A stack of various breads in a local farmer's market in Jerusalem. The laffa can be seen in the right corner.
As the cradle of Western civilization, the Middle East is, of course, also the source of many of our most familiar things. The first beer, for instance, was likely brewed in Egypt. There are even recipes for brewing beer written in hieroglyphics. So, too, the first wine, and even the first breads. The discovery of wheat near early towns and villages no doubt led to the first breads, at first by accident then on purpose. Without a doubt these breads were flat breads at first Only later, when rising action was discovered and developed, did we get loaves of bread instead of flat hard 'cracker-like' breads that were easy to store and carry but probably not too tasty. The laffa, as such, would be a relative latecomer to the this crowded field, since it contains yeast, but it is so popular everywhere in the Middle East, and so tasty to boot, I just have to show you how to make it. Originally the laffa probably comes from Lebanon, Syria or even Turkey. Today it is found everywhere and is used for everything from wrapping up a good shawarma or falafel or even just salad greens topped off with some fire-grilled eggplant. All covered, of course, with garlic-infused tehina paste and maybe some hot sauce like schug, the Yemenite fiery chili pepper sauce. Here is a version of the laffa that is both easy to make and quick. It is perfect for picnics or just regular grill parties. Use them to wrap all your favorites like sliced grilled chicken breast like a fajita, for instance. Or with your favorite veggie filling. Whatever you choose, the laffa is delicious and, IMHO even more practical that the tortilla. This is because it is softer, absorbs the juices better than tortillas, and therefore leaks less. Don't get me wrong, I like tortillas too. Maybe I just have a soft spot for something local. Whatever, I'm sure you'll love them. Yum!!
Laffa - A Middle Eastern tortilla (with yeast)
What You'll Need
3½ c bread flour
25g (1oz) instant yeast
1½ c water
1 tbs sugar
½ tbs salt
2 tbs olive oil
A collection of flat breads in a farmer's market in Jerusalem. The laffa, with (green herbed bread) and without za'atar and olive oil can be seen in the foreground.
What You'll Need To Do
1. Mix the yeast and flour in a mixer with a kneading hook. Add the water, sugar, salt, & oil and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and shiny, and slightly sticky.
2. Transfer the dough to a large greased bowl. Turn in the bowl to make sure it is covered in oil and cover with cling wrap and allow to rise to double its size. This will take about an hour or so.
3. Divide the dough into 6 parts, rolling each into a ball. Cover with a moist towel and leave for 10 minutes to rest.
4. Roll each ball into a disk 30- 35cm (12 to 15 inches) across.
5. Bake at 180 C (350 F) for about 10 minutes.
6. Remove from the oven and immediately cover with a dish towel.
OR, toast with oil in a frying pan. Turn over when brown scorch marks begin to appear. Then, toast for minute. Stack the laffot, covered by a towel.
The classic baking book The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook has a great collection of flat breads, including one, similar to this using boiling water! It is definitely worth checking out.
In rural areas of the Middle East, the laffa is made in/on a taboon. This is a stone oven heated with a wood fire to very high temperatures. The laffa is often rolled out and then slapped onto the roof of the taboon to 'bake' very quickly, often only a minute or so. The taboon exists in one form or another all over the Middle East and even in India where it is called a tandoor. (Think tandoori chicken - another story for another post!) The closest equivalent we can have in a modern Western kitchen is the un-greased frying pan heated to a high temperature (just smoking). The end product is very much like the real thing. Yum!!
* To make the laffa really authentic, try brushing with a little olive oil as soon as it is baked then sprinkling some za'atar (hyssop available in Middle East groceries)) over it and maybe some coarse salt.