Flatbreads are a handy kitchen trick to have up your sleeve for times when you don’t want to bother with raised breads or they won’t suit the meal you have in mind. Since they don’t need to rise, they are not gluten-dependent and make a great vehicle for a variety of whole grains.
The Ethiopian flatbread called injera is made from a fermented batter that give it a frothy texture and a charming lightly sour flavor. Traditionally it’s made from the tiny grain called Teff. Of course it’s good with Ethiopian food, but I love it with many Indian dals as well as with salads and grilled meats. It serves as your table utensil; pieces are torn off and used to scoop up whatever you’re eating it with.
In this country most recipes are bastardized versions that don’t involve any fermenting. Some add vinegar to get the soured flavor. But why not just do it right? I keep a sourdough culture around and find plenty of uses for it, and it makes injera as well as it makes standard breads. You can always capture your own starter, but I like the South African starter from sourdough fanatic Ed Wood, at Sourdo.com. It does a great job of souring and leavening whole grain flours. You can use commercial yeast instead but the flavor won’t be as good. Every homestead, urban or otherwise, needs a good sourdough starter around, so consider starting one now, but if you don’t want to bother, I include directions for commercial yeast. In my next few posts I’ll include some recipes that are good to eat with your injera.
Click here for the recipe
Make the batter at least twelve hours before you want to use it, to allow it to ferment. After twelve hours at room temp, you can either use it immediately or put it in the refrigerator for up to two days.
In a bowl holding at least two quarts, put one cup of white flour and one cup of teff flour. When you have some practice at making them you can use all teff flour, but try this formula first. I often find teff flour at La Montanita Co-op. If you can’t find it, use a cup of whole wheat flour, or one of the other suggestions below. Add one cup of water and a teaspoon of salt, start to stir, and add more water as needed to achieve a loose batter the consistency of thin pancake batter. The total amount of water will vary depending on the grains used, but make sure you make it thin enough, because a thick batter will never make a good injera. Add two tablespoons of very active sourdough starter OR 1/2 teaspoon of commercial yeast plus a scant teaspoon of sugar or agave nectar.( The sugar is not needed if you use the sourdough starter because a good starter contains lactobacilli which “digest” a little of the grain into simple sugars that the yeasts can use.)Cover tightly and let it sit at room temp overnight or for at least 12 hours. At the end of that time it should look frothy and have a clean sour smell. If you used commercial yeast the sour smell won’t be there but otherwise it will be the same. A little water may rise to the surface, which is fine. If you aren’t ready to cook it, just put it in the refrigerator until you’re ready. This bread needs to be eaten shortly after it’s made.
When you’re ready to cook, heat a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat until it’s well heated. Have a little vegetable oil handy. I like a light olive oil, but I can’t pretend that it’s authentic.Put about two teaspoons of oil into the skillet, swirl it around, and pour in a quarter cup of batter. Quickly tilt the pan around in circles to make a large round cake, or spread the batter carefully with a spatula to make a large circle. Bubbles will form on the upper surface; these will then pop and become little holes. The picture on the left above shows the cooking process: there are some holes, some bubbles, and some areas of raw-looking batter. The raw areas will all soon form holes and darken. When no raw batter is visible on the top, it’s time to turn the bread. The picture at right above shows an injera ready to turn. Working carefully because the bread is very fragile, and using a large spatula, turn the bread and cook the other side. When cooked, move to a warmed plate, pour in a little more oil, and make the next injera. Stack them up on the plate and take to the table while still hot.
The technique is a lot like making crepes: it takes a little practice, and the first one never comes out well. By the time you’ve made two or three, you’ll be an expert. The most usual beginner’s problem is making the batter too thick, so that the injera are too doughy in the middle. When in doubt, add a little more water to the batter and try again. You can easily double the amouont of batter to feed more people, or use half of it for each of two meals.
When you’ve learned the technique you can use all whole grain flours. I don’t use all teff flour because I find the flavor a little too “grassy”, but I like a cup of teff flour and a cup of whole wheat flour. I’ve also used chickpea flour and cornmeal to substitute for up to half a cup of the flours. My favorite flour mixture, and the one shown in the pictures, is 1 cup of teff flour, half a cup of white flour, and half a cup of toasted chia seeds, ground to flour in the blender. See my previous blog post on fruit crumbles for directions on toasting chia seeds. Click here to navigate to that post. After the batter sits for the needed twelve hours, you may find that you need to thin it a little more if you use chia seeds. I don’t recommend using them untoasted or adding them whole for this recipe; if you try it, you’ll find out why I don’t recommend it.
There is a theory that phytates contained in whole grains can interfere with the absorption of minerals, especially zinc. Soaking whole grains for twelve hours or fermenting them breaks down the phytates. I haven’t read enough studies to vouch for this, but I find fermented breads delicious, and if they have dietary advantages that’s just a bonus.