Corn Tortillas at The Pancake Project

Hey erryboddy! It’s TACO TUESDAY and that means we survived another Monday. It’s true; even during shutdown, when one day melds into another, I still don’t like Mondays. Thus, watching the back end of Monday toddle off into the sunset means we celebrate! With the noble taco and by default, the corn tortilla.

What is this delicious wrapper, this pliable disc of corny goodness that delivers tacoliciousness unto my plate? The tortilla, which literally means “little cake”, is an ancient food. Excavations have found that corn tortillas were already being made at least as far back as 3000 BCE, and may have been eaten thousands of years earlier. Once agriculture developed and the first villages formed, it didn’t take humans long to start working on corn tortillas and, by extension, tacos.

Corn was central to the Mesoamerican experience. Modern corn is a descendant of the plant teosinte, which can still be found in Mexico. Human interaction changed the crops from a plant with broad leaves but narrow tassels, that look more like modern wheat, into the large-cob, large kernel plants we know and love. If all of this seems rushed, it’s because I’m trying to cram about 7,000 years of agricultural history into a few short paragraphs. I recommend The Story of Corn by Betty Fussell for an in-depth and fascinating look at one of history’s most important crops. […read more…]

The truth is, I always want tacos.

Socca (Farinata) with Rosemary, Halloumi, and Fig Jam at The Pancake Project

Today’s world tour of flatbread takes us to…France! Or Italy. Or Turkey. Let’s just go cruise the Mediterranean, yes? And while we’re at it, let’s eat some chickpea flatbread.

Socca (pronounced SOCK-a, not SO-ka) is a wonderfully easy flatbread to make. You just mix it up and bake it, and for the most part…that’s it. It’s adaptable to a range of spices and additions (like sauteed onions? Toss ’em in!) and can serve as an appetizer or dinner. Adjust slice size accordingly.

So what is it? Socca, a French word, is also known as farinata in Italian. It’s a flatbread made entirely of chickpea flour, so it’s got a flavor unlike most of the other flatbreads we have known. It’s gluten-free (because chickpeas), so you celiac folks can dig it. Socca has literally been a food item for a millennia. Origin stories credit its development to Roman soldiers in Nice, France, circa the 1st century BCE. Or as the result of invasion by Turkish forces. Or that it was developed in Sardinia. And so on. Food travels along trade routes as well as the trade, so it’s difficult to determine who made socca first. We’re just glad someone did. Thanks, ancient smart foodie![read more…]

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Nosh: Chapatis (Spiced Flatbread)

Q:  Do you know how hard it can be to find a decent flatbread?

A:  It’s pretty difficult.  They’re either so overly-full of preservatives and additives to keep them pliable that their texture turns almost–weirdly–chalky, or the manufacturers think the right thing to do is coat them in some gooey spray oil, so you pull them out of the bag and immediately have to wipe off your fingers.  Yuck.

Related Q: Do you know how easy it is to make a decent flatbread?

Related A:  It’s actually quite easy.

So, chapatis.

To be fair, this is probably an Americanized version of the noble chapati and thanks to this and one other flatbread recipe I’ve played with in the past, I’m invested in learning more.  Full revelation: I should have used whole wheat flour (and will next time), and I probably could have rolled it out a little bit thinner (note to self: walk the five feet to the pantry and grab the rolling pin).  But.  This is an easy jumping-off point into the world of flatbreads, full of basic technique with a delicious outcome, so start here and then see what else you can do.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 cup flour (feel free to use whole wheat flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (or coriander or ground fennel or nigella)
  • 2 teaspoons crushed garlic (2, 3, 4 cloves finely chopped, who’s counting?)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons oil (olive oil has the best taste, but use what you have)

First, combine the flour, salt, cumin and garlic in a bowl.

Yeah, just like that, only mixed up.

Yeah, just like this, only mixed up.

Make a well with the flour mixture–this facilitates the liquids incorporating into the dry ingredients quickly and evenly, so you don’t get dry patches or lumps and end up overworking your dough in order to thoroughly mix it–and put in your water and oil.

Stir the water and oil into the flour, it will incorporate quickly.

Stir the water and oil into the flour, it will incorporate quickly.

Knead your dough for 2-3 minutes, until it is a beautiful, soft, cohesive ball.

Dough, ready to rest a while.

Dough, ready to rest a while.

Let your dough sit in a warm, draft-free place for about a half an hour.  Before you go and panic: where could that be?  Where can I put it?  Yes, a cabinet will do nicely.  But I like to put my dough in my oven (as long as I’m not using it, of course).  You know it’s draft-free.  It’s about as safe and untouched as it’s going to get.  Bugs won’t get it, the cat won’t be able to get it.  (As an aside, does anyone else have a cat that goes berserk over raw dough?  No, just me?  Okay.)  Cover it with a lint-free cloth (a towel that isn’t terry cloth, or a cloth napkin) and leave it alone for the next thirty minutes.


Divide your dough in quarters and roll out a ball until it’s nice and thin.  Don’t try and cut corners (like I did) and stretch them flat with your hand, because it won’t get it quite as thin as they should be.  Once you have a nice flat disc of dough, put it in a hot pan.  It’s important to remember that you’re not frying the bread; you’re going to let the oil you’ve already added to the dough be your browning agent, so don’t put any oil in the pan.

One chapati, coming up!

One chapati, coming up!

The first side will probably take two minutes or so to cook.  You’ll see that the dough will look less “wet” on the side facing up.  The cooked side should have some lovely charring from the pan, which is perfect.  Flip it and cook it for another minute or so, until you’ve got charring on the other side as well.

Ready for dinner!

Ready for dinner!

Traditionally, these are coated in some kind of butter or ghee as soon as they’re cooked, but since I was planning to serve them with a curry with a lovely sauce, I figured I could hold off on the butter.  They were wonderful.  Chewy and dense and crisp all at once, they brought a starch to the table that was thoughtful and fun.  And easy.  I cooked them while I was cooking the rest of my dinner, so they barely added any time to my cooking at all.

Dinner, voila! She is served.

Dinner, voila! It is served.

We served this with Thai Spinach-Potato Curry and a salad with fresh blackberry vinaigrette.  Yes, that’s sauteed asparagus you see, too, but that’s a different blog for a different day.

Happy flatbreads!  Let me know how you like it.


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