Know Your Flatbread

Every so often, I like to go through the archives to check out the articles I've already written. Having contributed an article a month for more than six years now, I just want to make sure I'm not repeating myself.

As I was checking the archives on a rainy afternoon the other weekend, I realized over all these years, I have yet to talk about bringing along the makings of flatbread on a paddling expedition. Bread is such a basic element of almost every meal that I don't know how I have overlooked it until now. Well this week, I'll correct my oversight and talk about what is known as the staff of life.

A long, exquisite story Man has been baking bread for thousands of years, and flatbreads for probably even longer. It was made in ancient Egypt more than 6000 years ago. Many historians link the beginnings of civilization with baking bread, since sowing and reaping cereals was what led to the development of communities and ended the wandering, nomadic lifestyle. One of the first baker's ovens can be traced back to Babylon in 4000 B.C.

Bread-making traditions were passed on from the Egyptians to the Greeks and the Romans. It is said that Roman soldiers heated their shields over hot coals to bake flatbreads when they were on campaigns. The advantage of this food staple is that most varieties are unleavened, which makes it an easy to prepare bread, requiring only basic ingredients: flour, water and salt. Over the centuries, its popularity spread around the globe, and each society adapted it to their particular taste and culture.

Two basic forms, many variations 

Flatbreads today come in two basic forms: either single-layered (azim, tortilla, naan) or double-layered (pita). Their big advantage, apart from being so easy to make, is that they are extremely versatile, and can be used to wrap, dip or scoop other foods. Many of today's flatbreads are actually designed to hold other foods. In other words, flatbreads can become utensils! How clever and useful for paddlers!

Today almost 2 billion people regularly eat some local form of traditional flatbread: focaccia in Italy, chapatti, naan or bakhri in India, torta in Spain, yufka or bazlam in Turkey, bing in China, crêpes in France, and so on. There are literally dozens and dozens of types of flatbreads made around the world, each representing ethnic differences, made in differing shapes and using different local ingredients.

The very fact that they are so easy to prepare is what makes them a paddler's ideal food. Depending on your taste, you can bring along just a few simple ingredients and prepare a basic element for almost any meal in no time at all. 


Indian Roti (12 rotis)

  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1,5 tbsp olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • warm water to make the dough

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and knead the dough until it is soft and thick.
Take small amount of dough, roll it into a ball in your hands. Place on a flat surface and roll it flat.

On a hot griddle or in a skillet, place dough and cook both sides until golden brown. You can add a little oil while cooking if you wish to avoid sticking.

Corn tortillas (16 tortillas)

  • 2 cups corn flour (masa harina)
  • 1 1/4 cup water

Mix masa harina and hot water in medium bowl. Knead dough until it is smooth and can be easily shaped. Add more flour if dough is too sticky or water if it is too dry. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand for half an hour at room temperature.

Preheat a griddle or skillet to medium high. Divide dough into 16 balls of equal size. Using your hands or a rolling pin, press each ball flat between two sheets of plastic wrap.

Place tortilla in preheated pan and cook until brown and slightly puffed for about 30 seconds. Turn tortilla over and repeat; transfer to a plate. Repeat this method for each tortilla, keeping the cooked ones covered with a towel to keep warm until ready to serve.

Breakfast burritos (4 portions)

  • 4 wheat tortillas
  • 8 eggs, scrambled
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 4 tbsp salsa
  • 4 tbsp Monterey Jack cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet, cook eggs in a bit of oil or butter with scallions. Season to taste, put aside and keep warm while reheating tortillas quickly in the same pan. Fill tortillas with eggs, cheese and salsa, fold and serve.

Quick sausage quesadillas (4 portions)

  • 8 wheat flour tortillas
  • 2 cans (15 oz) black beans (or pinto beans), drained and mashed with a fork
  • 1 dry sausage finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup salsa
  • 1 1/2 cup Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded

In a bowl, combine all ingredients except tortillas and cheese. Spread the mixture over 4 tortillas, add salsa, sprinkle with cheese. Cover with remaining tortillas and cook in a hot skillet, skillet, 3 minutes on each side. Cut in wedges and serve will cooking more quesadillas.

Stuffed pita a la grecque (4 portions)

  • 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 (15 oz) can chick peas, drained
  • 6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 2 tbsp commercial Greek dressing
  • 4 large whole wheat pita breads halved

Mix all ingredients together, except pita. Split the halved pita in two with a fork. Stuff with vegetable mixture.

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