Saturday, May 31, 2008

the imposter

seen throughout the (eastern) mediterranean, these bagel look-alikes are very popular snack item. vendors in places like israel and turkey sell them fresh from carts, still warm if you're lucky.

simit can be made the simple way, as i show here, or the dough can be twisted to make a more fancy shape. they are, for the most part, double the size of a standard bagel and come in different thicknesses. i guess one could call them a middle eastern/mediterranean bagel :)

the following recipe is simple and quick, with little fussing, so even the most "dough-challenged" person can manage it. it is the way we always made it at home.

(turkish) sesame coated bread rings

wet ingredients:

1 tsp quick rise yeast or 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 c warm water

1/3 c tepid water + 2 tbsp olive oil (plus extra WATER if needed)

dry ingredients:

2 c bread flour* (AP flour works also)
1/2 tsp salt, heaped
1/2 tsp sugar, heaped
1/4 tsp mahlep, optional

2 tsp dibz al rumman (pomegranate syrup)**
1 tsp water

RAW sesame seeds (~ 1/2 cup)

*try to use bread flour as it makes for a better simit.

**if this is unavailable, you can try to approximate it by using only pomegranate juice but the flavour will not be exactly the same. you can also either use an egg white or just plain water. the idea is to make the seeds stick.


this can be made in a food processor or by hand. i am showing how to do with a food processor but follow the same instructions and mix by hand.

add the dry ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times to thoroughly mix.

place the yeast, sugar and 1/4 cup of water together and mix. let sit for about 15 minutes.

add the rest of the water.

turn on the food processor, and with it running, add the water slowly until it forms a ball. depending up your flour, you may need a little less than called for or a little more.

remove the dough from the process and knead for about 5 minutes. you should have a soft and non sticky dough.

place it in an oiled bowl and let sit for about 1 1/2 hours to prove.

when proved, remove the dough in one piece to a work surface (unfloured).

make a square shape and cut into four equal pieces. do not roll them into a ball.

take each square and poke a whole in the center. expand their width a little so they look like bagels. do this slowly so as not to break them. cover them and work with one at a time.

before starting this however, take two plates -- one for the sesame seeds and one for coating the bread.

make sure to have a baking sheet lined with parchment ready. you'll need a large baking sheet to hold all 4 rings.

make the wash from the syrup or use the alternative stated above. try to use the pomegranate syrup.

preheat the oven to 450F.

make a rough bagel shape by placing your fingers in the center and gradually expanding it while turning the dough EVENLY. it should be about an inch thick and approximately 7 to 8 inches wide.

if you want to make them twisted, cut the dough ring after expanding it only slightly and twist it. as you twist it, it will lengthen (or should). then reattach the ends and proceed.

place the expanded ring carefully on the clean plate. coat both sides with the pomegranate syrup.

carefully lift the ring to the dish with the sesame seeds. using a spoon, lift some of the seeds from the center and sprinkle them over the top. turn the ring over lifting it and coat the other side. try to get as many seeds on as possible. it should be fully coated.

lift the coated ring and place it on the baking sheet uncovered.

repeat 3 more times until all the rings are done.

let the simit prove for at least 20 minutes.

place them in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes and then lower the heat to 350 and bake another 5 to 10 minutes or until nicely golden brown. do not overbake them. if they burn, the seeds will turn bitter and the bread won't taste good.

remove them and let cool. you can eat them warm or at room temperature.

freeze them right away (cooled, of course!) if you want them later. they are really only good the day you make them. the recipe can be doubled.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

quick-fix desserts & snacks — no. 1

even though i buy and use them fairly often in a variety of ways (mostly in baking or to make smoothie type drinks), bananas have never been on my top 10 list of favourite fruits. i'm not sure why — maybe it has something to do with childhood memories of seeing them blacken in that crystal fruit bowl on the dining room table and emit their ripening smell. my parents regularly bought too many. of course, to counter this problem, i always seemed to find them in my lunch bag. even though i said i don't like them, that damned banana was in my lunch anyway with its oh-so-gross smell that made me gag. if they only knew how many bananas i threw in the garbage can at school! LOL.

for that reason, i can only eat them when they are greenish-yellow or have just turned yellow. i think they are at their best at this stage. to this day, if i see one brown spot or they have started to soften, they are immediately relegated into the "banana bread category". one good thing is that they can be frozen to use later.

an easy and quick dessert for bananas which are in their firm stage is the ubiquitous and very popular asian fried bananas. almost a de rigueur post meal ending in vietnam and thailand, they are also eaten as a snack item. the bananas used are often a small variety but the regular standard large(r) kind work just as well.

there are many recipes for the batter. as fried bananas are served in a variety of asian countries, the ingredients that go into the coating will differ from country to country. some will use rice flour or all purpose wheat flour or a combination thereof. as for the liquids, recipes include one or more of the following: eggs, water, coconut milk, beer. some even add coconut to the batter. the one i use is very basic and simple. you can use that one or look around for different recipes. no harm in testing out a few different versions!

the coating for this particular recipe is eggless and dairy free, making it suitable for people with different dietary followings/restrictions. if you want, you can always whisk one egg and add it as the liquid (mixed with 3 tbsp of water) until you get the desired consistency. it works fine without the egg, just using water to bind the flours.

i cannot give an EXACT measure for the amount of liquid used as it will depend on the type of flours you are using. what is important is the consistency; it should be like that of a thick cream (whipping cream) — one which is thick enough to nicely coat the bananas and stay adhered to them. just remember to err on the side of thicker versus thinner. of course, if it is too thin, you can always just add a bit more flour. you can slice a coin sized piece of banana off and coat and cook it to test the results and adjust as necessary — a good idea for people making this for the first time.

using rice flour is important to achieve a crisp texture. you can use either rice flour from glutinous (sweet) rice or a regular one. if you don't want to buy a whole quantity of it, you can easily grind some to a fine powder in your coffee grinder. make sure to sieve it with a fine strainer as you do not want any granular pieces in it.

frying the bananas can be a bit messy because, as they fry, the bananas soften and slight amounts of liquid are released causing splutters. the best thing to do is to (shallow) fry them in about 3 inches of oil in a pot which has high(er) sides.

that said, don't be deterred from try them. it's just a matter of stirring, dipping and frying :))

easy asian style fried bananas

serves 2


2 firm just ripening bananas*

batter ingredients:

4 tbsp rice flour
3 tbsp AP flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sugar
good pinch of salt

enough water to make a heavy cream consistency. you can also use an egg mixed with 3 tbsp water, again, adding only enough to make correct batter consistency.

honey syrup:

1/4 c honey or brown rice syrup
2 tbsp butter or margarine
(1 tsp lime juice or rum, optional)

*bananas should have just turned yellow. using ones which are too ripe will result in poor results as they are too soft and fragile to use in this recipe.

optional garnishes:

-shredded toasted coconut
-toasted sesame seeds
-powdered sugar


heat your oil over medium heat as you make the batter and prepare the bananas.

make the batter —

add the dry ingredients in a bowl and blend them together with a whisk.

add enough water (or egg combined with water) to make a heavy cream consistency. set aside.

prepare the bananas —

peel the bananas.

cut each evenly in half. if you want to make them whole, you'll obviously need a larger bowl for the batter and to fry them — use a wok for that purpose.

to fry —

with a spoon, drop a very small amount of batter into the oil to see if it is ready. you will know when to add the bananas when the piece floats to the surface and bubbles. if it falls to the bottom and stays there, it is not ready.

place each half in the batter and turn to coat evenly.

place the bowl near the heated oil. very carefully transfer each half of banana by jabbing it with a fork.

take care to drop the banana in the oil near the surface of the oil and not from a distance. this will prevent the oil from splattering.

fry the bananas until they are golden brown and drain them on paper towel.

serve them with a drizzling of the honey syrup (or plain honey, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, etc) and sesame seeds or granola..

to make the syrup:

place the honey or brown rice syrup in a microwavable bowl or small pan and add the butter or margarine. heat it until it melts and stir to blend. it should be in a liquid state. some people like to add a tsp of rum or a liqueur to it. i often add lime juice to cut the sweetness. you can also just serve them with a dusting of confectioner's sugar.


Monday, May 19, 2008

reruns no. 1 — lavosh

as everyone knows should know, there is no one definitive recipe — or more accurately put, set of measures of ingredients — for any given prepared food. rather it's more a set of ratios and/or standards, which when combined and executed, give a culturally accepted flavour or texture or shape to whatever we are making. a case in point would be for something like bagels which are a staple bread here in north america (usa & canada). depending upon where you live, one community's bagels are very different from another one's. each community thinks its version is the right one.

much of it comes down to what you grow up with in your community and personal tastes. what one person may find delicious and inviting, the next person may find disgusting and unpalatable. such is the reality of cooking and baking.

over the next while, time permitting, i will post some "reruns" of previous recipes. it has nothing to do with previous versions not being "good" but rather variations on the same theme.

the first rerun is for the "crackerbread" called lavosh which is a staple of turkey and armenia. if you want to (re)read, or missed the previous post about it then look here. that version is made with wholewheat flour and is texturally different from the following one. it also contains information about the history of the bread and how it is/was made traditionally.

this {modified} recipe is from a cookbook by victoria jenanyan wise called simply, the armenian table. it results in a soft(er) version made from all purpose flour. it makes for great sandwiches or using as you would pita bread. i have been using it for several years now. i've changed the proportion of water a bit and the shaping is how i (learned to) do it .....

UPDATE: to use the lavosh bread here for sandwiches, follow these directions.


makes 6 large lavosh breads


4 tbsp margarine or shortening (or olive oil)

2 tsp rapid rise yeast (or 2 1/2 t active dry)
1 1/4 c warm water
2 tsp sugar

3 1/2 c AP flour
2 1/2 tsp salt

sesame seeds

large baking sheet
parchment paper


measure 4 tbsp margarine or shortening or (olive) oil. don't use butter as the milk solids in the butter will cause the lavash to brown too quickly.

if using margarine, melt it first and set aside.

prove yeast: add 1 1/4 c warm water with 2 tsp rapid rise (or 2 1/2 tsp active dry) and 2 tsp sugar.

let sit at least 15 minutes to fully 'bloom'.

add the melted margarine or oil to the yeast mixture and mix well. make sure the margarine or shortening is not hot when you add it or you risk killing or at the very least damaging the efficacy of the yeast.

mix the salt and flour together.

add the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients.

with a wooden spoon mix the wet with the dry.

mix until you get a shaggy mixture.

bring it together in a round of dough.

place a bowl over the dough and let it sit for 15 minutes.

knead the dough for a good 5 minutes. the texture of the dough should be firm but kneadable.

place the dough in a greased bowl and let rise for about 2 to to 2 1/2 hours.

preheat your oven to 400 F 1/2 hour before you bake.

remove the dough and flatten it. don't knead it.

shape the dough into a square.

cut the dough evenly in half.

cut each half evenly into 3 squares.

form balls and cover the dough and let rest (covered) 15 minutes.

take each round and make a disk with it by using your hands or a rolling pin. this is to make the rolling easier. place them back in a bowl or on a plate and cover.

you can make round shapes or rectangular ones for lavash.

for the round shape:

place a flattened dough round on an unfloured surface and roll it out by turning and flipping it over from side to side. the dough should not be sticky; if it is, then use a bit of flour.

this will take a bit of practice if you aren't skilled but it is very easy.

keep rolling until it is very thin and about 12 to 14 inches across.

take your hand and wet it under the tap and then place it on the dough round. spread it all around the dough until it is thoroughly moistened and the surface looks whitish. this takes about 5 to 10 seconds only.

sprinkle sesame seeds over the surface evenly.

take your rolling pin and roll the seeds into the surface of the dough. this is to prevent them from popping off.

transfer the round to a parchment paper or greased paper by taking by edges and lifting. remember, the dough will stick to an ungreased surface and make removal difficult so grease your pan in not using parchment.

for the rectangular shape:

take the dough round and roll it lengthwise.

you will probably have to roll it sideways also to stretch it further.

once it is the length of, say, a small forearm, take each corner with your finger and shape a square corner. do this to all four corners.

wet dough as described above and sprinkle with seeds, rolling them into the dough.

to bake both:

bake them one by one only. they are fairly large and should be baked in the middle of the oven; baking on double racks may cook the lower one too quickly. as one is baking, you have enough time to roll out the next one.

it takes only about 8 minutes to bake them. they will remain whitish and will be golden in spots. don't let them overbake or they will become too brittle. the breads will bubble in certain areas as they bake.

let the lavash cool.


they will be somewhat soft and somewhat crisp. tear pieces and use as you would pita. if you are using them right away, you can place them in a plastic bag after you take them out of the oven to soften them up further. if you've never had lavosh before, don't expect pita breads from these; they are much thinner and the texture is different.

if you store them, they will dry out further, however this is fine.

to use your lavosh: (see here also)

they are typically & traditionally brought back to life (usually to make breads for sandwiches) by doing the following:

either wet the whole lavash under the tap and then place wrapped in a damp clean teatowel or spray it with water and place in teatowel. at this point, i usually place it in a plastic bag to keep the moisture.

it must rest for several hours to soften up. depending on how dried out it is, it can take quite a few hours (like all morning). you know when to use it when it is malleable enough to roll. if you leave it too long, however, it can become too moistened — so keep checking it every once in a while.

use it to wrap up a filling as you would a burrito OR roll it up around your filling as for pinwheel sandwiches and cut into rounds.