THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
Every once in awhile the universe decides to show us who's boss. This is the Chef's confession about a fall from grace while attempting to make Sangak, a Persian flatbread.
I found a recipe on the internet for Borani Bademjan, a Persian eggplant dip garnished with Greek yogurt, fried red onion, toasted walnuts and turmeric. I thought it might be the right place to start since I have made Baba Ghanoush previously and I am quite fond of eggplant. The recipe suggested serving it with Sangak, a flatbread cooked on river pebbles. I looked for Sangak on the internet and found several youtubes showing men dressed in baker’s garb, shaping the dough on baking peels, adding indentations with their fingertips, and then shoving it into a very large, hot stone oven lined on the bottom with river stones.
I don’t have a wonderful oven like that here so I looked on the internet to see if there was a way to make it at home. I found a truly lovely youtube showing how a home baker was able to make Sangak in his own kitchen. He filled a rimmed baking tray with river stones, heated the stones in his home oven, formed the dough on a wet cutting board and deftly slid it onto the hot stones and baked it, turning it once. When it was done, he shook the stones off the bread, and Voila!, Sangak. Of course, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, but pictures are worth a thousand words, right?
I went to Michaels and bought three bags of river stones, which I emptied onto one of my rimmed baking trays. As I read through the recipe, I realized that the dough had to sit in the refrigerator overnight, so I would not be able to serve it right away with my eggplant dish, but the Borani Bademjan recipe says it can be served as a main course or a dip, so I decided to have it as a main dish for lunch. It was utterly delicious. My confidence was high, maybe too high. The story of my fall follows.
Friday 7/28 THE GOOD
Today I made Borani Bademjan. It took awhile because there are a lot of steps to complete. The eggplant has to be roasted; onions have to be fried up with tomato paste and garlic to make a red sauce. Then the roasted eggplant has to be simmered in the sauce until it cooks down to the right consistency. Once it’s ready, the garnish must be prepared. Red onions are fried until golden, walnuts and turmeric are added and cooked until fragrant, and Greek yogurt is whipped until smooth. A dollop of the yogurt is placed on top of the eggplant mixture and the garnish is sprinkled over the top. Chopped mint leaves are sprinkled overall to add fragrance and color.
Saturday 7/29 THE BAD & THE UGLY
Today I made the Sangak. I began by putting the baking pan into a hot oven. It wasn’t long before smoke was billowing out of the oven door. I opened the door and was horrified at the amount of black smoke pouring out. I was worried that my deafening smoke alarm would start up so I turned the oven hood fan on full blast, opened the sliding door and the kitchen window. I began to wonder if the lovely stones I bought might have some horrible toxic coating intended to keep them looking nice. I also wondered if eating the bread might poison me. I was dressed in my bathing suit because I had been weed wacking the jungle-yard earlier in the morning and I considered getting dressed so if I dropped dead, the Medical Examiner wouldn’t find me dressed only in my bathing suit. I decided not to waste time changing and continued on.
I wet down a cutting board like I saw in the youtube, put a blob of dough on it, wet my hands and began patting it out, indenting it with my wet fingers. I pulled out the pan of hot rocks and held the cutting board above, letting the dough slide onto the rocks. So far, so good. I put the pan in the oven and turned on the oven light so I could monitor the progress through the window in the door. To my horror, the bread began rising up so that it was very clear that my FLAT-bread was going to be FAT-bread. When it was done I pulled it out of the oven, shook off the rocks, tasted a tiny piece, hoping I wouldn’t die, and once I was sure I’d survive, walked to the edge of the hill and tossed it into the woods for the birds (not nice to poison innocent creatures). I reheated the pan of rocks and put a smaller lump of dough on the wet cutting board and patted it out thinner than before. However, the thinner dough tore more easily and didn’t stay in one piece as it came off the cutting board, so it formed a weird, ugly shape on the stones. It was also harder to get the stones off once it was baked. More bird food. The final piece of dough went into an ordinary bread pan so that I could at least taste it without worrying about toxic coatings. It tasted good, but bore no resemblance to Sangak.
By this time it was clear to me that I had neither the equipment nor the talent to make Sangak as it should be made. I know when I’m beaten, so I will be seeking a Persian bakery so I can see their ovens and try the real thing made by professionals. The internet indicates that there is a Persian bakery on the east side of Lake Washington in Kirkland. I will be visiting them soon.
There is one more interesting aspect to this story. Curious about the smoke, I inquired on the internet as to whether the river stones you buy in Lowes or Michaels are coated. I found out that indeed they are coated - with a waxy substance and that you should never put them in an oven because they can catch on fire and sometimes they even explode. My stones are no longer pretty or colorful and shiny, but thankfully, I am still alive, and nothing exploded or caught on fire. One must maintain a sense of humor at all times, but especially in the kitchen! So much for the good, the bad and the ugly - as well as excessive pride.