Enjoy the bread of life, Egyptian style

By Teresa Dovalpage
For The Taos News
Posted 6/13/19

Egypt has been in our bucket list for quite a while. My husband wanted to see the pyramids and the Sphinx. So did I but my first priority was to experience …

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Enjoy the bread of life, Egyptian style

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Egypt has been in our bucket list for quite a while. My husband wanted to see the pyramids and the Sphinx. So did I but my first priority was to experience Egyptian cuisine. For me, the best way of getting to know a culture is by sharing their food. (Or maybe this is just an excuse to pig out.)

In any case, it has been a journey of culinary discoveries, as Egyptian cuisine, developed throughout centuries, is currently a delicious mix of Middle Eastern and European flavors. Finding similarities with New Mexican dishes turned out to be quite a yummy task.

Among the common dishes is "roz bel laban," rice with milk, very similar to rice pudding and our "arroz con leche," cooked with milk or sometimes heavy cream, rice and pistachios, which provide the local twist.

And of course there is bread, in all its permutations. A staple of Egyptian food is their version of flatbread, which dates back to the times of the pyramids - workers were paid their wages in bread, beer and spices, as money hadn't been invented yet.

The Egyptian flatbread, called "aish baladi," looks similar to a tortilla and, like it, it's often used to accompany other ingredients - it can be filled with chicken, beef or whatever is on the table. Originally, like the tortilla, it was used as a utensil to grab food.

The flavor is more neutral, though, and it contains small pockets of air inside. It isn't made with maize flour, but whole wheat flour. The texture is softer than a tortilla.

"Aish" means life, and this is an indication of how important bread was, and still is, for Egyptians.

Here is a recipe that you can try at home. The best way is to use a baking stone and place it in the middle rack of the oven, but it isn't "absolutely necessary," said Ahmed Hafez, one of the cooks at the hotel where we were staying.

"It can also be made without the vegetable oil," he said. "This is a basic recipe but it can be modified."

"May I use lard instead?" I asked.

He paused to consider.

"I have never tried that," he finally answered. "If you do, let me know how it turns out."

Ingredients

1 tablespoon dry yeast

2 cups water

4 cups whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Directions

Warm the water and mix it with the yeast.

After 10 minutes, add two cups of the whole wheat flour and whisk everything together.

Cover and let it stand for 30 minutes.

Add the oil, salt and remaining flour.

Knead for 10 to 15 minutes. Place it in a large greased container and cover. Let it stand for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees for as high as it gets.

Divide the dough into 12 pieces. Roll each one into a ball and flatten into a four-inch circle. Place them on a baking sheet and let them stand for around 30 minutes.

Place the slightly puffed pieces in the oven and bake them for 6 to 8 minutes. Let them cool for 5 minutes before serving.

The Spanish version of this column here

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