Almost every ancient country or ethnic group has a flatbread, whether baked in an oven or cooked on the top of a griddle. I might even go so far as to say they all do, but then I would have to do some research before posting this. So let’s just agree that almost all do. (Right off the top of my head, I give you tortillas from Mexico, matzo from Israel, injera from Ethiopia and naan from India.) Normally I would be all about the researching but, frankly, I have spent many of my waking hours this past last week responding to concerned friends and family who are worried about our safety here in Cairo. Let’s just get it out there: WE ARE FINE! The demonstrations all over the region and especially the tragic murders in Libya are extremely upsetting but, as for Cairo, aside from protestors in Tahrir Square, the rest of the city is calm and peaceful and we are in no danger whatsoever. I continue to pray for total peace in the region.
Now back to our regularly scheduled Cooked in Translation post where the recipe prompt is pizza. The challenge set this month by our host, Paola, over at Italian in the Midwest is to recreate pizza from a new cultural or ethnic perspective. Which is what brought me to flatbreads in the first place. Because what is pizza but an oven-baked flatbread traditionally topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and possibly a few other choice ingredients? I decided to give this a Middle Eastern spin, making my crust with toasted cumin and topping it with roasted eggplant paste made with spices and garlic and tahini – that is to say, baba ganoush – and then adding feta and black olives and roasted red peppers. Egypt does indeed have its own pizza, called manousah, but I couldn’t find one that used baba ganoush as a sauce. I did find recipes with yogurt and feta and even tomato sauce or honey. So, this baby is authentic nowhere but that doesn’t stop it from being delicious!
Ingredients for two pizzas
For the crust:
4 1/2 cups flour
1/4 oz or 7g dried yeast (I used one envelope of Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise.)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon whole cumin
For the baba ganoush:
1 large or 2 medium eggplants
1/4 cup or 60ml tahini
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Sea salt, to taste
For the additional toppings:
7 oz or 200g feta (I used sheep’s milk feta but your favorite will do nicely.)
1 large red bell pepper
1 teaspoon ground sumac
1/4 cup black olives (about 14-16) or more if you love them
Good handful fresh flat-leaf parsley
First we will make the dough so it has time to rise.
Toast your cumin seeds in a dry non-stick skillet over a medium fire. Keep shaking them so they don’t burn. This takes just a few minutes. Set aside.
Put about half of your flour in the mixing bowl and add the yeast, salt and 1 1/2 cups or 355ml very warm water.
Mix on low until all of the water is incorporated and you have a very thin batter. Scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat on medium for two minutes.
Add in the rest of your flour a little at a time, along with the toasted cumin, switching to the bread hook, if you have one, when the dough gets too stiff for the regular beater/s. If you don’t have a bread hook, knead the dough by hand until it is stretchy and smooth.
Drizzle a little olive oil into the bowl and roll the dough into a ball and turn it around in the oil. Cover and set aside in a warm place to rise.
Now on to the baba ganoush.
Preheat your oven to 375°F or 190°C. Roast the eggplant on the stove top if you have a gas stove or on a barbecue pit. I know this looks scary, but an Indian friend taught me this method and she swore by it. It really does work!
You want to keep turning the eggplant until all sides are charred and the skin is cracking.
Place your eggplants in a pan in the preheated oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the eggplants are soft.
Turn the eggplants over halfway through.
Roast your red bell pepper on the stove or barbecue pit, just as you did the eggplant. When it is blackened all over, pop it in a plastic bag and tie a knot. (The steam will help loosen the skin and make it easy just to slide off.) Set aside.
Meanwhile, mince your garlic and roughly chop your parsley and set them aside.
When the eggplants are soft, remove them from the oven and transfer them to a plate Allow them to cool enough to handle. Turn the oven up so it can preheat to 400°F or 200°C.
Peel the eggplants and cut the stem end off. Put the flesh in a medium bowl and mash with a fork.
Add in the rest of the baba ganoush ingredients. Stir well. Set aside.
By now your dough should have almost doubled. Punch it down and divide into two equal halves. (These ingredients will make two pizzas, probably with baba ganoush leftover, if you don’t spread it on too thickly.)
Oil a baking pan and stretch one piece of the dough out by hand - as thin or thick as you like it. We prefer thin to thick. And remember that it will rise some more as it bakes.
Pop this in the oven for about eight minutes. The goal is to cook the bottom enough so that the crust slides around easily on the baking pan.
While the crust bakes, remove the skin from the roasted bell pepper. Cut the stem end off, remove the seeds and cut it into strips. Drain the olives of any liquid and dry them off.
Crumble your feta with a knife or fork.
Remove the crust from the oven and top with some baba ganoush and half of the feta, olives and bell pepper. Sprinkle with half of the sumac and drizzle on some olive oil.
Slide the pizza into the oven, off of the pan and directly onto the oven rack or shelf. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the feta is melted, about 15 more minutes.
Remove from the oven by reversing the process, grabbing the edge of the pizza crust and sliding it back on the baking tray.
Top with chopped parsley and drizzle on a little olive oil. (Repeat the whole process for the second pizza.)
I like to put my pizza on a wooden cutting board at this point because I think the wood absorbs some of the steam and keeps the bottom from losing its crunch. But you can leave it in the pan, if you’d like. Cut into slices and serve.
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To check out the other delicious Cooked in Translation pizza posts, follow these links.