Sunday, January 11, 2009

R'ghayef (Moroccan flatbread)

OUR FRIEND DAN brought these flatbreads to our Middle Eastern brunch and everyone went mad for them. They’re from Anissa Helou’s wonderful Mediterranean Street Food. Now I admit to a weakness for filled pastry-ish things, but this. The filling is savory-spiced,
stuffed into a thin, layered dough that becomes tender-crisp as it griddles. It's enough to make you cry.

They are a little bit of a project, but not for what you ultimately get, and really very manageable after a try or two. I added about a cup of cooled sautéed ground lamb to the onion-herb-spice mixture and it sang.

Moroccan Flatbread (R'ghayef)
Serves 4

The Dough

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour and more for kneading
1/2 teaspoon salt

The Filling

1/2 onion, very finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste
Vegetable oil

Stir the yeast into 6 tablespoons tepid water until creamy.

Stir flour and salt together in a bowl. Add yeast water, gradually working it in with your hand until dough is slightly wetter than that for bread. Knead briefly on a lightly floured work surface, dusting with flour as needed, then cover with an inverted bowl and let rest 15 minutes.

Put the onion, parsley, butter and spices in a bowl and mix well.

Smear your work surface and hands with vegetable oil and divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Shape each into a ball. Working with 1 ball at a time, flatten into a very thin circle. If the dough is elastic and wants to spring back, let it rest for a few moments, then try again. The circle should be as thin as you can make it without tearing. Spread a quarter of the filling over the dough. Fold it in thirds like a letter. With a short side nearest you, fold the bottom third toward the center, then fold the top third under the center accordion-style to make a small square. Repeat with remaining dough. With oiled hands, pat and stretch each small square into a large square. The square should be as thin as you can make it without tearing the dough.

Preheat a griddle to medium. Grease it lightly with vegetable oil, or grease a large nonstick skillet with vegetable oil and place over moderate heat. Cook flattened squares on both sides until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve hot or warm.