Chicago has something called the Jean Banchet Awards , which are described on their website as “the only Chicago-based award ceremony recognizing culinary distinction in the Chicagoland area”. That is all you really need to know about the awards for our purposes, other than the fact that they recently added a category called “Best Ethnic Restaurant”. I looked to see if I could find a description of what the organization thinks an “ethnic restaurant” is, but I couldn’t find anything. I guess it goes without saying. It is particularly confusing because restaurants like Momotaro (Japanese), The Radler (German), Osteria Langhe (Italian) are not nominated in the “ethnic restaurant” category but rather in the “best restaurant” category. If they are not “ethnic restaurants” then “ethnic” must be code for something else.
This struck me because recently I have been cooking a lot of ethnic food at home—just kidding, I have been cooking a lot of Chinese, Lebanese, and Mexican food. (see how I was specific there?) And I always feel a little self-conscious when I share those recipes with you—I am not an expert and don’t want to mistakenly present myself as one. (We currently are experiencing a cultural moment when legions of anglos consider themselves experts on Middle Eastern food because they own an Ottolenghi book. Guess what, you didn’t discover za’atar, Becky.) I think food can be a great way to learn about cultures other than your own, but only if you put in the work.
I guess what I am saying is that I wish more people felt self-conscious before they opened their mouths, or invented awards.
My recent kitchen projects have been inspired by some cookbooks I received as gifts over the holidays. One of my favorites was The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook, it is sort of like the Epcot Center of bread cookbooks. The subtitle is Artisan Baking from Around the World! (I’m not sure if there is actually an exclamation point, but it feels right). It contains recipes for everything from injera to parker house rolls which could be a real disaster but somehow works here. It is also a book about the organization’s mission. Hot Bread Kitchen  is a bakery in New York “that employs and empowers immigrant women, providing them with the skills to succeed in the culinary industry.” (got that from the publisher, here ) The cover image is of two loaves of Nan-e barbari, which I learned is a Persian flatbread. Flat-ish bread? It is from a chapter called “Slightly Elevated” that covers leavened flatbreads. I suspect my barbari had a bit too much rise, I think it is supposed to be flatter. But it was delicious nonetheless, and made for a nice lunch with a platter of onions, parsley and feta.
Nan-e barbari (from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook )
- 2 cups/450 g lukewarm water
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 4 cups/510g bread flour, plus more for shaping
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- canola oil
- 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/3 cup/80g cool water
- 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Stir together the water and yeast in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.
Add the bread flour and salt and mix on low speed until the flour is integrated. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix until the dough is elastic, about 6 minutes. The dough should be cleaning the sides of the bowl. Coat the inside of a large bowl with canola oil and transfer the dough to it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature until the dough is supple and holds an indentation when pressed lightly, about 1 hour.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in half, Gently form each piece into a log. Loosely cover the pieces of dough with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature until the dough has risen, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the all-purpose flour, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon canola oil, and the water in a small saucepan. Cook the flour paste over medium heat, whisking, until bubbles form around the edges and it becomes thick and opaque, about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Put a pizza stone on the lowest rack of the oven and preheat to 450°F.
Line the back or a backing sheet with parchment. Put one piece of dough on the parchment.; leave the other covered and in a cool place. Gently pulling the ends and pressing down on the dough, extend it into a 14×5-inch rectangle. Using your fingers, press 5 deep lengthwise ridges into the dough, being sure not to bread the dough. Rub half of the flour paste over the surface and sprinkle with half of the nigella and sesame seeds.
Slide the dough and parchment onto the hot stone and bake until the bread had puffed up and is golden brown, about 18 minutes. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack, dispose of the parchment, and repeat the process to make the second loaf.