Saturday, September 25, 2010

Weekend or Any Time -- "Breakfast Biblical Burrito" -- Paula Wolfert's and Mine; Moroccan Bread

One of the cookery writers I like and admire most is Paula Wolfert, an American who is well-known for her wonderfully written books that record her travels and collect the authentic recipes she has gathered in the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Levant.

 The great Paula Wolfert

Her Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco inspired us in part to visit that country and we've cooked extensively and successfully from the book.  It's an invaluable resource and wonderful to read and reread (along with some Paul Bowles if you're so inclined). If you have never made an authentic couscous, slowly swelling the grains while infusing them (and your kitchen) with the aromatic cooking broth, you are missing one of life's great pleasures. And purchasing a couscousiere is an affordable, practical luxury that makes preparing couscous easy and will pique your friends' interest when they come to visit, I hope, for a Moroccan feast.

A "Breakfast Bibilical Burrito" variation containing avocados and what appears to be a fresh Mexican cheese on tortillas

A few years ago, I visited Ms. Wolfert's website and noticed that we basically ate the same thing for breakfast, which can be described as an herb-y tomato salad or relish on bread.  She calls it her "breakfast bibilical burrito" and says the following about it:

    "When I was doing field research for my book, Mediterranean Grains & Greens, in that part of the Turkish countryside along the Euphrates where so much of the Bible is set, I noticed that often when I visited homes the hostess wouldn't have any time to really sit down and eat. She was too busy cooking and tending her children.
    However, in one house, when we were all supposed to be napping, I saw my hostess take a whole onion, throw it into some hot embers, then later remove it, smash it, then put it on a heated round of flat bread. She spread on some hot red pepper paste thinned with olive oil and a sprinkling of dried mint, then rolled it up and sat quietly eating it with gusto.
     When she caught me watching her, she beckoned me, took my arm in hers, then stuffed a piece of the rolled bread into my mouth. It was wonderful!
    "You can also add tomato and cheese to this dürüm," she told me in sign language. (In Southern Turkey, dürüm is the word for a round flat bread made with hard wheat flour; in other parts of the country it's called sikma).
  Such was the inspiration for what I have dubbed my "breakfast biblical burrito"...which I've been eating on and off for breakfast the past five years. A secondary inspiration was the classic Israeli kibbutz breakfast of fresh tomatoes, onions, greens, peppers.
     At home in the U.S., I use an old-fashioned flat toaster grid over my gas stove top to gently heat either the flat semolina bread, a flour tortilla or a fresh piece of lavash. Once heated, I slip in several chopped up cherry tomatoes; a seeded, cored and diced jalapeno; a little chopped green pepper; some parsley, mint and crumbled feta cheese. I add a trickle of olive oil and a pinch of salt for flavor, then roll my "burrito" up and eat it along with a cup of coffee. Yes, it's messy...but very good!"

This is a recipe that allows ultimate freedom in the types of tomatoes you use (obviously summer affords the most possibilities, but grape tomatoes in the winter provide good flavor and a nice texture), the herbs and spices you add, whether or not to include cheese and, if you do, which cheese to choose (feta is great,  however) and the type of bread. 

But it's very healthy, delicious, satisfying, easy to keep interesting and difficult to tire of.

Moroccan bread

One of Paula Wolfert's recipes we used to make all the time and really should prepare again (I really want to teach Jane to bake bread) is her traditional Moroccan bread.  It's a bit of a reach to say that something is the "best bread in the world", but this is extremely good.  (Personally the bread I like best is one based on Elizabeth David's basic wheaten loaf recipe included in Traditional English Bread And Yeast Cookery that is baked under the La Cloche clay oven).

All that being said, the bread we ate on a daily basis in Morocco was incomparable, as was the hotel where we stayed, the legendary La Mamounia, beloved palace of Cecil Beaton, Winston Churchill and Paul McCartney.  The day we arrived there as relatively young and inexperienced travelers (during one's first trip to Morocco, it's extremely easy to feel inexperienced), a dishonest cab driver tried to take advantage of our unfamiliarity with the local currency by making us pay far more that the correct fare.  Seeing this, a  La Mamounia staff member wearing native Berber garb (including yellow upturned shoes) came to our rescue, striding out from the hotel, disdainfully throwing the correct amount at the driver, and then spitting at him elegantly. (I'd never seen that done before or since.)   We then entered La Mamounia's grand lobby and encountered a man who bore a strong resemblance to Sidney Greenstreet sitting in a large chair that seemed too small for him wearing a fez.

That was the beginning of a memorable trip.  There are some very enjoyable Moroccan wines, by the way, the best orange juice in the world, and pastis-type drinks really enhance Marrakech's otherworldly, somewhat psychedelic atmosphere.  And remember, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Here is the recipe:

Moroccan Bread

    • 18 g active dry yeast
    • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
    • 500 g unbleached flour
    • 150 g whole wheat flour
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • 8 tablespoons lukewarm milk
    • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
    • 1 tablespoon anise seed
    • cornmeal, for sprinkling
  1. Soften the yeast in 1 tbsp sugared lukewarm water.
  2. Let stand a few minutes, then stir and set in a warm place until the yeast froths up.
  3. Meanwhile, mix the flours and salt together.
  4. Stir the yeast into the flour, then add the milk and enough lukewarm water to form a stiff dough.
  5. The amount of water you need will depend on your particular flour but I need about a cup.
  6. Add no more than 1/4 cup water at a time until you can see the dough coming together.
  7. To knead by hand, turn the dough out onto a board and knead hard, adding water if necessary.
  8. Knead for 10-15 minutes until smooth and elastic.
  9. Alternatively, use an electric beater with a dough hook, which takes 7-8 minutes at a slow speed.
  10. Towards the end, add the spices.
  11. Split into two balls and let stand 5 minutes.
  1. Meanwhile, lightly grease a mixing bowl.
  2. Transfer the first ball of dough into the greased bowl and form a cone shape by holding the dough in one hand and rotating it against the side of the bowl.
  3. Turn out onto a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal.
  4. Flatten the cone with the palm of your hand to make a disc that is about 5-6 inches across and slightly raised in the center..
  5. Repeat with the second dough ball.
  6. Cover with a damp towel and let rise.
  7. Allow to rise 2 hours but you might find that rising time is excessive and can be shortened.
  8. Preheat the oven to 200 C or 400°F.
  9. Using a fork, prick the bread around the sides 3-4 times.
  10. Bake on the center shelf of the oven for 12 minutes, then lower the heat to 150 C or 300 F and bake 30-40 minutes more.
  11. Remove and let cool.
  12. Cut into wedges when you're ready to serve.
As an "unannounced bonus" (as far as the title of this post goes), please find below Paula Wolfert's recipe (adapted slightly by us after a lot of use) for the Greek mezze dish Taramasalata.  This is simply unbelievably good and would even go nicely with the bread, anise seed flavoring and all.  This recipe appears in her book Mediterranean Cooking.  Wolfert later revised this book along more dietetic, "heart healthy" lines.  I recommend that interested readers seek out the original publication, which is filled with excellent, beautifully and clearly written, recipes.





Tarama (foreground); Taramsalata (rear) 

 The famous Moroccan "preserved lemon"

Three views of La Mamounia, Marrakech, Morocco (front, pool, gardens)

The Flying Burrito Brothers (original Gilded Palace Of Sin line-up)


  1. It's extremely good, relaxing to make and more versatile in terms what foods you can combine it with than you might think. For an experienced baker like you, it should be a piece of cake (so to speak).