Two simple recipes for a sociable starter

On Saturday night, I cooked a Moroccan inspired feast: a sweet lamb tagine with apricots, dates and almonds flavoured with turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and paprika, roasted butternut squash with coriander, chilli, lime and tahini yoghurt, marinated mushrooms with cumin, dill and maple syrup, Moroccan flatbread with fennel and a huge bowl of freshly made hummus with plenty of lemon and garlic.

Whenever I see flatbread as part of a meal like this, it inspires me to ditch my knife and fork and revert to the simple joys of childhood, eating everything with my hands. Flatbread is the perfect vessel for scooping up piles of delicious food and it is incredibly easy to make. Still warm from the oven it is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. We have some friends coming here this evening for a BBQ – and I am going to make some more flatbread and another bowl of hummus because, judging by how frequently everyone was dunking their bread into Saturday’s bowlful, it’s a very popular and sociable way to start a meal.

FLATBREAD & HUMMUS

Here are the recipes for the flatbread and the hummus. There are lots of flatbread recipes that just use plain flour, water, salt and sometimes oil but I think using a bit of yeast makes them noticeably better. I cook mine in the oven too so there’s no need to stand over a hot griddle waiting for them to burn.

You can have them plain, you can add some enhancements to them at the dough stage (I love adding a few fennel seeds) or you can brush them with oil and sprinkle with, for example, some ground cumin, za’tar, nigella or sesame seeds before cooking.

FLATBREAD

Makes about 4 large or 8 small breads

Ingredients

  • 200g strong white bread flour (plus extra for dusting)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 level teaspoon fast-action dried yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 170ml warm water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil (plus extra for greasing)
  • Put the flour, yeast, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl
  • Pour the oil into the water then pour the water into the flour
  • Mix well then transfer to a floured surface and knead well for about 5 minutes
  • If the dough is too sticky, just add a little more flour and if it is too crumbly, a little more water
  • The dough should become elastic and smooth but still slightly tacky
  • Transfer the kneaded dough back to the mixing bowl, cover with a clean cloth and leave to rise for 1 hour (or until doubled in size)
  • Preheat the oven to 230C / Gas mark 8
  • Briefly knock back the dough (knead a couple of times)
  • Divide the dough into the required sizes and roll out on a generously floured surface into pitta bread shapes about 3mm thick
  • Place the flatbreads on an oiled baking tray (I use a baking stone) and allow them to rest for a few minutes
  • Bake in the top of the oven for about about 10 minutes until slightly coloured, partially bubbled up but not completely crisp

If you’re not serving these immediately, they will keep soft if you put them into a polythene bag after cooking.

Flatbread is best eaten fresh from the oven but if you’ve made too many, they are easily recyclable. Simply cut them into strips, brush with oil and put into a hot oven for a couple of minutes to make crispy dipping biscuits – or, cut up smaller, croutons for soup.

HUMMUS

If you haven’t used tahini paste before, don’t let that put you off doing this recipe. It’s very easy to find – nearly all supermarkets stock it. It’s simply pulped sesame seeds and looks like pale, slightly runny peanut butter. Once you find out how unbelievably easy and utterly fabulous homemade hummus is, you’ll never buy the ready-made stuff again!

Ingredients

  • 1 can of chickpeas or 175g chickpeas soaked overnight
  • 2-3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2-3 lemons
  • 2 tbsp tahini paste (or more if you like)
  • 150ml olive oil or rapeseed oil
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • Drain the chickpeas and then blitz them along with the crushed garlic in a food processor
  • Add the juice from the 2 lemons and then blitz again
  • Add the tahini paste then blitz again
  • With the processor still going, add the oil gradually until you get a thick, creamy paste
  • Season to taste and adjust the flavours to your liking – you may want to add more lemon juice or more garlic – and don’t forget to add a generous pinch of salt as this will bring the flavours out considerably
  • Scoop into a bowl, spread evenly, make a spiral swirl in the top with the handle of a wooden spoon and dribble olive oil into the hollow. Garnish with finely chopped fresh parsley or a scattering of soft chickpeas.

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