving a bit of space around the edge. Spread yogurt on top of the jam, then cover with the slices of mozzarella. Lay the top dough circle on top of this, pinch and press the bottom and top edges together to seal (it can help to moisten your fingers a bit). Lightly brush the top of the dough with olive oil, and make a few short gashes in the center of the top of the bread for steam to escape.
- Use a pizza peel to move the stuffed dough into the oven onto the pizza stone (if you don’t have a pizza stone, it works fine to make and bake the flatbread on a greased cookie sheet). Bake, keeping the oven door closed(!), for about 10-12 minutes. The bread will be golden with brown splotches and the cheese will be bubbling. Allow to cool slightly so you don’t burn your mouth to pieces, then slice like a pizza, and serve.