All Purpose Vegan Flatbread (Naan)

I’m obsessed with this flatbread. It’s so good, and so easy you’ll be looking for excuses to make it. I first made it to go with vegan curry for a meatless monday and fell in love with its soft and pillowy texture. Now I use it for everything from chicken shawarma to grilled pizza. The dough is based on naan or roti, but uses coconut milk in place of the yogurt and eggs. D. and I have some dairy sensitivity, so I always have a can or two of coconut milk in my pantry. Turns out it has just the right balance of sweetness, moisture, and fat to substitute the dairy and eggs, and I think it makes a flatbread with better chew, flavor, and texture, that’s vegan too.

The recipe uses only 6 ingredients (plus water) and doesn’t really require any special equipment. You can add chopped garlic or herbs, but you won’t miss them. A stand mixer is nice, but you won’t need it. A char-grill makes them extra puffy, but you can get good results with a cast iron pan or griddle too. The steps are easy: Just mix the dough, knead 6-8 minutes, rise 1 hour, divide and proof 30 minutes, then shape and grill. If you have the time, I highly recommend retarding the dough after the first hour rise, by leaving it in the fridge overnight. This process improves the flavor and texture of any bread by extending the fermentation time and allowing the yeast to develop slowly. It takes a little planning but it’s worth it. Then the next day just pull the dough out of the fridge 1 to 2 hours before you need it, and give it time to come up to room temperature and finish proofing.

This flatbread also keeps really well. I recently grilled a batch and left it uncovered at room temperature for four hours and they stayed fresh and pliable. So I wrapped the leftovers and chucked them in the fridge. Four days later, I unwrapped them, warmed them for about 3-5 minutes in a 325 degree oven, and they came out just as good as the day they were made.

Ingredients, makes 8 large or 12 small:

AmountIngredients
2 tsp. (12 g)Instant dry yeast
1 cup (240 g)Warm water
2 Tbsp. (25 g)Granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 g)Coconut milk
4 tsp. (11-12 g)Kosher salt*
4 cup (540 g)All purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 g)Olive oil
*Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Reduce volume for Morton’s or fine salt.

Directions:

In a large bowl, mix yeast with water.  Let it proof for about 5 minutes until it starts to foam. Mix in the sugar, coconut milk, salt, and flour, and knead 8 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball.  Oil the bowl and return the dough, turning it once to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for 1 hour until it is just doubled.

Punch the dough down and divide it into 8 balls for a large flatbread or 12 for small.  Arrange them 2” apart on a tray lined with parchment and dusted with a little flour. Brush each piece lightly with olive oil.  Cover and proof 30 minutes at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat your grill or griddle to medium temperature.  If the dough has been refrigerated, allow 1-2 hours for it to come to room temperature and finish proofing before shaping. The dough should be about 1-1/2 times original size, and relaxed enough to stretch without springing back.

Lightly oil the hot grill.  Set up an area near the grill to roll and cook the flatbread.  Working one piece at a time, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and stretch or roll it into a disc 6 to 8 inches in diameter.  Cook the flatbread 2-3 minutes on each side until it is golden brown and fluffy. Brush flatbread lightly with olive oil as it comes off the grill.  Repeat with each piece of dough.

The flatbread is best served warm or room temperature.  Once cooled, you can store it wrapped in the fridge for 4 or 5 days.  To reheat, arrange them in one layer directly on the middle rack of a 325 degree oven for 3-5 minutes.  Wrap reheated flatbreads in foil to keep them soft and pliable.  Don’t use the microwave.  It is not kind to breads.

A Better Veggie Burrito

Last year, I finally experienced the perfect veggie burrito. On our last trip to the Cape, D. and I discovered El Mariachi Loco in Hyannis, MA. A tiny shop with only 4 or 5 tables inside, it’s one of the few eateries with steady enough business to stay open all year long. Everything was excellent, from the tacos al pastor to fish tacos, to the steak and carnitas burritos, all the ingredients were fresh, flavorful and perfectly prepared. But the big surprise was the veggie burrito. It was made with the same rice and beans, cheese, lettuce and salsa as the meat burritos, but the difference was in the vegetables. A mixture of bite sized zucchini, onions, and mushrooms cooked down to provide just the right balance of moisture, texture and flavor. This humble veggie burrito held its own next to its meat counterparts. It was so good, we picked some up the next day for the road home.

Back in downtown New York City, I haven’t found a restaurant close to home that makes a veggie burrito as good as El Mariachi’s. Most of the time it feels like a throwaway: rice, beans, cheese and whatever vegetables of the day they have on hand from bland soggy zucchini to giant chunks of crunchy barely cooked broccoli thoughtlessly thrown together. I can’t help but wonder how this could come from the same beloved taco joint that put so much care into making melt-in your mouth barbacoa and carnitas. So we make our own.

Zucchini and mushrooms are widely available, and provide the right amount of heft and meatiness. I dice them into bite sized pieces and give them a quick saute over high heat. To get the right texture it’s important to cook them separately because cooking them together makes the zucchini soggy.

The secret weapon here is sofrito. I make a Spanish inspired sofrito by cooking down tomatoes with onions, sweet peppers, plenty of garlic, cumin, paprika, chiles, and herbs. Mexican style rajas, Basque style piperade, would also work here, but I like the contrast of the sweet bell peppers with the bitterness of the zucchini and mushrooms. This sofrito provides just the right amount of spice and sauciness to tie all the ingredients together.

If you start cooking the vegetables and rice at the same time, everything comes together in less than an hour. When I have time to make a batch of black beans, I’ll use that, but I’m not above using canned ones in a pinch. Amy’s Organic makes excellent refried black beans and I always have one or two cans in my pantry. For a cooling and fresh element in the burrito you can use store bought pico de gallo or salsa, but I encourage you to make fresh pico de gallo or tomato salad. You just need some onion, jalapeno, lime juice, and cilantro. It’s so quick and easy you don’t even need a recipe.

A Better Veggie Burrito

Prep time: 45-60 minutes

Servings: 4-6

AmountIngredients
6 tbspExtra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cupLong grain rice
2 cupDiced yellow onion, divided
2 eaPlum tomato, diced & divided
2 cupVegetable stock
2 cupDiced zucchini (1 large)
2 cupDiced cremini mushrooms
1 cupDiced bell pepper
1 tbspMinced garlic
1/4 tspDry oregano
1/4 tspDry mint
1/4 tspGround cumin
1/4 tspSweet paprika
1 tspChipotle in adobo, or chili powder
2 tbspFresh chopped cilantro
1 tsp*Kosher salt, divided
1 cupBlack Beans or refried beans
6 ozMonterey Jack cheese, shredded
2 cupPico de gallo or salsa
1 eaHead baby romaine lettuce
4-6 ea8”-10” flour tortillas
*Unless otherwise specified, all salt is Diamond Crystal Kosher salt. Measurements using other salts will vary.

To prepare the rice: Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a small 2-quart saucepan over medium low heat.  Add 1 cup onions and 1/2 tsp salt.  Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add half the diced tomatoes and cook briefly 1-2 minutes.  Add rice and vegetable stock, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cover.  Cook on low heat for 15-18 minutes.  Fluff the rice and mix in 1 tbsp chopped cilantro.  Keep covered until ready to use. 

To prepare the vegetables:  While the rice is cooking, heat 1 tbsp olive oil In a 10” skillet or sauce pan over medium high heat.  Add zucchini and and cook for about 3-4 minutes until just golden, but still firm.  Remove zucchini from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, add 1 more tbsp of olive oil and add the mushrooms.  Brown the mushrooms on high heat about 1-2 minutes, then lower the heat to medium, and cook 5 minutes longer until they have released all their moisture.  Remove mushrooms from the pan and combine with the zucchini.  Toss the mixture with a pinch of salt and pepper and set aside.

To the empty skillet add 2 tbsp olive oil, the remaining onions and the bell peppers.  Cook on medium heat until they are very soft, about 8-10 minutes.  Add minced garlic, oregano, mint cumin, paprika and chipotle, and cook for about a minute until fragrant.  Add the rest of the diced tomatoes and 1/4 tsp. salt.  Cook for 8-10 minutes until most of the tomato liquid is cooked off.  Return the zucchini and mushrooms to the pan and add 1 tbsp of chopped cilantro.  Warm all the vegetables through, adjusting salt and pepper to taste.  

To assemble:  Check the seasoning of all your ingredients and adjust as needed before you start to assemble.  If necessary, wash and dry your skillet and set it over medium heat.  

If your tortillas are very stiff, briefly warm each one before using to make it more pliable.

Spread 2-3 tbsp refried beans on the half of the tortilla closest to you.  Sprinkle 1 oz. (1/4 cup) shredded cheese on the other half.    Spread 1/3-1/2 cup of rice and over the refried beans.  Spread 1/3-1/2 cup of the vegetable mixture and over the cheese.  

Top the rice and vegetables with 2-3 tbsp. pico de gallo and and a handful of shredded lettuce.  Roll the burrito, tucking the ends in as you roll and seal the edge with a dab of refried beans. 

Place the burrito seam side down on the heated dry skillet.  Toast until golden brown, then flip over and brown the other side.

Repeat with the remaining tortillas until your filling is gone.  You will have extra rice left over, which you can save for another use, like fried rice or adding to soups.

Serve with sour cream, hot sauce, and/or guacamole.

Substitutions & Ideas:

This is a pretty mild burrito.  For an extra kick, add jalapeno, cayenne pepper or more chipotle to your vegetable mix, or substitute pepper jack cheese.

Homemade vegetable stock is best, but if you don’t have the time for that, cooking the rice with store bought vegetable stock, Knorr vegetable base, or even a couple teaspoons of nutritional yeast a makes huge difference in flavor.

A quick tomato salad makes a good substitute for pico de gallo.  Simply combine 1 or 2 freshly cut tomatoes with some thinly sliced onion and jalapeno, dress with salt, lime juice, and olive oil, and toss with freshly chopped cilantro.

Green Lentil Shakshuka

At the start of summer, I get way too excited about all the local farm tomatoes and peppers, and overly ambitious about all the ways I’m going to use them. Since we’ve been in quarantine, I’ve been missing the aromatic and subtly spicy Shakshuka my Turkish friend @yilmazcik, makes for our daily breakfast service. So, seems like a good way to use my overripe tomatoes and a lightly wrinkled bell peppers. Mr. @yilmazcik uses banana peppers or cubanelles for the heat in his recipe, so I add a bit of jalapeño to this one. Add a few other pantry staples, and this recipe comes together easily. I like to add lentils, but you can also add some cooked meat or other types of beans or vegetables to the finished Shakshuka. The word Shakshouka is Arabic for “mixture” so I’m guessing there are endless variations! If you do use lentils, try French green lentils if you can. They hold their shape better than other varieties.

Green Lentil Shakshouka, makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry lentils (200 g)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (57 g)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced (250 g)
  • 1 large sweet bell pepper, thinly sliced (180 g)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground sweet paprika
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, diced (400 g)
  • 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes (400 g)
  • 1/2 jalapeno, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the lentils and lower to a simmer. Cook until just tender, about 20 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt and set aside until needed.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet or flame proof casserole over medium heat. Add onions and bell pepper and toss to coat with oil. Lower heat to medium low and cook, about 15 minutes until soft. Occasionally stir the vegetables so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot or burn. When the onion-pepper mixture is soft and sweet, add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook until fragrant and sticky, about 1-2 minutes.

Stir in diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and jalapeno. Now grab yourself a cup of tea, bring the mixture to a simmer, let it cook for 15-20 minutes until the diced tomatoes have softened and the sauce has thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper, and cayenne if you prefer more heat.

Drain the lentils and add to the sauce. Reheat, and taste the mixture, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Mix in a handful of chopped cilantro, reserving some for garnish. Carefully crack eggs directly into the skillet, or divide the sauce equally into 6 individual casseroles and crack two eggs in each. Bake 8-12 minutes if you like your eggs runny like I do, or longer if you like your eggs more well done. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

By the way, @yilmazcik recommends listening to this Shakshouka song while you’re making it.

Mise. En. Place.

Today’s inspiration from a busy lifestyle:  Mise en place.  In French it means “put in place.”  In the professional kitchen it refers to all the product a cook needs to wash, cut, chop, portion or cook ahead of time to be able to prepare your meal in a half hour or less.  At home it means spending a rainy day off getting meals set up for the week so I don’t have to think about it when I get home at night or wake up in the morning.  But you knew that right?

Today’s projects included marinating grass fed beef shanks, a pork butt, and a chicken, washing greens, blanching some vegetables, cutting up others, and making salad dressings.  Finally, groundhog salad kits.  Undressed, these hearty kale, romaine and radicchio salads will keep for up to three days.  Add a hard boiled egg, cheese, or leftover chicken or steak from the night before, and lunch is ready to go.

Lunch Box #1: Bahn Mi Lettuce Wraps

Today’s lunchbox of Bahn Mi Lettuce Wraps, includes a wheat-free, slow roasted variation of Sam Sifton’s Vaguely Vietnamese Slow Cooker Pork Tacos.  Sifton’s recipe calls for hoisin sauce, which contains wheat, so we substituted tamari (gluten free soy sauce), brown sugar, and some fruit preserves.  Since we don’t have a slow cooker, I also modifed the preparation for slow roasting in the oven.  After the pork cooled overnight, we sliced it really thin and filled our lunch box with garnishes of bibb lettuce leaves, pork and duck liver pate, homemade quick pickles, and chili-lime mayo.

BAHN MI STYLE PORK BUTT,  adapted from Sam Sifton’s Vaguely Vietnamese Slow Cooker Pork Tacos:

INGREDIENTS:

3-4 lb. boneless pork shoulder, skin removed, but with a little fat left on.
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 c.  tamari sauce
2 Tbsp. peach preserves (or other stone fruit preserves)
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 c.  fish sauce
1 Tbsp. siracha sauce

EQUIPMENT:

5 qt dutch oven or deep 8″x 8″ baking dish, food processor or blender, gallon size ziploc freezer bag

PROCEDURE:

  1.  Combine all the ingredients except the pork in a food processor or blender.  Puree to make a coarse marinade. Bahn Mi Pork Butt Marinade
  2. Place pork in the freezer bag and pour the marinade over it.  Turn the pork to evenly coat it.  Seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible.  Marinate, refrigerated, for at least 6 hours, and up to 24 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.  Place pork in a 5-quart dutch oven or baking dish, with the fat side up.  Pour the liquid from the bag over the pork.  Cover the dutch oven with the lid, or if using a baking dish, cover the pork with a piece of parchment or wax paper, then cover tightly with aluminum foil.Bahn Mi Pork
  4. Roast the pork in the middle of the oven until internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F.  It should be tender and beginning to pull apart.  This could take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours. Check in periodically to make sure there is some liquid in the bottom of the pan and the bottom of the pork is not drying out.
  5. Rest the cooked pork in its juices, at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Pull apart, mix with some of the pan juices, and serve hot, or let cool completely and slice and serve cold.  It’s delicious either way.
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