The Fresh Loaf

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Sourdough Flatbread and Chicken Shawarma Plus Other Goodies

PalwithnoovenP's picture
PalwithnoovenP

Sourdough Flatbread and Chicken Shawarma Plus Other Goodies

It's gonna be 2021 here in a few minutes and this is my mandatory yearend post. It has been a difficult time we have all been through. It changed our lives and left us in uncertainty but there is still that glimmer of hope. I wish all of us a better and blessed 2021.

Here is what I made today. 

I've come to terms with some spices this year. Before, at least with my own cooking, I really really hate the strong and pungent smell of some spices; especially cumin, I really abhor cumin! I can say it stinks! Really, it was just me not really knowing how to use and combine spices. When applied properly, it really elevates the taste of food. This year, I've tasted authentic Pakistani/Indian food and it was amazing. I want to taste it again but due to the lockdown, that restaurant closed. As usual, the only way for me to taste it is to make it. Later, I'll show you my first ventures in spices.

A really good shawarma is a childhood memory for me. But it turns out, the shawarma that I have loved as a kid is very far from the real deal in the Middle East, as told by a college friend who grew up in Saudi Arabia. (She was also the one who pointed me to the right direction for that authentic Pakistani/Indian restaurant) After some research, I found a good recipe online; and fortunately too, the city next to my town where I work is becoming more and more cosmopolitan, I found some "rare" spices (at least for me) in one of its large malls.

Shawarma here is always served with a flatbread more akin to a flour tortilla than the ones they use in the Middle East. As a personal twist, I made it with sourdough. It was a simple 70% hydration dough enriched with a little olive oil. I originally intended to make pitas but the bread did not puff up. I think It was too wet, almost impossible to roll thinly and evenly. As a result it did not have the correct texture; it was soft and chewy, just a bit stretchy, and with a custardy crumb. However, the flavor was so good, you could eat it plain.



I can't believe the smell when the chicken was being cooked, even just on the pan, it was insane! I could just imagine how it would smell when grilled properly! Shawarma is served differently depending on the country and meat. As I do not have time to make pickles and fries or to others chips; I chose to go with red onions, tomatoes, and cucumber as accompaniments since it is what I grew up with. I also did not go with toum or garlic sauce since I do not have the equipment to make it. The sauce I used was still garlic-flavored but yogurt-based similar to tzatziki.

Since the bread was too thin to be sliced in half but too thick to be rolled it ended up as a deconstructed shawarma plate later.

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Though 2020 was not really good, it is the year in which I first ventured into South Asian Food on my own. It started when I first tasted a legit biryani recommended by my friend. I really liked the taste, then I got to taste their samosa, then many more. I met the owner and found out he is Pakistani. Wanting to know more about biryani and his one especially, I put my "language skills" if you can really call them skills to use. ;) I spoke to him a bit of Urdu (well Hindi is what I really studied a bit but they are just different registers of the Hindustani language) and we became friends immediately. I told him how I like his biryani and I told him the spices that I saw and then he proceeded to enumerate the spices he uses and their relative amounts. All of this in Urdu with just a little bit of English. Sometimes, even just the slight knowledge of various things is of great help. :)



Punjabi aloo samosa - I reconstructed the taste from memory from his samosas, it was sour with a hint of garam masala. One recipe I found was too flaky, similar to pie crust and/or empanadas, it was not similar and I do not prefer it. One time the crust was perfect; crispy, slightly chewy and stretchy but the spices were not right, it had onion and garlic too. Found some coriander the other day and it was much closer, as I did not have amchur, I substituted lemon juice and it almost tasted the same. I upped the ginger and green chilies too. I served it with some lemon chai, if there is such a thing. I really wish I had some imli ki chatni that day!



Last minute onion samosa - different wrapper and filling. I think it was closer to the middle eastern sambusa.



My first Biryani back in August. Some key spices were missing like cardamom, coriander and cloves but the taste was good but not close enough to the one I like. I saw a Kolkata-style biryani and thought potato might be good so I added it even though I still haven't tasted it in biryani before, so this actually is an amalgam of styles of biryani from the different regions in the Indian subcontinent. No aromatics too like rose water and kewra.





My second biryani, Lamb Biryani - Saw some lamb shank and shoulder in the supermarket for the first time and I was excited to try it. I thought it will be perfect for biryani; not knowing that mutton actually refers to goat in India. I made it closer to Hyderabadi style but still missing key spices and aromatics; the natural coloring I used also did not show up that well. Though, I made sure to get some mint as mint is classic accompaniment to lamb. Now comes the coriander (cilantro), I really don't like its taste and thought it will not come through due to all the strong flavors in the dish, Oh how wrong I was! It was so strong that I feel nauseated whenever the pot of the biryani was opened and no one in the family likes to try the lamb as it was too gamey for them so I was forced to eat it all by myself. 

The lamb was great! I love it! The shank was tender and sticky and infused the rice with its wonderful fat. Had it not been for the coriander I would have devoured it really quickly!

My third biryani- really eyeing for a Kolkata biryani with that potato. Still missing some key spices but I added those that I found to the spice mix. I also found a better natural colorant for that vivid streaks in the rice.

My final attempt this year. Finally found those spices; the cardamom, the coriander and I even found authentic saffron, how expensive it was! Especially cardamom and saffron, they really have those special aromas that are hard to describe. The yellow color of the rice came mainly from saffron. Really getting closer and closer to a Kolkata-style biryani, just made spicy with green chilies and with 1-3 aromatic distillates missing.

The Middle Eastern food that I prepared today is just the first, more will come God willing in 2021 and I hope to share it with you. Still tons of food that I learned to make in 2020. I will share them all hopefully in a more fitting post.

This really proves that there is really much to be thankful for, and us being able to witness another year is more than enough for us to consider ourselves truly blessed.

Happy New Year!

2020, you may not be the best year I still want to thank you for the things you have done to me. You allowed me to appreciate and value what I have more than ever, you allowed me to eat less and move more, you allowed me to discover and rediscover wonderful things; but most importantly, you brought me closer to God.

Comments

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

Your food looks amazing, a real feast! I also learned a lot about Indian/Pakistani cooking this year, and right now I am making lamb biryani for our New Year's eve dinner! Lucky to have some very authentic Indian restaurants here in Edinburgh to learn the right tastes of dishes, and I have a cookbook from one of them (Dishoom, a chain of a few great restaurants in the UK) with excellent recipes verified by some Indian colleagues.

PalwithnoovenP's picture
PalwithnoovenP

Lamb biryani! I think I now know how to cook it to my preference.

It is what I am missing, the authentic restaurants to learn the correct tastes of dishes so I was so happy when I found one. That cookbook must have been handy for all of your cravings.

The post has been updated. I published it prematurely to be sure that I will not accidentally delete it. :)

Thank you for your kind words!

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

Let me know if you want any recipes, it's pretty big, I'm happy to share!

PalwithnoovenP's picture
PalwithnoovenP

Hope you're safe in the UK especially with this new variant emerging. You're a molecular biologist? Maybe I can ask about some "stuff" sometimes. I love educating myself. :) I have posted here something that involves microorganisms, enzyme and possibly toxin production and I was waiting for experts in the field to give their thoughts on that and maybe even correct scientific inaccuracies that I might have made. It might be an interesting read for you, I can link it to you if you want.

By the way, вы говорите по русски?

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

Thank you, all safe here! At least for now. The variant is mostly found in the south-east England (including London), and less so in Scotland. Hopefully you are staying safe too.

I am a molecular biologist indeed, although with expertise quite a bit away from what you mention - but ask away, who knows, I just might be able to help you. I will have a look if you share some links.

Indeed, я говорю по-русски, я вырос в России! Do you speak Russian?

PS

In case you are interested, here is the lamb biryani recipe I have from the book. I follow it as close as I can, but some more challenging ingredients (rose and kewda water, for example, in this recipe) I just skip - the result is delicious anyway!


PalwithnoovenP's picture
PalwithnoovenP

I wonder if I'll leave out the cumin (like this one though still might be obscured in the garam masala) in my biryanis, I know especially Awadhi style is not about strong flavors but about delicate balance. Yeah, it's those distillates especially the sandalwood one that are the unicorns. I might buy them online though I have zero knowledge when it comes to online shopping or wait for my city to be cosmopolitan enough that one of its malls carry it.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/54739/other-side-fermentation Here is the one I was talking about where I made homemade soy sauce which is both a fascinating and a terrifying process. The main concern was aflatoxin. Was its name derived from A. Flavus that produces it? :) May you share in which field does your expertise lie? I am so happy that there is this community where people can share their passion and many can listen and learn which is also a unicorn in the world outside of it.

Heard Russian back in high school and loved the way it sounded, became more interested when I found out it was one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Took the plunge and studied it; became familiar with the alphabet and was able to read Russian (did not expect it was the easiest part); then got introduced to the three genders and the six cases, and that was where it ended. Haha

The grammatical cases was just too much for me, it was my first time to hear that and I thought that it was so much of a foreign concept (how ironic since my native tongue also employs cases although through case marking instead of inflection; I found it out years after). So many endings to memorize for the declension paradigms! Conjugation is already hard (but still manageable), let alone declension!

Now, I try to look at it whenever I have time and/or I am in the mood and I am slowly grasping it. To help learn the concept, I checked Latin out since it has a similar one (not exactly but has many overlaps like the instrumental and prepositional with the ablative) but will be a bit easier because of the alphabet and is more familiar-sounding (through English and Romance languages; and not much of a long string of consonants). I guess having native speakers around can be of great help. French was less confusing when I met a teacher here. Thanks again!

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

Re biryani: I know of an Indian/Pakistani shop with a very wide selection which would likely stock anything I need for any dish, but I also try not to buy things needed for just one thing. So far I enjoyed the slightly reduced recipe a lot anyway! Since you mentioned Garam Masala, they actually provide the recipe for their own garam masala, which has many more components than the mixes I've seen in shops (click to see the full sized picture):

Unfortunately, without a spice grinder it's just too hard to grind by hand in a pestle and mortar, in particular breaking apart a cinnamon stick is essentially impossible. I tried making it once, and it was really rich and fragrant, but I couldn't feel my hand for some time. I got a much better pestle and mortar since, so actually apart from the cinnamon it would be not that hard I think, maybe I should try making it again.

Wow home-made soy (mung?) sauce, amazing. And scary. But you are still posting here three years later, so I guess it was safe! Benny here was making home-made miso. You'd love talking to each other I think. I haven't seen him post the results yet though.

Unfortunately my expertise is very different - I study how the DNA is folded in 3D space in the cell nucleus. Not really biochemistry or microbiology (although I did study them in university, but that was a while ago now). So don't think I can help you with this professionally, but I have access to scientific literature, if you need to consult any papers you can't access yourself I'm happy to help (or there is sci-hub).

And of course if you have any questions about Russian, I am also happy to help. I studies German for some time, and they also have a similar declension system, although based on articles, not word endings. I find it really interesting how many languages have an extensive case system, while other do away with them (almost) completely, like English. Удачи!

 

PalwithnoovenP's picture
PalwithnoovenP

How lucky was my day, I found some rose buds from out of nowhere! I immediately bought some lamb, looking forward to a great weekend meal. Ooh, it must have been impossible to grind the cinnamon and bay leaves to a powder by hand in a mortar and pestle!


Wow! First time to meet a "real" person whose work lies somewhere along that. I only heard of that in school. I'm thrilled! Спасибо!

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

I actually still have rose buds, found them just to make the Garam Masala! Was a challenge to source them, but wanted to do it all properly. Would love to find them another use, it's not an ingredient I am familiar with.

The bay leaves were not too bad, the seeds were difficult, and the cinnamon stick was just impossible. I did what I could, but I think in the end I added some ground cinnamon and removed big chunks of the stick. Now with a new pestle&mortar I'd make quick work with the seeds too. Maybe next time I'll make it myself instead of using the store-bought mix, apart from cinnamon, which I can just use already ground. Should try once more at least, anyway.

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

Didn't take a picture of the plate, here is some of our lamb biryani left in the pot :)

PalwithnoovenP's picture
PalwithnoovenP

That looks grand! Oh, I'm drooling right now! I became more excited to make this as soon as possible.

Benito's picture
Benito

Happy New Year to you, I haven’t seen you post in some time, good to see it today.  All the best.

Benny

PalwithnoovenP's picture
PalwithnoovenP

Work has (exceedingly) doubled and even tripled due to the pandemic, that is why.  Thanks!

Happy New Year to you too Benny!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The food looks so good and incredible and the rice, so long and fanciful.  What kind of rice are you both cooking?

Happy slide into the new year!

PalwithnoovenP's picture
PalwithnoovenP

I used aged, non-parboiled Basmati rice. You can find more information online on how to use and cook it in case you're interested. :)

Thanks and Happy New Year Mini!

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I would be happy to help you eat the dishes your family doesn't like so much, especially the lamb biryani.

Happy New Year!

David

PalwithnoovenP's picture
PalwithnoovenP

I would be happy too to share a meal, if only we could! Thank you!


Happy New Year David!