One of the major staples that feature in many homes around the African continent is bread. They come in all shapes, sizes and varieties and can be accompanied with just about anything. In Kenya, we serve up the much loved chapati. In Morocco and Ethiopia, flat bread is more than just a meal accompaniment, it’s an intrinsic part of their lifestyle.
Most people who grew up in Kenya will attest to the fact that they would always look forward to the day when chapati or chapo was being cooked for dinner. They will also admit (with a smile) that the last piece to be cooked tasted so good. Chapos are always the subject of legendary fights with one’s siblings. The soft flat bread that traces its roots to India and is mostly popular at the Kenyan coast can be paired with just about any curry or vegetable mix. In Uganda, they have the rolex, which is a popular street food consisting of chapati, egg omelette, onions and peppers and just about anything else one would like. Throughout the continent, different countries have their versions of flat bread. We found out more on the Moroccan and Ethiopian flat breads.
Semolina is one of those things you might spot in a recipe and think ‘is it even available?’ but it’s simply durum wheat flour. It is mainly used in making flat bread, pasta and couscous in North Africa. Moroccan flat bread is known by many names including bat bout, matlouh and toghrift. Moroccans enjoy Bat Bout for breakfast, spread with butter or honey, or used as a spoon with which to pick at large plates heaped with fried eggs and drenched in dark green aromatic local olive oil. They also enjoy it for lunch and use it to mop up the juices from Tajines, a local stew made in a cone shaped terracotta dish.
To prepare, activate dry yeast by combining it with ¼ cup of warm water and 1 tsp of sugar. Set aside until frothy (5 to 10 mins). In a large bowl, combine the flours (semolina and regular wheat flour), one teaspoon sugar and salt in bowl. Add the yeast mixture, 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil and one cup of water and knead into a soft, non sticky dough. Divide the dough into smooth balls the size of golf balls. Cover and let them rest for about 10 minutes. Roll out each ball into a thin circle about 1/8 inch thick. Set the rounds of dough on a clean, dry tray and cover. Leave to rise for about 1 hour. Heat a very lightly oiled heavy duty pan and allow it to get quite hot. Cook the bat bout in batches, turning several times and watch it puff up as it turns golden brown on both sides. Transfer the cooked bat bout to a basket to cool.
Ethiopian Himbasha, with its decorative wheel pattern, is a stark reminder of a pizza base with a somewhat organised twist. Ethiopians feast on their himbasha at celebrations or right after mass. Its flavours balance in harmony between sweet and savoury. If the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to Ethiopian food is Injera, then himbasha should join that list.
To prepare, dissolve ½ tsp of yeast in ½ cup of lukewarm water. Stir in sugar and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for about 10 minutes or until the mixture bubbles. Combine 4 cups of flour, 1 tsp salt, sesame seeds and cardamom (2 tsp each) in a large bowl. Add ½ cup of oil and yeast mixture and knead into a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for another 5 minutes or until smooth. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 1 hour or until dough doubles in size.
Preheat oven to 180°C. Divide dough into 2 equal portions. Roll out to form 2 x 30 cm diameter rounds. Place them onto large greased oven trays. Using a sharp knife, cut 3 concentric circles (circles with a common centre) in each round, working from the middle out, then make 4 shallow cuts intersecting through the centre to form a wheel pattern. Brush with vegetable oil and bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through and golden. Brush with butter and serve.