Years ago when Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything was my Bible, I studied every page like a good little novice, and approximately 882 pages later I came across the no doubt often overlooked section, “Fifty Cookbooks I’d Rather Not Live Without.” This led to many happy finds but none so happy as Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, which in due course upended HtCE as All-Time-Favorite-Cookbook.
Is this the point at which I mention that I hung out last week with Naomi Duguid? No, that’s spoiling the surprise too soon.
So I got my copy of F&F in 2005 and away I went. You see, for years already then (and still now) I’d been haunted with guilt because the first time I attempted to make bread from scratch I forgot to add the yeast. It was only once I had a supple dough in hand that I realized my mistake and—close your eyes, here it comes—thinking there was nothing more to be done about it, I threw it out.
I sometimes feel that when I face Judgment Day, that wasted bread dough will be dangled in front of my nose, an outrageous combination of wastefulness and ignorance.
F&F remedied my ignorance, at least, and no unyeasted bread dough has been wasted since. I immediately set about making chapatti, remembered fondly from my mom’s dabblings in Indian cooking when I was little and peerless when fried in a bit of salted butter. Then pretty much all the Ethiopian recipes because it was the only source of Ethiopian recipes I could even find in that pre-Marcus-Samuelsson era. And then all the Georgian foods, from cheese bread to anything you could fling a walnut at.
Tibetan barley bread today, or Finnish barley bread instead? Turcoman sourdough with my Yemeni chicken stew, or Afghan snowshoe naan? Moroccan anise bread? Blue corn tortillas? Sorghum bread? Fresh rice papers? To say nothing of all the main dishes, side dishes, sweets, and sauces? Each dish was more alluring than the next.
At some point I realized I was going to have to make every single recipe in the book.
And I did.
It is that good.
Which meant, once I was done, that my life had a gaping hole in it. I coped by means of my hysterical completionist’s need to “cook out” other cookbooks, which I proceeded to do with childhood favorite Many Hands Cooking and very beloved Please to the Table and a few other smaller, less ambitious collections. But F&F was my first, and accordingly I have always had a tender spot for it in my heart.
So imagine the palpitations roused in said heart when Elizabeth Andoh, my new guru of Japanese cuisine, casually mentioned that on the first occasion I’d serve as her assistant “Naomi will be there… maybe you know of her? Naomi Duguid?”
I confess, dear reader, that even someone positively oozing with the gravitas of the pastoral office such as myself can be rendered starstruck. And here I was just recovering from Elizabeth’s near proximity.
Needless to say, Naomi is very cool, very interesting, and off and running on a new project about salt. Between flatbreads and salt she’s investigated a ton of other delicious wonders, from rice to Persian food to Burmese food, and that’s just for starters.
But if you need further persuading that her recipes are worth adding to your repetoire, try this. No yeast necessary!
Sichuan Pepper Bread
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup boiling water
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, dry roasted and finely ground
1 cup finely chopped scallions (white and tender green parts) or 1 cup finely chopped garlic chives
You will need a food processor, a rolling pin, and one or two heavy skillets at least 8 inches in diameter.
Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix well. With the motor running, pour the boiling water in a thin stream through the feed tube, then add the cold water and process until the mixture forms a ball. Process for 1 minute longer, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead briefly, then cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.
Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, leaving the others covered, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a circle 8 inches in diameter. Spread ½ teaspoon of the oil over the top of the bread, then sprinkle on 1/8 teaspoon of the Sichuan pepper. Spread 2 tablespoons of the chopped scallions or garlic chives evenly over the bread. Then, roll the bread up like a jelly roll, as tightly as possible. Anchoring one end of the resulting tube on your work surface, coil the bread as tightly as possible, and pinch the other end against the coil to make a smooth round. Flatten gently with the palm of your hand. Roll the bread out again gently with a rolling pin until it is about ¼ inch thick and 6 inches across. (Do not worry if the odd piece of scallion or garlic chive leaks out; you can patch any small holes in the dough.)
Before you begin rolling out and filling a second bread, place a heavy skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, rub it thoroughly with a lightly oiled cloth or paper towel. Lower the heat to medium-low and place the first bread in the skillet. Cook for 3 minutes, or until the bottom is flecked with light brown spots. Turn over and cook for 3 minutes longer, or until both sides are flecked with light brown. Transfer the bread to a rack to cool slightly, then wrap in a towel to keep soft.
Meanwhile, continue rolling out and shaping the remaining breads while the first one bakes, then cook them in the same manner. If you are feeling comfortable about cooking times, heat another skillet so that you can have two breads cooking at once. Serve warm.