Focaccia, Lavash, Matzah, Roti, Pita… The list goes on to encompass the many varieties of flatbreads, each baked their own distinctive way on hearths and in ovens around the world. Arguably the most popular bread category on earth, flatbreads are a comfort food par excellence and a staple in many Middle Eastern and European cultures. Aside from all that, they also happen to be a very easy and versatile side dish that can be used in any meal of the day.
Back in the ancient times flatbreads were more common than flatware, and the thin breads were very handy for holding all manner of edibles. The absence of leavening meant the bread didn’t rise, making for a quick and easy cook and the ideal receptacle for piles of meat and vegetables. Over the centuries, many regions have perfected their own version, which has in turn spread rapidly across the globe putting pitas, tortillas and focaccias within easy reach of every home chef. From the islands of Greece, we get pita bread; those soft and delicious pockets designed for stuffing with lamb or grilled vegetables topped with a creamy tzatziki sauce. In India, chapati is a classic street food, usually cooked on an open flame as the ultimate complement for curries of every flavour. The focaccia of Italy and the fougasse of France are not as flat as their Eastern counterparts but can be sliced and used as a sandwich, or simply brushed with a little olive oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs.
Cooks all over the world are discovering that flatbreads are a healthy addition to a balanced diet, as well as a way to introduce some Middle Eastern flavours into our fare. When it’s homemade, you know exactly what is in the mix, from whole grains to seeds and herbs. Not only is it a wholesome alternative to store-bought loaves of bread, flatbreads take just a few minutes to make and their beauty is in their uniqueness. No two breads ever turn out the same so don’t spend time trying to get the perfect shape – after all, a few bumps or odd sizes merely adds to their authenticity! Warm, crusty and straight from the oven, they add a wonderful ‘freshly made’ element to those days when dinner comes from the freezer or you haven’t had time to plan an entrée.
Although Istanbul, Marrakesh or an island in the Mediterranean might not be on the cards for us this year, a simple flatbread with a few carefully selected toppings or side dishes can send us on a Middle Eastern adventure at our own kitchen table.