When the Daring Bakers' September challenge was announced and I learned I would be baking crackers and a vegan, gluten-free dip to go with them, I thought...excellent. I can flavor my crackers with zatar! I can make some version of ful medames, a traditional Middle Eastern fava bean dish! I can tell the story about the second date I went on with Husband back in 1996, when we had dinner at Olive Mountain, a yummy Middle Eastern restaurant close to campus! I can reminisce about a time and place directly related to the recipe at hand! This month's savory challenge was the perfect excuse to talk about those ridiculous, carefree days when I thought Husband was just some dude who I would date for a few months and then watch ride gloriously off into the sunset, as he was a year ahead of me at Northwestern and graduated not long after we met. I believe I actually did used to refer to him as "Ride Off Into the Sunset Guy" to my friends.
Except for the fact that our second date took place at Thai Sookdee, which was next door to Olive Mountain. Husband reminded me of this fact. He had the early relationship details right; I had them wrong. Thankfully, one of us remembers. I had to hang my head a shame and lose myself in stacks of old scrapbooks and our wedding DVD just to make myself feel like a woman again.
Even given this memory lapse, I still decided to devote the September challenge to zatar crackers and ful medames. Once I started thinking about zatar and fava beans -- whether they were a part of my second date with Husband or not -- I just couldn't stop. If you've never had zatar, you simply must try it. It is amazing; a tangy, salty, almost citrusy Middle Eastern spice blend composed of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds and salt. I have a huge jar of the stuff just calling to me from the spice cupboard -- I went overboard one day when shopping at Penzeys -- and I'm always looking for ways to use it. Zatar-laced crackers just make sense to me as an accompaniment to the ful medames.
Ful medames (I just call it "ful" for short) is fabulously tasty, and as long as you don't suffer from favism I'm certain you'll enjoy it. I remember it on the Olive Mountain menu as a chunky dip-like appetizer; recently I watched Anthony Bourdain enjoy a plate of it for breakfast in Cairo; Jewish food expert Gil Marks tells of a version of the dish that contains hard-boiled eggs. So there seems to be several versions of traditional ful, which just makes sense to me because you know that when something is good, it shows up here and there, in many countries, demonstrating delicious regional variations. Someday I'd like to try it with eggs, but today it sits next to my zatar crackers, lookin' all green and scrumptious and gorgeous.
So thank you, Daring Bakers, for giving me an excuse to consume zatar and favas. And thank you, Husband, for caring enough to remember the little details of our shared life. Now, if only you could get over your bean-phobia and share the ful with me....
ZATAR CRACKERS WITH FUL MEDAMES
Cracker recipe adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, by Peter Reinhart
Ful medames recipe adapted from Olives Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World, by Gil Marks
For the crackers:
1 1/2 c. unbleached bread flour
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. active dry yeast (about half of one packet)
1 T. sugar
1 T. vegetable oil
4 to 6 oz. water, at room temperature
2 T. zatar
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, yeast, sugar and vegetable oil. Begin to mix the ingredients using your hands, and add the water -- a little at a time -- until the mixture just forms a ball. Don't add more water than it takes for this to happen; the amount used will vary given the humidity, flour, etc. When I made the crackers, I used a full 6 oz. of water.
Sprinkle some flour on the counter. Turn out the dough and knead for 10-15 minutes to evenly distribute the ingredients and develop the gluten. You will know you have kneaded enough when the dough passes the windowpane test; registers between 77 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit as measured by a probe thermometer; and/or is medium-firm, satiny to the touch, not tacky and supple enough to stretch when pulled. This is not a particularly difficult step, but it is kind of boring. So set yourself up at a kitchen window so you can gaze at the trees, birds, neighborhood goings-on, what have you. Alternatively, this time passes more quickly if you have an entertaining dog who will attempt to wedge her nose between you and the edge of the counter top, sniffing madly at what she thinks must surely be homemade dog biscuit dough. You can also have your husband perform tricks and/or dance around the kitchen. Ask him; he should humor you, you are making him crackers.
Lightly coat a bowl with vegetable oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, then place in a warm corner of the kitchen. Allow the dough to rise for about 90 minutes, or until it doubles in size.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the risen dough from the bowl to the counter. Press the dough into a square and lightly sprinkle flour over the surface of the dough. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a paper-thin sheet about 12" x 15". You might have to stop a few times throughout this process to allow the gluten to relax; just cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When the dough is at the desired thinness, allow it to relax for 5 minutes.
Line a sheet pan with a Silpat or parchment paper. Fold the dough in half onto itself and quickly -- but gently -- lift it and place on the sheet pan. Immediately unfold the dough so that it covers the Silpat. If the dough is larger than the Silpat, trim away the edges using a pizza cutter, scissors or a small paring knife. (Cut gently! You don't want to harm the Silpat. It never did anything to you.) Set aside the scraps; you can roll these out a second time and bake them as a second batch.
Moisten your hand with water and spread the water around the surface of the dough (or you can use a spray bottle filled with water, if you have one.) Sprinkle the zatar evenly on the surface of the dough, then press into the dough gently using the palm of your hand. Cut the dough into the shape and size you wish your crackers to be; or you can bake the sheet whole, then snap into shards when the crackers are done.
Bake the crackers for 12-17 minutes; the time will vary based on the thinness of your crackers. After about 10 minutes, start watching to assure that the crackers don't burn. When the crackers are baked, remove from the oven and allow them to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
Congratulations, you have so totally made homemade crackers. If you wish to be fancy and foodie, refer to them as "housemade crackers" as you serve them to your guests.
For the ful medames:
24 oz. jar of fava beans
1 c. water
2/3 c. olive oil
1 t. freshly-cracked black pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 c. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
3/4 t. kosher salt
1 t. dried mint flakes, to garnish
Drain and rinse the fava beans. Place the fava beans and water in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Heat the beans through, stirring frequently, until most of the water evaporates. Add the olive oil, pepper and garlic, stir through. Reduce the heat to low and cook the fava beans slowly, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes.
While the favas are still in the skillet, using an immersion blender or a potato masher, mash about half the beans. You want some smoothness to the ful, but it's important to maintain some whole beans to give the dip a chunky texture. Add the flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, lemon juice and salt; stir to combine well.
Makes 8 servings.