Arabic Flatbread

Arabic Flatbread – A Comprehensive Guide to a Middle Eastern Staple

Arabic flatbread, also known as Khobz Arabi or Kuboos, is a popular yeasted bread originating from Middle Eastern cuisine. Soft, thick, and versatile, it serves as an essential staple food in many Arabic households. 

Typically made with whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour, this leavened bread is rich in flavour and has a delightful aroma.

You might be familiar with its closest cousin, pita bread, which puffs up when baked and forms a pocket that can be filled with various ingredients. Yet, Arabic flatbread stands out with its unique spices and rich olive oil content. 

One popular variation of this bread is Khobez, flavoured with Za’atar spice blend, making it a delicious choice for dipping in olive oil or simply enjoying on its own.

Besides its delightful taste, Arabic flatbread also offers convenience; it can be made in bulk and stored in the freezer to have on hand for everyday use. Whether you’re enjoying it traditionally or adding your creative twist, this bread is sure to become a beloved addition to your culinary repertoire.

History of Arabic Flatbread

Let’s explore.

Cultural Significance

In Arabic cuisine, flatbread, also known as khubz, plays an essential role as a staple food. Found across Middle Eastern and North African regions, this bread type varies in texture and flavour due to the usage of wheat, yeast or sourdough for leavening. 

You might come across references to Arabic flatbread as “pita bread”; however, its character slightly differs from the Greek pita.

Historical Evolution

The origin of flatbread traces back to ancient Egypt, with findings suggesting that the first flatbread was made around 30,000 years ago. Apart from Egypt, evidence of flatbread production has also been uncovered in Mesopotamia and the Indus civilisation. 

In the Middle East, variations of flatbread emerged, such as the “pocket” pita bread popular in the Levant and Egypt or the distinct flat tannur bread in Iraq. Another example of a traditional Middle Eastern flatbread is the shrak or markook bread, baked on a convex metal plate called a saj.

Ingredients of Arabic Flatbread

Basic Ingredients

Arabic flatbread, also known as Khobz Arabi, requires just a few basic ingredients that you most likely already have in your pantry. To make this delicious bread, you’ll need the following:

  • Flour: All-purpose white flour or whole wheat flour can be used. Traditionally, whole wheat flour is used as the main dough ingredient.
  • Water: Lukewarm water is needed to activate the yeast and form the dough.
  • Yeast: Active dry yeast is essential for achieving the perfect rise and texture of the flatbread.
  • Sugar: A small amount of sugar helps to activate the yeast and adds a touch of sweetness to the bread.
  • Salt: A pinch of salt enhances the flavour of the bread.

Variations and Additions

While the basic Arabic flatbread recipe is delicious on its own, you can elevate it with various additions and variations to add flavour and texture:

  • Za’atar spice blend: Incorporating this Middle Eastern spice blend, which typically contains thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds, will impart a unique and aromatic taste to your flatbread.
  • Olive oil: Adding a bit of olive oil to the dough will create a softer texture and a slightly richer flavour.
  • Herbs: Fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, or mint can be mixed into the dough to give an earthy, fragrant touch to your flatbread.
  • Seeds: Sprinkle sesame seeds, nigella seeds, or sunflower seeds on top of your flatbread before baking to give it a nutty, crunchy finish.

Remember, these variations and additions are optional, and you can mix and match them according to your personal preferences while preparing your Arabic flatbread. 

The key to a successful flatbread is to use quality ingredients, maintain proper measurements, and be patient with the dough rising and baking process.

Making Arabic Flatbread

Preparation

First, gather your ingredients for the Arabic flatbread. You’ll need:

  • 4 cups (600 grams) all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour
  • 2¼ teaspoons (7 grams) instant yeast
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons za’atar (optional, but highly recommended)
  • 2 tablespoons oil (such as olive oil or vegetable oil)
  • ¾ cup water

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Whisk well to combine. If you’d like to include za’atar for extra flavour, add it to the mix as well. 

Next, add the oil and ¾ cup of water to the dry ingredients. Mix until it forms a smooth, elastic dough.

Set the dough aside to rise for about 20 minutes, or until it has doubled in size. During this time, prepare your work surface by lightly flouring it to prevent the dough from sticking.

Cooking Methods

There are several ways to cook your Arabic flatbread, including baking, frying, or cooking on a griddle or skillet. For the best results, choose the method that suits your preferences and equipment.

Baking: 

Preheat your oven to 230°C (450°F). Divide the dough into equal portions, and roll out each ball of dough until it reaches your desired thickness. 

Place the rolled-out dough on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, leaving some space in between each piece to ensure that they don’t overcrowd the tray. Bake for 5-8 minutes, or until the flatbread is golden brown and puffed up.

Frying: 

Heat a large, non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Roll out the dough, as described above, and place one piece at a time in the hot frying pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and puffed up. Adjust heat if necessary to prevent burning.

Griddle or Skillet: 

Preheat a griddle or skillet over medium heat. Roll out the dough and cook each piece for about 1-2 minutes per side, or until they are golden brown and puffed up.

Whichever method you choose, be sure to keep an eye on the flatbread to avoid overcooking. Once cooked, wrap the flatbread in a clean kitchen towel to keep it soft and warm until you’re ready to serve. Enjoy the homemade Arabic flatbread with your favourite dips, and spreads, or as a base for wraps and sandwiches.

Types of Arabic Flatbread

In this article, we will explore the various types of Arabic flatbreads that you, as a reader, might find interesting. We will be discussing both traditional types and modern variations that have become popular over time.

Traditional Types

Pita Bread (Khubz Arabi): 

This is the most famous and widely recognized Arabic flatbread. It is made with just a few basic ingredients such as flour, yeast, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. This versatile bread is soft and slightly chewy, making it perfect for dipping in sauces or filling with your favourite ingredients.

Shrak (Markook): 

Also known as khubz ruqaq, khubz rqeeq or mashrooh, shrak is a traditional Middle Eastern flatbread that is baked on a convex metal plate called a “saj”. It is dairy-free, vegan and has a slightly thinner texture than pita, making it a popular choice for wraps and sandwiches.

Arabic Kuboos Bread: 

Similar to pita bread but richer in olive oil, Kuboos bread is soft and relatively thick. It is traditionally made using whole wheat or all-purpose flour and is leavened with yeast.

Modern Variations

Nowadays, modern variations of traditional Arabic flatbreads have emerged to cater to changing tastes and preferences. Some of these inventive takes on classic recipes are:

  • Gluten-Free Arabic Flatbread: Made with gluten-free flour blends, this alternative caters to those with gluten intolerances or sensitivities, ensuring that everyone can enjoy the delights of Arabic cuisine.
  • Whole Grain Arabic Flatbread: Incorporating whole grain flour adds a nutritious twist to the traditional recipes, resulting in a denser, more fibrous flatbread that remains in line with current health trends.
  • Flavoured Flatbread: Creative variations have emerged in which herbs, spices or additional ingredients are added to the dough, lending unique flavours and textures to the flatbreads. Popular choices include za’atar, garlic and even spinach.

In summary, Arabic flatbread recipes have evolved, resulting in a rich assortment of traditional and modern variations for you to try. Whether you prefer sticking to the classics or embracing new inventions, there’s an Arabic flatbread to suit your taste buds.

Nutritional Content

Arabic flatbread is a popular and versatile bread used in many Middle Eastern dishes. The nutritional content of this bread can vary depending on the specific ingredients used, but here are some general figures for a 60g serving:

  • Calories: 187
  • Carbohydrates: 37g
  • Protein: 6.2g
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 2300mg

In terms of macronutrients, this bread is predominantly carbohydrates, making up 86% of the total calories. It also contains a moderate amount of protein (14%), while being virtually fat-free.

When it comes to sodium content, Arabic flatbread can be relatively high, depending on the amount of salt used in the recipe. However, you can always adjust the seasoning to suit your dietary needs or preferences.

Comparing Arabic flatbread to other common breads, it is important to note that it generally contains fewer calories, a lower fat content and a similar amount of protein per serving. 

For example, a white naan (90g) has more carbohydrates, protein, and fibre than two slices of white bread (54g).

While enjoying Arabic flatbread, remember that moderation is key, especially if you are managing your carbohydrate intake or tracking your daily calorie goals. 

Incorporating this delicious bread into your meals can be a tasty way to explore new flavours and textures while keeping an eye on its nutritional content.

Dishes with Arabic Flatbread

Common Pairings

Arabic flatbread, also known as Khobz or Khubz, is a versatile staple in Middle Eastern cuisine. It can be enjoyed with a wide variety of dishes and ingredients. Here are some popular pairings:

  • Hummus: A well-loved dip made from chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Use your flatbread to scoop up this tasty spread.
  • Falafel: Deep-fried balls or patties made from spiced and ground chickpeas or fava beans. Wrap them in your Arabic flatbread and enjoy them with some salad and tahini sauce.
  • Shawarma: A Levantine dish consisting of slow-roasted or grilled meat, usually served in a flatbread wrap, with a variety of toppings and sauces.
  • Kebabs: Skewered and grilled meat, such as lamb or chicken, served wrapped in flatbread, accompanied by vegetables and sauces.
  • Baba Ghanouj: A smoky eggplant dip, made with roasted aubergine, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. Enjoy it with Arabic flatbread as a starter or side dish.

International Dishes

Arabic flatbread is not just popular in Middle Eastern cuisine, but it has also found a place in many international dishes. Here are some examples:

  • Greek Gyros: Similar to shawarma, gyros are made with marinated and grilled meat (usually pork or chicken), tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce. Use Arabic flatbread as a base for this mouthwatering Greek dish.
  • Indian Kati Rolls: Kati rolls are a popular Indian street food, where spiced meat or paneer is wrapped in a flatbread, often with eggs, vegetables, and sauces. Arabic flatbread can work as an excellent alternative to the traditional Indian paratha or roti.
  • Mexican Fajitas: Although typically made with flour tortillas, Arabic flatbread is a great base for fajitas, which consist of grilled meat, peppers, onions, and various toppings like guacamole, salsa, and sour cream.
  • Mediterranean Salad Wraps: Make a healthy and delicious salad wrap with Arabic flatbread by filling it with your favourite Mediterranean ingredients, such as grilled vegetables, olives, feta cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Remember, when enjoying dishes with Arabic flatbread, you can get as creative as you like with your fillings and toppings. The versatility of this wonderful bread is limited only by your imagination.

Storage and Shelf Life

Storing your Arabic flatbread properly is essential to maintain its freshness and extend its shelf life. Here are some useful tips to help you store your flatbread effectively.

First, always allow your freshly baked flatbread to cool down completely before storing it. If you store hot flatbread, the steam will cause the bread to become soggy, which will negatively affect its quality.

To store your flatbread for a short period (1-3 days), you can keep it at room temperature. Wrap the flatbread in a clean kitchen towel, plastic bag, or aluminium foil to protect it from dust and moisture. 

It’s best to place your wrapped flatbread in a cool, dark place such as a bread bin, bread box, or cupboard.

If you want to store your flatbread for a longer period (up to a month), you can freeze it. To do so, wrap each piece of flatbread individually in plastic wrap, aluminium foil, or a freezer-safe bag. Be sure to press out any excess air before sealing the bag. 

Label each bag with the date and store it in the freezer. When you’re ready to enjoy your flatbread, just take it out of the freezer and let it thaw at room temperature or warm it up in the oven.

Keep in mind that the shelf life of Arabic flatbread can be affected by factors such as the ingredients used in its preparation, the storage conditions, and the freshness of the bread when it was initially stored. 

While flatbreads can go stale quickly due to their thin nature, proper storage can help to maintain their quality for an extended period.

In conclusion, storing your Arabic flatbread properly is crucial for maintaining its quality and extending its shelf life. By following these simple storage tips, you can enjoy your flatbread for a longer time and always have a delicious addition to your meals at your fingertips.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main ingredient in Arabic flatbread?

The main ingredient in Arabic flatbread, also known as Khobz or Kuboos, is flour. Traditionally, it is made with whole wheat flour, which is high in fibre and adds a distinct taste to the bread. However, it can also be made with all-purpose flour if desired.

What makes Arabic flatbread different from other flatbreads?

Arabic flatbread is different from other flatbreads due to its pocket-like shape, as seen in pita bread, and its use of whole wheat flour. The pocket formation is caused by steam during the baking process, which creates an air pocket inside the bread. 

This pocket is a distinguishing feature of Arabic flatbreads and is not seen as frequently in other types of flatbreads.

How do I make Khobez, a Za’atar spiced Arabic bread?

To make Khobez, combine the following ingredients:

  • 600g all-purpose flour
  • 7g instant yeast
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons Za’atar (optional but highly recommended)

Next, add oil and ¾ cup of water to the mixture. Mix well to form a dough, and then knead the dough until smooth. 

Allow the dough to rest and rise for an hour or two before dividing it into equal pieces and rolling it out. Cook on a hot griddle or frying pan until each side is golden brown and the bread has puffed up slightly.

Can I make Arabic flatbread at home?

Yes, making Arabic flatbread at home is relatively easy and requires only a few basic ingredients like flour, yeast, salt, and water. 

The process involves mixing the ingredients, allowing the dough to rise, and then cooking the flatbreads on a hot surface like a griddle or frying pan. With a bit of practice, you can enjoy authentic-tasting Arabic flatbread from the comfort of your own home.

 

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