Growing up in the 50's, several of my parents' friends were Armenian, which meant that several of my friends were Armenian as well. We all attended church together, and to score an invite home with one of them for Sunday dinner was, well, it was just a huge score. Oh, I loved that food. I think that I must have been a little foodie by the age of 9 already, because I loved watching those Armenian Moms cooking, and the beauty and aromas of the foods they set out was just a wonder to me. Sunday dinner was a very special meal....the braised meats, the roasted, stuffed vegetables, the pilaf (I could eat buckets), and the bread. Oh, the bread. I don't know for sure if the bread was homemade, I only remember how good it was.
Soon after I was married, those wonderful Armenians were teaching me to make cheese bourag, baklava, yogurt and Lahmajoon. I was also lucky enough to live around the corner from an Armenian grocery where I could buy fresh, house-made string cheese (oh, that cheese!), lahmajoon, domades, beautiful olives and stacks of this flatbread. That little grocery is still there, and I stop in when I'm in California, just to stand in the tiny, cramped aisles and take in the aromas that I've only ever smelled in that one spot on earth. My kids have made pilgrimages back there for just that reason.
All of this is prelude to my recent discovery of a recipe for Armenian flatbread in my database of recipes from the Culinary School of the Rockies. I found it as I was browsing through some recipes from a visiting instructor, Gigia Kolouch, who did a workshop there on Mediterranean foods and spices a few years back. What a goldmine! I think you will be seeing a few more of her recipes here in the near future.
So, of course, I had to immediately make this flatbread, and I must tell you, it's everything I remember from my childhood...chewy, crunchy, and so flavorful. Ms. Kolouch's recipe called for sesame or poppy seeds to be sprinkled on top of the bread before it goes in the oven, which is traditional, but I thought I'd also try sprinkling it with some za'tar, a middleastern spice mixture that my friends' Mother brought me from Israel. Oh, so good, and faintly reminiscent of the aromas of my little Armenian grocery.
The bread is baked on a stone in a hot oven and puffs up almost immediately. As it begins to take on a little color (after about 5-7 minutes), it's ready to come out.
It was so good right out of the oven, but stayed chewy/crispy for quite a long time after it cooled, and is easy to reheat in the oven later. It's often served with labneh (yogurt cheese), string cheese, olives, drizzled with olive oil or served with other condiments.
It’s really something how certain foods can so powerfully evoke one’s memories. If I can't get back to my little Armenian Grocery, making this flatbread is definitely the next best thing. Now if I could just learn to make that string cheese.
Adapted from a recipe by Gigia Kolouch
Culinary School of the Rockies Workshop
1 tablespoon mild honey
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/2 to 3 cups unbleached bread flour
1 tsp salt
2 beaten egg whites
poppy, sesame or caraway seeds
za'tar seasoning (optional)
Dissolve the yeast in the water and honey. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes, until foamy.
Gradually add 1 cup of flour, stirring as you add it. Add the salt. Add more flour until the bread makes a soft, but workable dough.
Turn the dough out onto a counter and knead it for 5-10 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl and spray it with water. Let it rise, covered for 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place a pizza stone at the bottom.
Punch the dough down and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a thin round - about 1/8". If the dough is too elastic to spread out, let it rest a while and then work on another piece. After the dough is rolled out, brush it with egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds and (optionally) a little za'tar seasoning.
Drape the dough over the rolling pin and unroll it onto the stone. (I found this awkward and used my pizza peel to slide the dough onto the stone). Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until it is cooked, but not dried out. Remove it from the oven into a basket lined with a towel. Stack all the bread the same way and eat while warm.