Today, we’re traveling far in a visit to Egypt. Pyramids, pharaohs, the Nile, and sphinx… Cultures that have existed for so long are fascinating to look at for the clear understanding and vision of the way things so long ago, and how it compares to the way they have evolved and modernized as the world has changed. Especially when you have the constant movement of a modern city like Cairo set against a background of pyramids that have stood for thousands of years.
Bread, for all of it’s basic, ancient traditions is still one of the most relied-on food sources in the world, and aish baladi, a round pita-like flatbread, is one of the most important foods for modern Egyptians. Literally translated, it means “village bread,” though aish also means life, showing just how vital a part of the Egyptian diet it is. Sold in the village market places and supermarkets or made in homes to be eaten with every meal, it can serve as a kind of utensil to scoop up food, or used as sandwich bread with grilled meats between flatbreads.
I don’t have the open flame oven that usually creates the soft, puffy insides and the crisp, crackling outside of an authentic baladi in the open Egyptian marketplaces, so an oven cranked as high as I could get it with a baking stone inside did the job quite well. Or at least as good as it gets until I design my dream kitchen with a real wood-burning pizza oven in it—a girl can dream, right?
I served it with fresh vegetables and tahini, a basic sesame dip that lends itself to so much creativity and experimentation. I added cooked carrots for a pretty yellow-orange dip and a hint of sweetness to contrast with the tang of the lemony tahini. Let your imagination run wild, and it could be sooooo colorful and interesting—roasted beets for purple, roasted peppers for orange or red, or maybe some parsley for green. It may be traditional food, but you can always make it unique and modern with a little twist of your own, right?
It's finally warm enough to have back-yard picnics, and this was the perfect way to kick the season off-- fresh, light, and healthy, just a hint of the summer that's coming.
Carrot Tahini Dip
Recipe Inspiration from Saveur.com // Makes about 2.5 cups
- 1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut in half crosswise and lengthwise
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup lemon juice, preferably fresh
- 3 ice cubes
- Dash of salt
- Olive oil and a bit of chopped parsley, for garnish
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add carrots. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and add to a blender with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, ice cubes, and salt. Refrigerate for at least half an hour and garnish with a drizzle of oil and parsley before serving. Serve with vegetables and aish baladi or pitas.
Aish Baladi // Whole Wheat Flat breads
Recipe from Saveur.com // makes 8 aish baladi
- 1.5 tsp. active dry yeast
- 1-1/4 cups warm water
- 2.5 cups of whole wheat flour, plus more for kneading and dusting
- 1.5 tsp. salt
- 1.5 tsp. olive oil, plus more for greasing
- Coarse sea salt for garnish, optional
In a large bowl, mix together the yeast and warm water, making sure that it's no more than 110 degrees. Let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes, and add in 1 1/4 cup of flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes.
Uncover and mix in the salt and oil, and then the remaining 1 1/4 cup of flour, using your hands. Mix until dough comes together and then scrape it onto a light floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, and place in greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap again and let it rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1.5 hours.
Place a baking stone in your oven and preheat to 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, punch down the dough and divide into 8 even pieces. Roll each into a ball and flatten into a disc until 4-5 inches across. Place on parchment papers and sprinkle with sea salt if using it, and let rise 20-30 minutes, or until slightly puffed.
Working quickly, open the oven and place the dough discs on the stone about two inches apart. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until puffy and nicely browned. Allow to cool before serving.