Today’s Accomplishment: Homemade Pita with Orange-Sesame Hummus

I just failed my nap.

Some people accomplish amazing things in life. Things you wouldn’t even think possible. Things that make you wonder if the accomplisher is even human. Even ordinary people, who we are sure are human, manage to do some impressive stuff.  Allow me to share a few examples, staying away from the obvious and clichéd (e.g. climbing Mt. Everest, booooo-ringggg!):

  • The “lost boys” of Sudan walking hundreds of miles through the desert to Ethiopia with nothing to eat, wear, or drink – and then ending up in Ethiopia – to find that it sucked there, too… and then surviving.
  • This dude who is running across Canada to promote getting kids to play outside. Running across CANADA. Running. (I can’t even get one kid to play outside, no matter how much I run.)
  • My friends who built their own house from scratch. And it’s a darn nice house too.
  • People who ace law school and then voluntarily write the Quebec Bar exam… over…and over…
  • Daycare workers.
  • People who manage to stay at home all day without succumbing at 2-hour intervals to the tempation of eating chocolate biscotti – and brewing up a little somethin’ to dip it in.

As for me, a big accomplishment looks something like not overspending on the groceries, preparing for my one meeting per month, or getting the diapers washed before we run out of clean ones.

I am reading staring at the pages of The Sentimentalists, the surprise Giller prize winner, and the following passage managed to penetrate my brain deep enough for me to register it:

“I had thought in those years, I suppose, having learned the lesson from my mother well, that it was foolish to ask for too much out of life, afterwards only to live in the wake of that expectation, an irreducible disappointment. But what pain, I thought now, could be greater than to realize that even the practical reality for which you had assumed to settle upon, did not hold – that even that was illusory? Would it not be better, then, to set your sights on some more fantastic and rare dream from which even in failing to might take some comfort in having once aspired?”

Oh, my, god. Depressing. While I am proud of having understood the paragraph, I was smacked in the face with a reality that I’ve kinda been shoving to the dusty corners of my brain for the last couple years. Child-rearing is a gas, and all, but in terms of expectations, well… I think I might as well let go of all of them right now. Stir them into my latte with a chocolate biscotti and drink ’em down. While I set myself some goals so ridiculously unattainable that I won’t feel in the least bit guilty about having failed them.

But before I do, I made a little promise to myself that I would post something besides dessert. So this week soon I am going to try and find it in me to share a couple of things that you can eat and not feel bad about AT ALL. For this first one, in fact, you can feel pretty darn good, cause these things are so satisfying, delicious, impressive and easy, you’ll never go back to store-bought pita. Unless you live in a diverse, bustling urban centre where there is amazing fresh pita to be bought just around the corner from where you live, which is not the case for me.

In the stores here, pita is either a greasy, doughy slab with no pocket, or a dry, cracking, pasty disc that rips when you try to stuff the pocket and that has an aroma reminiscent of cardboard. I have pretty much given up on pita here, but it is such a convenient little bread product that it always made me so sad. With pita, you can make sandwiches, you can use it as a pizza crust, you can cut it up and dip it in things, you can use it as a burger bun, and when it goes stale, you can brush spices and oil on it and bake it and turn it into pita chips. Oooooh, pita chips….

8 little balls, all ready for flattening

So I saw this recipe at The Fresh Loaf and it was so tempting. I was a little nervous about the puffing up part, but it worked a treat. Frida loves to roll out pitas almost as much as she loves to eat them, and it’s super fun to watch them puff up in the oven.

I know, I thought they were UFOs too.

I’m going to let you cruise over to the Fresh Loaf for the recipe and instructions cause it’s a site that’s fun to hang around a bit if you are into bread baking. I really didn’t alter the recipe at all, and my version might not be of much use to you:

I always use 1 cup whole wheat flour in there to make it taste a bit more interesting. Also don’t forget the sugar, it will help it to brown, and help the yeast to grow (You didn’t think I meant no sugar, did you?).

Removing them from the oven can be a bit of a bitch, the technique that works best for me is the oven-mitt-reach-sweep-and-grab. Tongs tend to tear the bread and spatulas…well…sometimes the pita slips off…  So just don those mitts and squint and sweep that pita onto your other mitt and plop it on the counter.

Once your pitas are sitting there steaming on your counter (and not in a ball of flames on the bottom of your oven back deck cause you dropped one on the element and threw it outside, ahem), you may decide you want to dip them in something. Or you may decide that you want to just eat them with butter melting on top. Either is OK. But if you want a recipe for hummus, here is one that I’ve been really enjoying lately:

Orange – sesame hummus

Makes about 2 cups. You need: a food processor, or a blender? Or an immersion blender? Magic stick? I can only tell you what I know: Food processor. Let me know if you use something else for yours.

1 can chick peas or equivalent cooked chick peas

1/2 cup tahini

1/4 cup olive oil

1-2 cloves garlic, minced, depending how much you like garlic

1 tsp sea salt

juice from at least 1/2 a lemon, taste and add more if you like it more lemony

Enough orange juice to make the hummus the consistency that you like.

A bit of sesame oil for drizzling

Some sesame seeds for decorating

Hummus is an inexact science, hence the inexact ingredients. Sorry if this is not your style, you just have to taste and add what you want.

1. Put everything but the OJ into the bowl of the food processor and blend till smooth. As it gets stuck on the walls of the bowl, add some OJ through the feed tube, a bit at a time, till it gets a bit more liquidy. Stop every now and then to scrape down the sides and test the hummus, adding more salt, OJ, and/or lemon juice as you deem necessary. Be careful, I added too much juice without thinking the other day, and now I have a soupy hummus.

2. Place hummus in a nice bowl, drizzle some sesame oil on it and top with a cute little sprinkling of sesame seeds. Black, or white, or both! Beauty! Dip away, you dips!

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No-Effort Buckwheat Bread

There are a lot of things in my life that take a lot of effort: Getting up in the morning (morning? does 4:37 count as morning?) without walking into my closed bedroom door, getting the Demon fed and dressed without losing my shit, thinking of tasty, creative and healthy meals to eat 7 days a week and not freaking when no one notices them, deciding on my daily schedule, staying up past 8 pm, etc. You get the picture: poor me. However, I am also really into making good food, which often requires a significant time investment. So when I discovered that the less effort you put into making bread, the better it tastes – well, you understand, this was a life-changing discovery. I’d go so far as to call it an epiphany except that I didn’t figure it out for myself. You can read a bit about the history here.

I initiated my no-knead revolution with the abbreviated version popularized by Jeff  Hertzberg and Zoë Francois in their book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day because I thought that the original “NYT recipe” required far too much foresight: “Let’s see, if I need bread in 2 days, and a train is arriving that day, but 6 hours late, going 15 km/hour, I should start making this loaf today at 4 pm”. Yeah – I was a big fan of the quickie version for a long time, which requires a rising time of only about 5 hours. I would make a double batch once a week and it really didn’t require much effort.  I adapted it all the time, adding seeds, nuts, and playing with different flours (whee!). But I finally realized one day that the bread tasted extremely yeasty. Which stood to reason, cause there was a ridiculous amount of yeast in it.

So recently,  I was trying to duplicate an incredible walnut-rye sourdough that I buybought at my local bakery (before Ben got allergic to nuts on Friday), and I fell back into discussions about no-knead techniques. Sari would have loved it. My experiments brought me back to the famous NYT recipe, which kept turning up in recipes I read about bread. I decided to give it a shot (I’m taking risks lately), and I haven’t looked back. After a few loaves, I tossed some buckwheat flour into the mix, and was so delighted by the beautiful rise, the airy-yet-chewy crumb filled with custardy holes, and the subtle, nutty buckwheat flavour. Little black specks of buckwheat on the inside and a golden, crackly crust. Easy as pie… no – pie is hard – it’s WAY easier than pie. True, it takes a little thinking ahead, but it’s worth it. Actual hands-on time is about 10 seconds so you can do it while you wait for your espresso machine to heat up.

Now here are some interesting facts about buckwheat I didn’t know. For one, it’s not wheat! It’s not even a grain. Poor buckwheat, it’s just a “pseudo-grain”. Its official status notwithstanding, buckwheat outperforms most “real” grains when it comes to being good for you. It’s almost a complete protein, is gluten-free, and has lots of vitamin B. It also “will grow on anything”, according to Tom Bilek, a Minnesota buckwheat farmer. I should give it a try since stuff that grows in our garden has to be able to grow on “anything”. Buckwheat is also a character on the Little Rascals who was subsequently impersonated by Eddie Murphy on SNL back in the good ol’ days of this show.

Eddie Murphy as Buckwheat

Buckwheat is strong-flavoured and since it’s not wheat, you can’t really use it on its own in place of flour. But it’s great added to other flours in pancakes, muffins, and yes – bread. The Demon readily devours buckwheat pancakes.  I inwardly gloat (outwardly displaying no emotion) as I watch her eat them, thinking “you are eating protein, and you don’t know it!”  Recently I was so bold as to add grated zucchini to her pancakes so not only did she get stealth protein, she got stealth veggies too. And lots of not-so-stealth maple syrup. She likes this pseudo-grain super-bread toasted, too, with strawberry jam or apple butter. Who wouldn’t?

Golden, crackly crust and a buckwheat-flecked crumb....

No-Knead Buckwheat Bread

adapted from the infamous New York Times NKBread recipe

Start your prep the day before; the total time from mixing bowl to crispy brown loaf is about 21 hours! about 5 minutes of actual hands-on time, though.

What you need, apart from the  ingredients:

  • Parchment paper,
  • a pot with a lid that can be put in the oven. Ideally, a small (3-5 pint quart! sorry!) cast-iron dutch oven. This is important for retaining moisture as the bread cooks. It results in a crackly crust and a beautiful crumb with lots of custardy holes.

Ingredients:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

1/4 tsp instant yeast

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 2/3 cups water

Cornmeal

Extra flour for dusting

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients together, then mix in the water. The dough will be wetter than normal bread dough, and too sticky to work with your hands. Cover the bowl with plastic and let it sit in a warmish area for at least 12 but recommended 18 hours, or until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough has risen (The long rise is how you can get a loaf out of such a small amount of yeast, and how you can get away without kneading. The longer it sits, the more complex the flavour of the bread).

    this is what it looks like after about 18 hours
  2. Prepare a piece of parchment paper about 40 X 40 cm or big enough that it will line your pot. Dust it liberally with cornmeal or flour.
  3. Liberally flour a work surface. Flour your hands too. Dump the dough out onto the flour and, working quickly, fold the dough over on itself once or twice.
  4. Form the dough into a sort of ball and plop it seam-side down onto the prepared parchment paper. Dust the top liberally with corn meal or flour. Cover again with a piece of plastic or a clean tea towel and set it aside to rise again for 2 hours.

    The dough ball ready to rise for 2 hours
  5. 45 minutes before you are going to bake, pre-heat your oven to 450 F. Place the pot inside the oven to heat up.
  6. After the 2 hour rise, take the pot out of the oven, pick up the parchment paper with the dough on it, and carefully place it in the pot. The paper will wrinkle a little but that’s ok. With a sharp knife or razor, slash the top once or twice in a nice pattern.  Put the lid on and pop it in the oven for 30 minutes.

    into the pot it goes - you can smooth out the wrinkles in the paper a little but they don't really matter
  7. Take off the lid and continue to bake until the bread is deep brown, 15-ish more minutes. For me it usually only takes about 10 minutes, so keep an eye on it during this time. When it’s done, take it out of the pot using the parchment paper as a sort of basket, and allow it to cool on a rack.

Now, the hard part: allow the bread to cool before you slice it! This really makes a difference in the texture.

Waiting for it to cool allows you time to appreciate its beauty and anticipate its crackly crunch and creamy crumb...

There are so many ways to adapt this recipe. Playing with different kinds of flours ( A cup of rye is nice in place of whole wheat/buckwheat), & additions (I’ve had great success adding 1/2 cup scottish or stone-cut oats to the mix before the 1st rise, also a cranberry-pecan version that was a big hit, until Ben suddenly got a wicked case of hives and decided he’s allergic to pecans), I have never really had a bad loaf of no-effort bread.

regular white/whole wheat blend with about a cup of dried cranberries and a cup of chopped, toasted pecans (pumpkin seeds in this one too)

Oh – and it toasts like a charm, too!