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Flatbreads & Flavors Hardcover – March 20, 1995
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An amazing cookbook that travels to the furthest reaches of the world to celebrate flatbreads with over the recipes for a myriad of breads, including Afghani naan, Mexican tortilla, French fougasse, Middle Eastern pita, and Armenian lavash. Hungry for something to go with all that bread? The authors include another 150 recipes for traditional accompaniments. How about a Scandinavian smorgasbord, tomatillo salsa with arbol chiles, Nepali green chile chutney, Ethiopian beef tartar, or Yemeni stew?
More than sixty recipes for flatbreads of every kind range from Mexican tortillas to pizzas from Italy and chapatis from India. Splendid and unusual breads mark an exceptional cookbook which goes way beyond just placing recipes in logical format: explanations of recipe origins and cultural influences make for a detailed, in-depth guide. -- Midwest Book Review
These people have really gone and done it! They've brought the real excitement of these flavors and textures back home. -- Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
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While Alford and Duguid seem to have inherited the style of the great culinary travelogue, `Honey from a Weed' by Patience Gray, they have their own twists on this style which makes it all their own. One difference is that while Gray does a fair amount of reflection on the whys of local techniques, her observations are not systematic. They are more in the line of archeological observations. Since Alford and Duguid in this book, are dealing with the single technique of baking flatbreads, this focus give them the opportunity to give us an excellent tutorial on bread baking technique, including the use of modern appliances in the making of traditional flatbread recipes.
The authors take their `Atlas' approach seriously, as each chapter addresses a particular geographical region and opens with a map locating the center of traditional production for each type of bread. The eight regions are:
Central Asia, primarily Iran, the `...stans', and Tibet with lots of yoghurt and kebabs.
China, Vietnam, and Malaysia with dipping sauces, pancakes, and roll-ups.
India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka with chutneys, curries, and lentils galore.
Eastern Mediterranean, or `flatbread central' with pitas, matzos, Bulgar wheat, and dips and wraps.
Morocco, Tunisia, and Ethiopia, with mostly accompanying dishes.
Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, the home of Lavosh
Europe, from Italian pizza to Scottish oatcakes
North America with tortillas, crackers, and salsas.
While this would seem to be a rich subject, the authors don't spend much time reflecting on why flatbreads are so important in some parts of the world and less important in others. In Asia, it seems that it is the only kind of bread they make, while in Europe, it's definitely a sidelight. I hypothesize that flatbreads are important where there fuel for ovens is scarce and the native peoples are or were at one time primarily nomadic.
It is just a bit surprising to see how many different bread recipes use yeast. One would think yeast requires a nearby brewing industry, but natural sourdough type yeast is free for the asking and a lot easier to manage on the road than chemical leaveners, when the nearest 7 - 11 is 7000 miles away. But, all the recipes have been modernized and none actually use natural sourdough yeasts. All yeast doughs are made with `active dry yeast', the kind you have to bloom in warm water, but which will keep for years in their little foil packets. The other side of the coin is that there are a fair number or yeastless recipes, especially India's skillet breads, where the leavening is the action of heat and water in the dough, very much like unleavened matzos, except that matzos is made in an oven. So, if you can't tolerate yeast and you are tired of buttermilk biscuits and Irish soda bread, this book may be a great ticket to enriching your range of tolerated breads.
One thing this book does not do is be a complete source on those flatbreads which are so dear to our French / Spanish / Italian backgrounds. If your primary interest is with Pizza, go to Peter Reinhart's `American Pie' or some other treatise on pizza by your favorite Italian cookbook author. If your primary interest is in tortillas, get Diana Kennedy's `From My Mexican Kitchen'. But, if you like these things and want to find the their flatbread cousins, this is your book.
This book is simply all around excellent, and certainly deserves its James Beard Cookbook award. It makes me wish Alford and Duguid would stick to their single subject surveys instead of boosting their photographs business with the richly pictured , `Mangoes & Curry Leaves' and `Hot Sour Salty Sweet'. Their other books on rice and home baking are similarly delightful and should be in every foodie's library.