Getting to know Africa includes experiencing the vastly different - and yummy - expressions of each culture through food.
Actually, this summer our bike riding has pretty much eliminated the winter love handles! That said, we simply love "ftat", which is a simple flat bread. Easy to make, can be stored for up to a week and pairs well with lots of different meals. Ftat is a tasty addition to pretty much any summer meal and is often served with salad. Usually this "cooked on the stove top" flatbread is just roughly torn up and either covered with soups, stews or salad, or is used as a "dipper" for a variety of foods. Many cultures have similar recipes.
This particular recipe originates from Libya and is the best one we've found to make the flatbread as thin as possible. As usual, while there are a variety of recipes available on the internet, the trick is to find a good basic recipe and then tweak it to add your own personal touch and taste! Although we particularly enjoy this family recipe, remember you can search online and find lots of variations on this dish. An online recipe site we use over and over again is The Congo Cookbook. My East Africa Journal is also a great source for recipes. Another website we really like is Libyan Food - step by step recipes and photos of food from the modern Libyan kitchen. Their recipe for ftat is the closest to the way we make ours at home.
- 1/2 litre of water (sometimes you need a little bit more)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 5 tablespoons of olive oil (or olive oil/canola blend)
- 3 - 1/3 cups flour
Keep your olive oil handy as you will need it to "brush" the dough and coat your hands when kneading.
This paste is what helps make the flatbread so thin. Stay with us - you'll see. It's almost magical!
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 5 or 6 tablespoons of corn flour
The above amounts are approximate. What you are looking to achieve is a thick but smooth paste.
PREPARATIONStart with the dough. Don't be alarmed at the number of steps. We broke it down into easy descriptive chunks to make it simple to follow.
- Combine the flour, olive oil and salt and gradually stir in water until your dough is no longer sticky. It should be soft to the touch.
- Knead the dough really well.
- Place dough in a bowl, cover with a light brushing of olive oil.
- Cover the bowl with saran wrap and leave it along to rest for about an hour.
- After the dough has rested for an hour, knead it again. We suggest you oil your hands so it doesn't stick.
- Then, pinch of pieces of dough and form into balls. They should be around the size of a ping pong ball but you can make them the size you like. Experimentation is a good thing!
- Flatten the dough balls.
- Spread approximately a teaspoon of your corn flour paste onto half your flattened dough balls.
- Take the other half of the flattened dough balls and place them on top of the pieces you've just spread with the corn flour paste. See, this makes your "sandwich".
- Now, cover the dough balls with saran wrap again and leave them to rest for another hour.
- Pinch/crimp the edges of each dough "sandwich". They should now look like little "hats".
- Get to work flattening each sandwich. Libyan Food's recipe suggests using a dinner plate and, in fact, that's the way we've always done it. They say it helps to keep the round shape consistent. The way we do it is to oil a large dinner plate and then use our fingers and the heel of our palm to gradually flatten and stretch the dough sandwich to the size of the dinner plate.
- Now to cook them! You can use a griddle or any large frying pan over medium heat.
- Make sure they don't burn. Turn after about 8 to 10 seconds.
- Brush the upturned side with a little olive oil.
- Here comes the magic! Once each dinner plate sized piece of ftat is cooked, it will separate into two pieces. The corn flour in the middle of the sandwich has done the job.
- Once that happens, just flip them over and cook the interiors for a few seconds each.
We like ours "done" a little more than most recipes call for. We like to get some char marks on each side and crisp the edges. Just a suggestion! If serving right away, wrap them up in a clean tea towel to keep them warm. They tend to harden a bit when cool, so this also helps to keep the ftat lovely and soft. You can make a big batch ahead and refrigerate for up to a week. Some people wrap them in foil but we keep ours in a large, airtight plastic container and just take out what we need and warm them up. Ftat are often filled (sort of like dumplings or calzone) with all sorts of ingredients. Omelet-like egg mixtures, herbs and potatoes, mushrooms and tomatoes, etc. Just experiment with any filling you enjoy! We like to use our like a "wrap", placing the filling in and rolling them up into a tight little sandwich. A friend of ours came to our house and we served her some filled Ftat. She said they were very similar to a Cornish Pasty her Nana used to make. Much flatter thinner bread rather than a pastry shell, but the fillings reminded her of her childhood. We have taught our children to cook as soon as they were old enough to participate. Flatbreads are a great way to get them involved, especially with the kneading. Jamie Oliver has a terrific recipe for what he calls Easy Flatbreads - and says they are a fun way to start kids learning about food preparation.
Enjoy! Please tell us what you pair your delicious flatbread with and share your recipe modifications or variations.