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Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Stuffed both ways

What’s happening, lockdown Larrys? All good in the socially-distanced hood?

I just ate a chicken wrap with a handful of crisps and a side of leek soup and as usual post-lunchtime, I’m fit to bust. It’s not even funny: If a button pops on these jeans, I could smash a window or take someone’s eye out.

And yet it is indicative of my psychosomatic situation that I’m already planning tonight’s dinner, when the lunchables haven’t even settled in the stomach. It’s not easy being a starvo.

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The French have a good saying when referring to over-eating. Settling back in the seat and patting one’s paunch a person might say, “Je suis aussi plein qu’un œuf.” It means, “I’m as full as an egg.”

When I first heard this statement I thought I had the translation wrong but when I thought about it, what’s fuller than an egg? It’s filled to capacity! You know what I’m saying? (Tu vois ce que je te dit?).

But as ‘plein’ as I am at the moment, I can’t help but look forward to tonight’s plat special chez Michael. It’s my new favourite twist on flatbreads and Lord knows (le Seigneur le sait), but I love flatbreads.

I love the simplicity of unleavened bread and the fact that I can have the flour weighed and mixed with the milk or water and cooked up in under half an hour. I also love the humble nature of flatbreads, the no nonsense approach with simple ingredients which, when combined and coaxed with a little heat, can taste as though they were baked by angels (les anges) with Michelin stars.

I think too that the process of making bread is almost therapeutic. It’s tactile and satisfying and, with these breads at least, utterly foolproof – which is why I’m able to make them perfectly each time.

Did you know that our ancestors stopped being nomadic hunter gathers so that they could farm? They did.

And the crop which was responsible for their settling down? Wheat.

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It made sense too. No longer could the ancient Mesopotamians head off looking for wild figs and nuts when there was a field of golden wheat to be guarded from that header over in the next townland, especially as that wheat, when harvested, could be combined and coaxed into something as divine as bread.

And do you know what kind of bread those trail blazers were eating? That’s right, lockdown Larrys, they were eating flatbreads. Good for scooping and wrapping, the mind boggles at what our forebears must have thought when they first realised flatbreads could be so versatile. I wonder though did they ever think of stuffing their flatbreads?.They probably did.

Most of the time when I’m flatbreading my way out of trouble (difficulté), I’m either scooping curry or dhal or wrapping salad and/or charcuterie. But when I realised that the bread itself could be cooked with the filling already inside, it was one of the moments that the veil was lifted. Think calzone only yet more variable, depending on what’s at hand.

Strictly speaking, this recipe is aloo paratha, an Indian potato- stuffed flatbread but as you’ll see, it’s pretty versatile. Also, as I’ve never been to India, I’m not sure how authentic my version is to the real thing. What I do know is that any time I make these bad boys, there are never any left-overs.

This recipe will comfortably feed four people and even more if you’re serving it as a side to a lentil dahl.

INGREDIENTS ALOO (POTATO) FILLING
400g of left-over mashed potatoes
1 bunch of spring onions, chopped
1 tbsp of ghee (or butter)
half a tsp of garam masala
good pinch of chilli flakes
salt and pepper
more ghee (or vegetable or olive oil) for frying

FLATBREAD DOUGH
300g of plain flour
150ml of water
1 tsp of fine sea salt
1 tbsp of ghee (or vegetable or olive oil)

LE PLAN D’ACTION
Start off by making the dough. Weigh out the flour in a large bowl and mix through the salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the water and lastly add the ghee. Mix with a spoon until it starts to come together and then get your hands in, squeezing and rubbing and scraping until you have a knobbly dough ball.
Dump this onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two until smooth. Cover with a tea towel and let it rest for 20 minutes while you sort out the filling.

Add the ghee or butter to a frying pan and dump in the chopped spring onions. Fry for a minute and not a second longer. You just want to take away a little of the rawness.

Place the mash in a bowl and add to this some salt and pepper, mix and then taste to make sure it’s well seasoned. Sprinkle on the garam masala and the chilli flakes and mix through and then lastly, stir through the oily spring onions.

De-robe the ball of dough and divide into eight equal pieces.

Take one piece at a time and with a little extra flour, roll out into a circle, or as close to a circle as you can get (I’m not very good at rolling circles but I don’t lose any sleep over it).

Lay a quarter of the spuddy mix on one half of the circle of dough, about a centimetre from the edge. Brush the edge with a little water and then fold over the empty side, pressing down lightly to push out all the air. Press along the edges to seal and then gently roll with the rolling pin to flatten a little more. This will also help knock out any remaining air. Repeat the process until all the dough and spuddy filling is used up.

Fry these stuffed flatbreads one or two at a time in a little ghee or vegetable oil for about two minutes on either side on a medium high heat. Press down on them with a spatula as they’re frying so as to make sure the dough is cooked through in all places. And don’t worry if, when flipped, they begin to puff up: This is a good sign.

Cut into halves or quarters and serve up with some raita or as a side to that dahl I mentioned… and all will be well in the lockdown world.

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