April 20, 2016

Dear friends,

Because of a mythical May yard sale I may or may not have, I made Uzbekistan flat bread last weekend. In culling my cookbook collection for the sale, I keep finding recipes I ABSOLUTELY must try in books I’ve never cooked from until now. The result is just two dozen books so far in the sale pile and flat bread out the kazoo.

Thank god I froze half the dough because the half I used yielded six 8-inch loaves. My husband is in Japan tending to his ailing parents, leaving the dog and me to deal with any culinary excess. The dog was game, but sanity prevailed. We split one loaf, I burned one and I gave the remaining four to friends down the street.

The flat bread sounds exotic but actually is homespun comfort food. The thin, golden-brown loaves have puffy, soft rims and are about 8 inches in diameter – just enough for one or two people. In their cookbook, “Home Baking,” Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid call it “Silk Road Non.” Non, they explain, is the word for bread in much of central Asia. In India it’s spelled “naan” or “nan” and, as in India, the Uzbek version is baked in a tandoor oven. You won’t confuse this chewy, yeasty non with thin Indian naan, however.

I like this flat bread recipe because the dough can be made one day and baked the next, and the loaves cook in just 5 to 8 minutes. On the down side, unless you have an oven shelf lined with unglazed quarry tiles, you can bake just one loaf at a time on a pizza stone or two on a baking sheet. I used a pizza stone.

The Uzbeks add rendered lamb fat (!) to the dough, but melted butter may be substituted.

The recipe calls for mixing and kneading the dough by hand, which was a minor pain. After making it once, I feel sure it can be mixed and kneaded with a KitchenAid.

The dough disks are sprinkled with salt and, if desired, chopped chives before baking. I used coarse sea salt but will skip the chives the next time because they tend to burn.

If you make the bread, you could top it with cheese and other pizza goodies. But at least once you should try the simple salted version. It’s cool to know you’re enjoying the same bread that’s eaten in Tashkent and Samarkand.

SILK ROAD NON

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  • 2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 7 to 9 cups all-purpose flour or 2 cups whole wheat flour and 4 to 6 cups all-purpose
  • 1 tbsp. salt plus extra for sprinkling (I used coarse sea salt for sprinkling)
  • 4 tbsp. rendered lamb fat or melted butter

Dissolve the yeast in the water in a large bowl. Add 3 cups of the flour (if using whole wheat flour, add it and 1 cup all-purpose), one cup at a time, stirring well until a smooth batter forms. Stir one minute longer, always stirring in the same direction. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for up to 3 hours.

Stir in 1 tablespoon salt. Add 3 tablespoons of the fat and fold in. Continue to add flour, a cup at a time, stirring and folding until the dough becomes too stiff to stir. Turn onto a well-floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.

(Note: Jane suggests mixing and kneading the dough with a heavy-duty mixer.)

Place dough in a clean, oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours. Or refrigerate overnight. Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and place a large baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles on the rack, if you have them. A baking sheet may be substituted. Preheat to 500 degrees.

Turn the dough onto a floured board and cut in half (you may freeze one half for use later). Cut each portion of the dough into six equal pieces. Two at a time, flatten the pieces and roll to 8-inch circles. Alternate rolling to give each piece time to relax. Place on a floured surface and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Keep the unused dough covered as you work. Continue until all of the dough has been rolled.

One or two at a time (or as many as will fit in your oven), prick the dough rounds all over with a fork to within 1 inch of the edges. Brush the tops with some of the remaining butter. Sprinkle with salt. Slip a floured peel under each dough round and transfer to the oven, opening and closing the oven door as quickly as possible. Bake 5 to 7 minutes or until flecked with gold. Use a long-handled spatula to lift the bread from the oven. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes or so, then wrap in a cloth to keep warm. Continue with remaining breads. Makes 12 rounds.

From “Home Baking” by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

HELP U COOK

Chocolate-dipped strawberries are a luxurious treat that are easy to make at home if you add a bit of oil to the melted chocolate. You could use coating chocolate, but chocolate without the additives tastes better, I think. The only problem is it tends to thicken up in the pan quickly, making for frustrating dipping.

Here’s the fix: Add 1 1/2 teaspoons neutral-flavored oil (such as canola) to the chocolate before melting on the stove or in a microwave. Skewer each berry near the blossom end with two toothpicks at right angles to each other. After dipping, the toothpicks help the berries stand upright (like a miniature Christmas tree stand) while the chocolate sets up.

From Annie:
We are adding an addition this year for my in-laws and doing some remodeling. The kitchen will probably be outside for most of the summer so any grilling hints or recipes would be appreciated. I still rely on Roger’s Smashed Potatoes for grilled carbs every summer. I change up some of the spices to vary the taste.  But maybe with all the grilling, we can skip some carbs so I can also slim down and keep up with my husband.

Dear Annie: Sounds like a good time for you to cook once to eat twice. Think big – two whole chickens, pork roasts, butterflied leg of lamb, a dozen hamburgers you can chunk up and warm later in the microwave with seasonings for a taco bar.

The leftover chicken can be shredded and used in lots of cold entrees including my favorite chicken papaya salad (remember that recipe?). And don’t forget to haul out last summer’s recipe for grilled pizza, which cooks in about 30 seconds.

You can sauté on the grill, too. Use a cast-iron or another heavy-duty pan to make cheesesteaks, for example: Quickly sauté thin-sliced beef, tuck into hoagie buns with slices of American cheese, and clap a lid on the pan until the cheese melts.

I envy your vegetable sides this summer. If I were relying on a grill, I would keep a bowl in the fridge of a rotating variety of grilled summer vegetables dressed with olive oil and minced garlic.

You could even add them to your tacos. Come to think of it, even though I’ll have a stove, summer-long grilled vegetables sounds like a good idea.

Some other ideas: Grilled ratatouille, couscous salads (the couscous fluffs in five minutes in boiled water from the microwave), and big-bowl salads made with greens and grilled meat. I’m sharing a repeat of an Asian steak salad I made once with fresh greens and herbs from the garden and a Vietnamese dressing I make in big batches and keep in the refrigerator all the time.

When I created the recipe I wrote, “I cooked the asparagus and snow peas very briefly in the microwave, not even bothering to put them in a bowl. I made my favorite Vietnamese dressing and tossed it with the thin-sliced beef, chopped vegetables and minced herbs. I mounded the fragrant salad over arugula and garnished each plate with a few cubes of papaya. It was the bomb.”

ASIAN STEAK SALAD WITH CILANTRO AND MINT

8 oz. cold grilled steak
1/2 cup Vietnamese Lime and Chili Sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 of a medium-sized cucumber, peeled and diced (1 cup)
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup asparagus spears in 1-inch lengths
1 small handful (about 15) snow peas
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
2 cups torn salad greens
1 cup cubed tropical fruit (1-inch chunks) such as papaya or pineapple (optional)
Coarse sea salt

Slice meat very thin across the grain. If strips of meat are longer than 3 inches, cut to size. Place in a bowl and toss with the sauce. Add cucumber and green onions. Scatter asparagus directly on the glass carousel of a microwave oven and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Refresh under cold running water; drain and add to salad bowl. Repeat microwaving process with snow peas. Refresh, then add to bowl. Add cilantro and mint and toss well.

Place salad greens in the center of two salad plates. Arrange fruit chunks along one side. Toss beef salad again and mound on greens, dividing evenly between the two plates. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Makes two servings.

VIETNAMESE LIME AND CHILI SAUCE
(jumbo recipe; may be cut in half)

10 cloves garlic, finely minced
Grated zest of 2 1/2 limes
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. Lime juice
5 tbsp. Distilled white vinegar
3 tbsp. Plus 1 tsp. Nam pla (Vietnamese fish sauce)
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. Soy sauce
7 1/2 tbsp. Sugar
5 fresh small red chilies or 1 or 2 jalapenos (or to taste), seeded and minced, or 1 tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 cups papaya or mango nectar or unsweetened pineapple juice

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar. Keeps for weeks in the refrigerator.

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