Flatbread Earth

Local thin loaves made for grabbing a bite to eat

0
Bread
Jan Chipchase/Flickr

There is something soul-satisfying about grabbing bites of food with pieces of flatbread, whether it is using a warm corn tortilla to snag carnitas, a chunk of naan to get some saag paneer, or a piece of injera to sponge up doro wat.

Flatbread is the best invention since sliced bread, or at least the best rediscovery, since flatbreads came first. Sociable, utensil-free flatbread dining speaks to our tribal roots eating communally around the fire.

Some say the family of flatbreads includes everything from moo shu crepes and Indian dosas to Vietnamese rice paper. My rule is if you can’t use it to grab or scoop food with it, it’s not a flatbread. If it is crispy, crunchy and non-bendable like matzo, papadum or a tostada, it’s a cracker, not a flatbread.

Yes, pizza is a flatbread — cue John Travolta’s slice-folding opening scene in Saturday Night Fever — pizza with toppings is an entrée, not a bread unit. The legal exception is using a slice of cold cheese pizza to eat another food, say chicken tikka masala or scrambled eggs.

As a bread fanatic, I love the wonderful variations on a flatbread theme available in Boulder County, either baked from scratch at restaurants and bakeries or available in shops. Once you taste a real tortilla, pita bread or naan, you’ll never go back to the same old wrap. 

Upgrade Your Tortillas

Skip the yuckier, pastier, name-brand flour tortillas on your grocer’s shelf. Luckily, there are a lot of great tortillas available locally. My favorites baked fresh at Tortilleria Frontera in Longmont are soft, pliable and flaky/layered, and they simply taste better than most. I also like the Boulder-baked Stacey’s Organic Tortillas GMO-free, kosher and vegan and free from hydrogenated oils available in 39 states now. There are quite decent local flour tortilla brands available at most supermarkets including those from Tortillas Mexico and Raquelitas Tortillas.

Boulder Tortillas’ blue corn tortillas are nifty because they are sold partially cooked. To serve, you finish them in a hot pan and serve warm for tacos. The aroma is captivating. In general, tortillas and other flatbreads taste better when they are warmed slightly before serving, but never in a microwave.

Pita: Thin pockets or thicker?

The best-tasting pita breads are baked-to-order at local restaurants including the Garbanzo Mediterranean fast-casual chain and at two new Denver eateries: Safta and Ash’Kara. The Mediterranean Market in Boulder carries the best, locally packaged pita, the super-thin pocket version from Denver’s Haji Baba Bakery. Boulder’s venerable Falafel King bakes good white and wheat pita pockets for its two eateries, also sold at supermarkets along with pita (try the sesame) from Denver’s Soloman Baking Company.

There is a second, thicker pocketless pita type typically used for gyros and other Greek/Middle Eastern sandwich wraps. Restaurants sometimes use these pitas and naan interchangeably.

Naan, naan, naan, naan

The Middle East boasts great flatbreads but no region beats India and Pakistan for sheer abundance and variety. After all, Indian restaurants are usually the only eateries now that have a “bread” menu including variations on naan, paratha, chapatti (also called roti) and kulcha. These breads taste best pulled apart and eaten hot at the table at restaurants like Tandoori Grill, Tiffins India Café, Taj Mahal II and Tadka. However, excellent pre-baked chewy naan and other breads are sold at India Bazaar and India’s Grocery in Boulder and Lafayette’s Krishna Grocery. 

Injera for your doro wat

In the Ethiopian style of dining, flatbread is everything. The spongy sourdough injera bread lines the communal platter from which everyone around the table eats. Pieces of tart injera are used to grab bites of vegetable and meat stews. They soak up sauces without falling apart. Taste fresh injera at Ras Kassa’s in Lafayette and at other Ethiopian restaurants. Buy sheets of fresh injera at Sudan Cafe & Khairat Injera Bakery in Aurora.

Lavosh: Bread as Tablecloth

Lavosh are paper-thin flatbreads eaten in Western Asia, Iran, Turkey and elsewhere. Sold folded up, some lavosh can be as large as a tablecloth. When lavosh dries out it becomes a matzo-like cracker. Few local eateries serve lavosh, but Boulder’s Caspian Deli & Grocery offers diverse frozen pita, lavosh, chapatti and sangak, a tasty rectangular Iranian whole wheat flatbread. Bar none, Aurora’s Arash International Market has the best selection of flatbreads in Colorado.

Lefse: let’s see

If you haven’t tried lefse, you don’t know flatbread. The potato-based Scandinavian bread, halfway between a tortilla and a crepe, can be sweet and spread with jam, Nutella or cream cheese, or savory with sliced meats, cheese and condiments. Did you know lefse are baked locally at Kings Norsk Products in Wheat Ridge? Their motto: “Lefse rolled so thin it only has one side.”

Taste of the Week

My mom would occasionally make a great macaroni and bean soup her Sicilian mom taught her called “pasta fazool,” actually “pasta e fagioli.” I love the Himalayan equivalent dished at Golden’s Nepal House. Sherpa Stew is a big bowl of broth loaded with thick, udon-like noodles, beans and fresh veggies with enough chile to melt the chill and naan to eat it with. I went with chicken over yak. By the way, the latter does not taste like chicken.

Words to Chew On

The 2019 James Beard Awards semifinalists list again features many local notables: Frasca Food and Wine for Outstanding Service, Andy Clark of Louisville’s Moxie Bread Co. for Outstanding Baker, and Basta’s Kelly Whitaker for Best Chef; Southwest for The Wolf’s Tailor eatery in Denver, along with Caroline Glover of Annette in Aurora. Other semifinalists: Best New Restaurant: Q House, Denver; Outstanding Pastry Chef: Jeb Breakell, The Wolf’s Tailor, Denver; Outstanding Wine Program: Element 47, Little Nell, Aspen; and Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer: Todd and Scott Leopold, Leopold Bros., Denver.

Here’s what three of the James Beard semifinalists told me recently:

Carolyn Glover, Annette: “I’m a glutton for simple sautéed greens with salt, extra virgin olive oil and a little lemon juice for acidity. Not everyone is into salad in the morning but I am.” 

Andy Clark, Moxie Bread Co: “Everything we do here is a pain in the ass. I want to know the wheat farmer just like I know the farmers who grow the vegetables. People think I’m nuts for using heirloom wheat and doing a long, slow fermentation.”

Bobby Stuckey, Frasca: “Hospitality is looking outside yourself to see how you can make someone else feel better. Everyone thinks it is this switch you turn on. My ethos is that you treat everyone well from the driver dropping off your vegetables to the dishwasher.”

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles 8:25 a.m. Thursday on KGNU. Podcasts: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles