Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Forget the yeast, try an unleavened loaf
Taste Bud Travels
(My food column for Wednesday, Sept. 27)
The morning before I was born, my mom kneaded and baked 12 loaves of bread.
As far as I know, she hasn’t made bread from scratch since 1978. Sadly, she also failed to pass on the bread-baking genes to her daughter.
I’ve tried several times to fashion a nice crusty loaf of my favorite comfort food. But in my experience yeast is a finicky organism. It doesn’t like to sit on the shelf for too long. It catches cold if there’s a draft, or languishes if the water is too warm. And if the climate isn’t to its liking, yeast goes on strike, reveling in your misery as would-be dinner rolls take on the consistency of zwieback.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with unleavened flatbreads. Consider them comfort foods beyond the comfort zone of western cooking. And take comfort — these breads need no yeast, just common ingredients.
Cong You Bing (Pronounced tsong-yo-bing)
Translated green onion pancake, cong you bing is a popular savory snack in China and Taiwan. I learned to make them from a roommate when I was an undergrad in Cleveland, Ohio.
There are several variations, such as adding sesame seeds in place of the onions or spreading scrambled egg on one side of the cake before frying. But this is the basic recipe.
Cong You Bing
1 cup flour
1/2 scant cup warm water
4 small green onions, chopped
Salt to taste
Sesame or other vegetable oil
To make the dough, combine flour and water in a mixing bowl. Stir until a soft dough is formed. Add a little flour if the dough is too sticky. Flour your hands and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. This may take some elbow grease, but it’s worth it. Divide the dough into four balls and set aside three of them, covered with a wet paper towel.
Roll the ball out with a rolling pin to the thickness of a tortilla. Dab the round with sesame oil and sprinkle green onions and salt on top. Then roll the dough around the toppings into a tube. Roll the tube between your hands, stretching it gently until it becomes a longer rope. If the oinions begin to pop through, you’ve rolled too far.
Next, coil the rope into a cinnamon roll shape, tucking the outer end of the rope under the coil. Dust the dough with a little flour and use a rolling pin to flatten to a pancake about 1/8-inch thick.
Transfer the pancake to a generously oiled frying pan over medium heat. When the cake bubbles and turns golden brown, flip and cook until the other side bubbles.
If you want, you can stack cong you bing and slice them into quarters for easier snacking. I’ve also heard from friends in Taiwan that these flatbreads can sub for pizza crusts in a pinch.
Chapati (Pronounced cha-pa’-tee)
I’ve yet to travel to India, though conversations with Indian friends have placed it high on my wish list. Until then, I can enjoy making and eating chapati — a mainstay of traditional Indian meals. My friend and favorite Indian chef, Alina, taught me how to make them when I was a grad student in Champaign, Ill. She makes chapti and other Indian breads fresh each day.
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon oil
1/4 cup water
Stir oil into salt and flour. Add water until a firm dough is formed. Divide the dough into 6 pieces and knead each ball several minutes until it’s smooth and elastic. Roll out one piece as thin as you can.
Heat a frying pan (avoid Teflon if possible) on high heat. Place the chapati in the pan and wait for it to bubble and form brown spots, then flip. As the second side cooks, lightly press the edges with a spatula (or your bare hands if you’re brave like Alina) and rotate the chapati in the pan until it poofs up with steam (similar to a pita bread). You will need to have the pan on high heat for it to puff up.
Chapati are great for scooping up curries or dal — a simple lentil stew.
Emily Parrino is a New Era copy editor. Her column runs once a month.