Za’atar Wraps

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My wonderful other half introduced me to the world of za’atar early on in our relationship. He took me to a Middle Eastern fast food restaurant and I made a beeline to the self-serve salad bar. There’s very little in the world that I like more than a plate full of delicious mixed salads, so when the opportunity to pile my styrofoam plate high with such varied delights, I make quick work of it. While I ladled buckets of chickpea salad, tabbouleh, and lentils onto my increasingly-weighty plate, I overheard my (then) date ordering a za’atar flatbread. When he saw that I was looking, he encouraged me to do the same. Being totally ignorant of what it actually was that he was ordering, I, for reasons unbeknownst to me, assumed that it was some sort of ground lamb sandwich. Weird assumption? Absolutely. The thing is, my man is not vegetarian (although he was for 4 years and even went vegan for a while before reverting back to carnivorism), and I am. Being that we had only been dating for a short time, I wrongly assumed (ohh, assumptions) that he was kindly offering me some sort of lamby-delight, forgetting that I don’t eat meat. Without clarifying the ingredients of which this wrap actually consisted, I politely declined the opportunity to broaden my culinary horizons. Good thing my salads were fabulous, or it would’ve been a total missed boat.

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The next time we went to the same place, quite some time later, I jumped on the za’atar bandwagon (after finding out that it is, indeed, vegetarian-friendly). Oh my. AMAZING. It is basically a flat bread which has been brushed with a mixture of oil and za’atar spice, warmed in the oven, and then topped with tasty toppings. A Middle Eastern wrap that, in my opinion, beats out any of our go-to, fast-food, sandwich shops.

I’m not one to leave well enough alone, however. I needed to be able to make such a wonderful wrap at home.

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After some online searching and some recipe experimentation, I have come up with the following recipe that I think I like even better than the original. Yup, I said it: better.

Do you remember the foxy naan bread of which I spoke yesterday? Yeeeaah, you do. Well, here’s one, excellent, way in which it can take a sabbatical from Indian cuisine and show its worth in the world of Middle Eastern cookery. If you don’t want to make your own, go with store-bought. But homemade is waayy more delish. It just is.

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Za’atar Wrap

Ingredients
Prepared naan bread (amount dependent on how many wraps you want to make), homemade or store-bought
Za’atar spice blend* (available at Akhavan or other Middle Eastern specialty food shops)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste

Highly-recommended toppings:
Shredded lettuce, spinach, or arugula (for a peppery kick)
Sliced tomato
Sliced green olives
Pickled turnip
Sliced pickle

Chopped red onion
Hot banana peppers (yum)
Mint leaves (the mint is crucial)

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
2. Combine equal parts za’atar spice and extra virgin olive oil to make a paste (you’ll need about 2-3 Tbsp of combined paste per flatbread). Add salt, to taste.
3. Place the flatbreads in a single layer onto a cookie sheet and spread a thin layer of the za’atar-olive oil paste onto each bread.
4. Put the za’atar breads into the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes.

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5. Remove from the oven and dress the flatbreads with toppings, as desired.
6. Roll, or fold in half, and enjoy!

…they’re best when eaten while still warm.

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*If you want to get really crazy, in addition to making all of your own flatbreads, you can make your own za’atar spice blend!

Za’atar Spice Blend

Source: About.com

Ingredients
1/4 cup sumac
2 tablespoons thyme
1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons marjoram
2 tablespoons oregano
1 teaspoon coarse salt

Directions
Grind the sesame seeds in food processor or with mortar and pestle. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.Store za’atar in a cool, dark place in a plastic zip bag or in an airtight container. When stored properly, za’atar can be used from 3-6 months.
Honestly, this is an awesome recipe that took me a while to get just right, but now, I have made it several times over.

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Smootches.

 Zaatar Wraps

Coffee & Chocolate Chip Shortbread

 Coffee & Chocolate Chip Shortbread

This year, I realized that I had become fairly inflexible with my Christmas cookie baking. ‘Let’s keep with tradition’, I thought to myself, year after year. Yes, our tried and true Christmas cookie recipes are delicious, so why fix something that’s not broken? Righto.

I love to bake and nothing makes me happier than having an opportunity to experiment with a new recipe…and then kindly force it upon someone else, so that I’m not stuck with a batch of 32+ cookies or an entire, frosted, 3-layer cake. Anyone who knows me will understand that I can’t keep that sort of temptation in the house. As much as I’ll claim that ‘I couldn’t possibly take all those leftovers home’ and that ‘there’s no way I’ll ever eat all that alone’, you all need to know that I can take all of those leftovers home, and I will throw ‘em all down the hatch within a few days. You probably shouldn’t ask me about what happened with the last 3/4 of the Red Velvet cake leftover from Christmas dinner; I’m still tying to make peace with my behaviour towards that cake. Bottom line, my protests are all, basically, a charade. Now you know.

But, let’s now move away from my gluttonous behaviours and get back to the issue at hand…

Not only do I love to test out new recipes, I’m really not one to go along with customs, so why was I stuck in such a Christmas baking rut? Genuinely bizarre, and I guess that we’ll never get to the bottom of that one.

Regardless, this year, I took it upon myself to incorporate two new cookie recipes into my regular holiday baking. I baked Peppermint Pinwheels which were really really yummy, and this Coffee & Chocolate Chip Shortbread. Despite my new-found affinity for experimental Christmas cookies, I was stubborn enough to also bake all of the regulars. You can bring me to water, but, clearly, you can’t make me drink.

This Coffee & Chocolate Chip Shortbread is amazing. It’s incredibly tasty, is a great addition to any holiday cookie plate, and the cookies are fabulously cute in their little itty-bitty square shapes. They’re really not that small, I guess that they just look that way when compared to my other, absurdly large, cookies.

They impart a lovely coffee flavour, have a great texture, and, of course, the chocolate puts them over the top.

A real must-bake.

Coffee & Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

Adapted from Sugar Coated Bliss
Makes 32 cookies

Ingredients
1.5 tablespoons instant coffee
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, or 3/4 cup chocolate chips (mini or regular size)

Directions
1. Dissolve the coffee in the boiling water, and set aside to cool to tepid.
2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth. Beat in the vanilla and coffee, then reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing only until it disappears into the dough. Don’t work the dough much once the flour is incorporated. Fold in the chopped chocolate with a sturdy rubber spatula.
3. Using the spatula, transfer the soft, sticky dough to a gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag. Put the bag on a flat surface, leaving the top open, and roll the dough into a 9 x 10 1/2 inch rectangle that’s 1/4 inch thick. As you roll, turn the bag occasionally and lift the plastic from the dough so it doesn’t cause creases. When you get the right size and thickness, seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible, and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, or for up to 2 days.
4. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
5. Put the plastic bag on a cutting board and slit it open. Turn the firm dough out onto the board (discard the bag) and, using a ruler as a guide and a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. Transfer the squares to the baking sheets and carefully prick each one twice with a fork, gently pushing the tines through the cookies until they hit the sheet.
6. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point. The shortbreads will be very pale–they shouldn’t take on much color. Transfer the cookies to a rack.
7. Cool the cookies to room temperature before serving.

Not only do they taste delicious, their fresh, delightful, smell permeates the entire house.

Mmm.

 Coffee & Chocolate Chip Shortbread

 

Naan Bread

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Indian food is delicious. And very accommodating of us vegetarians!

I am not only a strong advocate of Indian fare because of the way in which it conveniences my dietary decisions, but I also have to commend any cuisine that has developed a delightful double-duty food item that serves not only as a wonderful side dish, but also as an edible vehicle (a fork would just get in the way), capable of transporting delicious, saucy, food into my anxiously-awaiting mouth.

Wow. I’m wordy.

Naan bread is integral to all of my Indian meals, and I make my own flatbreads fairly often. As simple as naan may be, I find that it really does bump things up a notch on the meal-enjoyment scale.

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I also like to give naan bread an opportunity to flex his moonlighting muscles. He’s quite a dexterous little guy when given the chance to spread his wings. *enter Seal*…allusion, anybody? or was this one much too cryptic…?

Oh goodness. Now I can’t get that song out of my head.

Oh well.

Enjoy the recipe as I enjoy reminiscing about the late 1990s.

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Naan Bread

Adapted from allrecipes

Ingredients
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons minced garlic (optional)
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley, cilantro, or chives (or a combination thereof)
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
extra virgin olive oil, as needed, to brush on the naan

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Directions
  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until frothy. Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt, garlic, herb(s), and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes in a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook or on a lightly floured surface, until smooth. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise. Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.
  2. Punch down dough. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls, and place on a tray. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
  3. During the second rising, preheat cast iron pan over medium heat.
  4. Next to your pan, roll one ball of dough out into a thin circle. Lightly brush the top side of your naan with extra virgin olive oil and place into the preheated pan oil side down. Depending on the heat of your pan, the naan will take between 30 seconds to 2 minutes to become puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with oil, and turn over. Cook on the second side until browned, another 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Remove from pan, and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.

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**I place all of my cooked naan breads in a single layer on a cookie sheet which has been lined with a clean kitchen towel. I keep the cookie sheet in a 200 degree oven to keep the flatbreads warm, preferably covered with another clean kitchen towel.

Be creative with these little champions. They really are good, in so many ways.