Friday, April 1, 2011

Armenian Lavash (updated version) and Eastern Mediterranean Hummus

In our introduction to Mama and Papa Metafora’s blog, we mentioned that over the years we have simplified our cooking. Well, lavash is not one of those simplified recipes, though it’s not impossibly complex, either. It is an Armenian flat bread, yet it contains yeast – hence bubbles. Along with crumpets (good quality ones are not available in Cleveland), we cannot buy Lavash here, at least not the 20 inch rounds. We recently had several packages mailed to us by an excellent lavash bakery in Fresno, California; for double the cost of the bread, they promised special packaging so the bread, which resembles huge crackers (though it’s a totally different experience), would not fall to pieces in the mail. The bread arrived in pieces. So it is worth baking it yourself. For a picutre and more information about lavash, see below - at the end of the blog posts.
When I was teaching fifth grade, I shared lavash with my class – first dry, then wet – calling it the bread that “can be washed.” I briefly ran it under the classroom sink, placed it in a tea towel for a few minutes, and then spread butter and jam over it. The kids loved it. “Any more ‘lawash,’” they kept asking until the end of the year. But my favorite memory of lavash is from the 1950s: wetting it (but no tea towel treatment) and topping it with a few thick slices of tomatoes from my Dad’s garden, grown to perfection in the San Joaquin Valley sun, and then adding from last night’s barbeque a slice of eggplant and roasted jalapeno – and finally back to the garden for a little handful of Mom’s purple basil (she called it Armenian basil) topped with a pinch of salt, crushed red pepper, and coarsely ground black pepper. This was an open-faced sandwich on bread which was crispy yet slightly moist. Yum!

If you are into yeast breads, this is a fairly straightforward recipe. I use my Kitchen-Aid to mix, but our lavash-expert son prefers the “zen” of hand mixing. The annoying part is rolling out the yeast dough, which thinks it is the ocean and wants to come back on itself. This recipe makes eight wonderful 11-inch rounds (rather than the much harder-to-handle 20-inch ones), though I usually make four at a time and freeze the other half of the dough after first rising. Homemade lavash tastes just as wonderful but is thinner and crispier than bakery lavash. It keeps for up to a month in a cool, dry place.
Lavash recipe (revised version). Ingredients: 1½ cups warm water (110-115 degrees); ½ teaspoon active dry yeast (preferably not rapid-rise); ½ teaspoon granulated sugar; 2 ¾ to 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (can use up to half whole wheat flour, if you’d like); 1 teaspoon salt; and 2 tablespoons honey.
First proof your yeast, in order to avoid heartbreak of inactive yeast (which in over 55 years of baking has never yet happened to me, though it could). Pour ¼th cup of the water into a small bowl, stir in ½ teaspoon of sugar, and sprinkle the yeast. After a minute or so, stir to dissolve the yeast. In the next couple of minutes, yeast should grow thicker and bubbly (if it does not, discard and try again). In the MIXER version, pour in rest of water, yeast mixture, honey, and mix with the paddle beater. In a bowl whisk together the flour and salt, and add half to the mixer and beat until smooth. Replace paddle beater with the dough hook, and gradually add the rest of the flour mixture; you may not need it all, or you may need a little more flour, in order to make the dough smooth and elastic, just like hand-kneaded dough. In the HAND-KNEADED version, mix in a deep bowl the flour and salt. Mix well in center and pour in yeast mixture plus the remaining cup of water. Mix with a large spoon until ingredients are well blended. Add flour as necessary, until firm dough is formed. Knead on lightly floured surface for ten minutes, sprinkling occasionally with just enough flour to keep from sticking. The goal is a smooth and elastic dough (ideal consistency should feel like one’s earlobe).
Now, in EITHER VERSION, the next step is to gather the dough in a ball and place in a lightly oiled or buttered bowl, turning it over to coat the dough. Cover lightly with a kitchen towel, and place the bowl in a warm place free from drafts (about 85 degrees) for about 2 to 3 hours, or until dough has doubled in size. Punch the dough down, and divide in 8 equal parts. You may now freeze some of the individual balls, and thaw them out when you want to proceed to the next step. Place the balls you plan to roll out on a lightly floured surface. Cover with a towel and let rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. With a rolling pin, make each ball into a flattened round, working on two pieces at a time. Roll out first piece on lightly floured surface (circle desired) as far as it wants to go, usually 5 or 6 inches in diameter. Set aside this piece, and give the second piece the same treatment; return then to the first piece and roll out some more until it seems to go as far as it wants to, and again return to the second piece – alternating until you have “round” (or oval) approximately 11 to 12 inches in diameter. Gently place the dough on a thin (not insulated) cookie sheet, ungreased. With a fork, prick the top of the dough in 6 or 7 places. Continue making the next pair of lavash in the same way, up to the number you desire. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes (turning cooking sheet around at the half way point). The lavash is done when the rounds are slightly browned and puffy; watch closely to prevent burning – for these cooking times can vary widely due to ovens and thickness of breads. Cool this excellent flat bread on a rack, and store in a cool dry place. 
Here are some ways to serve lavash. CRISP: Just break the dry crackery rounds apart to eat in a size you like – it is great with cheese, peanut or almond butter, hummus, etc. MOIST: Sprinkle lavash lightly with water (or very briefly hold it under running cool water) and immediately shake off excess and wrap in a clean (of course) kitchen towel for a minute or more, depending on how soft you’d like it to become. All kinds of sandwiches can be made from here, leaving lots of room for creativity. Perhaps spread it with cream cheese and add lox on top, then roll up. Or make a great Italian sandwich with cheese, salami, tomato, etc. Wonderful shish kebob sandwiches can be made (as described earlier in the post). It’s also great with falafel or chopped liver or egg salad. The everything bread. Sometimes I sprinkle my dough rounds at the end with sesame seeds or “sev gundigs” (black seeds in Armenian, Nigella seeds in India); if seeds are added, sprinkle at the end and go over the raw rounds once with a rolling pin before baking.
Since Hummus is so good with lavash, there seems to be a true multicultural spirit at work, and so what better place for Papa’s recipe for hummus. Here it is.
Hummus recipe. Ingredients: 1 can of garbanzo beans (i.e., chick peas – appx. 15 ounces – if you wish, of course, you may want to soak a bag of dried garbanzos overnight); 1 large clove of garlic, boiled or microwaved in water for 45 seconds and crushed (this is our method of making garlic easier on our stomachs at this point in our lives!); juice of half a lemon (about 1½ tablespoons); 1½ tablespoons of water; 1½ tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil; 1½ tablespoons of tahini; ¼ teaspoon salt; ground cumin and cayenne pepper. Drain the garbanzos and rinse them; put them into a food processor along with the crushed garlic, lemon juice, water, olive oil, tahini, and salt. Process for two or three minutes until it is quite creamy (the best texture). If the mixture seems too dry, add a little more olive oil and lemon juice. Spoon out the mixture into a bowl and dust lightly with cumin and cayenne (to taste – and tolerance). This tasty hummus goes well also with oil-cured black olives.
My next post will offer recipes for Easter and Passover goodies, including the “Secret to light Matzo Balls.”

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