Monday, March 11, 2019

Homemade Pita Bread and Beet Baba Ganoush - Baking with PNW Grains

Making pita at home is fun and easy! Now that I've done it, I think I'll do it a lot more. Any time I make hummus from scratch or roast chicken shawarma, there's time to make fresh pita. The beet baba ganoush is a delightful winter substitution when eggplant is out of season - you can also try it with other roasted veggies.

Back in Albuquerque, we loved this Middle Eastern restaurant and grocery called San Pedro Mart - a hidden gem, in true ABQ style. The building was obviously an old mini-mart, off a seemingly characterless thoroughfare, but wow, did they make great pita and falafel. Every time I eat pita, I think of that place.

There was a guy about our age behind the counter who absolutely cranked it out all day long - the crispiest falafel in town, silky hummus, spicy shawarma, creamy fava bean foul mudammas... and fresh pita. You could buy pita by the dozen and they were so delicious.

All the while he was chatting, serving tables, cleaning up, super friendly and so energetic. I remember one night he told us he wanted to go on the cooking show Hell's Kitchen, and I thought yeah - he could totally do it. I know I couldn't handle that kind of heat, but I can make pita at home when I can't go to San Pedro Mart.

I'm so excited to try all the fresh-milled Methow Valley flours I got in the Bluebird Grain Farms sampler pack. For this recipe I used 100% Pasayten Hard White wheat flour and it made gorgeous, flavorful pita - they even puffed up just like they're supposed to! The hard white wheat looks like white flour but is actually whole grain.

Pita Bread (adapted from David Tanis, New York Times)

2 tsp (1 packet) active dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1 C lukewarm water
2 1/4 C hard white wheat flour, plus more for kneading and rolling
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs olive oil

Whisk yeast, sugar, and water together in a medium bowl, then stir in 1/2 cup flour. Let it rise in a warm place about 15 minutes. This is called making a sponge. It allows the flour to soak up water and the yeast to grow without salt (which slows down these processes).

Add the olive oil, salt, and remaining flour. Stir until a shaggy dough forms. Knead in the bowl for a minute to combine, then turn out onto a clean work surface. Knead lightly for 2 minutes, adding flour as needed to keep dough from sticking to your hands. It should be soft and moist. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it rest 10 minutes, then knead again for 2 minutes. At this point you can refrigerate the dough for a day or two.

Clean the bowl and put the dough back in. Cover and let it rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. Heat oven to 500F. Place a baking sheet or stone on the lowest rack of the oven.

Gently deflate the dough and break it into 8 pieces of equal size. Roll each piece into a ball, cover them all with a towel or plastic wrap, and let them rest 10 minutes.

One at a time, roll out a ball of dough to about 1/8 inch thick. It should be about 6-8 inches wide. Carefully lift the disc and slap it on the baking sheet. Bake 2 minutes (it should puff up during this time) then flip and bake 1 more minute. It should be pale with just a few brown spots. Transfer to a basket lined with a napkin and cover. Repeat until you have 8 pita!

If your first pita doesn't puff, don't worry - it will still be delicious. Try rolling the next one a bit thicker. If that doesn't work, try thinner. Another thing that can help is to close the oven for a minute after removing each pita, so it gets back up to full temperature.

Beet Baba Ganoush

1 pound beets
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs tahini
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 clove garlic, grated
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 Tbs za'atar or parsley for garnish (optional)

Cut beet into 1/2 inch chunks, toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast at 500F for about half an hour. Combine with all remaining ingredients in a food processor and blend until fairly smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Einkorn Apple Muffins - Baking with PNW Grains

Well, the last of the Seattle Snowpocalypse has almost finished melting - just a few piles remain at the edges of our driveway and steps where my sweet husband diligently shoveled it. We got more than a foot of snow, which is incredible for Seattle! I've never seen or even heard of this much snow actually in the city, in all my years growing up here and visiting family when we didn't live here. We couldn't go anywhere for days! Our road got plowed, but the steep side streets on our hill were basically sledding runs for two weeks.

So I just stayed inside all warm and cozy, baking up a storm with all the wonderful flours I recently ordered from local growers and millers. These muffins are adapted from a Joy of Cooking recipe with 100% einkorn flour substituted for the all-purpose flour. I also substituted olive oil for butter, because I couldn't get out to the store! And I made them heart-shaped, of course, since it was Valentine's Day. They turned out absolutely fantastic.

I am so excited about locally grown grains right now! I'm also fascinated by the milling process and how changes over the last century have affected local grain economies, which were once common. Last month, I attended the Cascadia Grains Conference to learn about all the fabulous things local farmers, millers, malters, brewers, and bakers are doing in the Pacific Northwest. And as soon as I got home, I started ordering samples.

Camas Country Mill is in Oregon's Willamette Valley near Eugene, and they stone-mill their grains, which means that the whole wheat kernel is ground up together, including the bran and germ. In a roller-milling process, as is used for most flours, the bran and germ are typically separated from the kernel and if a whole wheat flour is desired they add some bran back in. For more info on these processes, check out Amy Halloran's article, What's the Difference Between Regular and Stone-Ground Flour?

Bluebird Grain Farm in Washington's Methow Valley grows and mills their own grains on a hammer mill, which also keeps the whole wheat kernel together throughout the process and doesn't heat it up as much as stone milling.

Palouse Heritage grows heirloom grains on their farm in Eastern Washington and gets them milled at Fairhaven Organic Mill, which is also a stone mill.

Einkorn is one of the earliest cultivated forms of wheat, technically a different species (Triticum monococcus) from modern wheats (Triticum aestivum). In French it's called petite ├ępeautre; in Italian it's piccolo farro. Einkorn is higher in protein, healthy fats, and minerals than most wheat. It has low gluten, and the gluten has a simpler structure than in other wheats. Most importantly, it's delicious! Super nutty and rich tasting. I'm sold. Especially for muffins, where you don't want to overmix the batter because you don't want the gluten to develop and make them tough.

Einkorn Apple Walnut Muffins

1 1/2 cups whole-grain einkorn flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated apples
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease a muffin pan or line with paper cups.

Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Whisk eggs and sugar together in a large bowl, and add the grated apples. Let them stand for 10 minutes to allow the juice of the apples to release. Add the oil and nuts. Fold in the flour mixture until just combined - it should be lumpy.

Pour into muffin cups - only fill them about 2/3 full so that they don't overflow in the oven. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. This takes about 14-16 minutes for regular muffins, a bit longer for my big heart-shaped muffins. Let the muffins cool for a few minutes before removing from the pan. If they stick, run a knife around the edges to loosen them.