It’s summer and the weather is HOT. The Pacific Northwest has been setting record temperatures for the last couple of days, with highs in the low 90’s Fahrenheit (roughly 32C).
After a long hot commute home from work and school, I can imagine most families don’t feel like firing up a stove or oven to make dinner. I frequently see my friends and neighbors hopping into their air conditioned lazy-mobile and driving to a nice air conditioned eatery of their choice.
It’s a luxury eating experience for a mere $50 – $80 (a four person family at a mid-priced restaurant, plus tax, plus 15% tip).
However, our family doesn’t eat out. We make all our meals at home. This ensures we eat well on a reasonably small food budget. It’s one of the ways we were able to accumulate a net worth of over $3 million dollars and reach financial independence (FI).
The only trouble is, with temperatures this hot the absolute last thing I want to be doing is slaving away in a hot kitchen making dinner for the family. We don’t have AC in our house, so cooking over a hot stove can be sweltering during the summer.
Well, when the going gets HOT, this is when we flex our frugal muscles the most! How can I keep cool and still manage to cook a restaurant quality meal at home?
One of the tricks I employ is switching to summer dishes — those that require no heat to prepare.
Green salads from our economic garden are popular on the ‘summer menu’ and I also bring into rotation cold noodle dishes and cold tofu dishes.
For meats and vegetables that need heat, I try to grill outside as often as possible. Keeping the cooking heat outside really helps keep the house cooler.
I’ve definitely professed my love for the grill in past posts — from how to find cheaper propane, to making a better taco. Sometimes I’ll even setup a slow-cooker outside to avoid heating-up the house.
These are all great tips for cooking when it’s hot outside, but somethings just have to be done in the oven, like breads and pizza, right?
Now to be clear, I’m NOT a baker. The idea of putting together bread ingredients, kneading, proofing (waiting hours for the dough to rise), forming the bread, letting it “rest”, and then slowly cooking it in a hot oven is not my idea of a good time.
Temperature and humidity are also factors in making a proper bread…. Frankly it’s all too much work for too little payoff. I don’t have time for that nonsense.
But what if we could make fresh bread for our family’s evening meal, and it only took 10 minutes? Even better — you don’t even need an oven to make it!
Welcome to the wonderful world of flatbreads!
Long before mankind got all fancy and sophisticated with burping fungus (yeast), nearly every hot country in the world made flatbreads. Usually outside and over some kind of open flame… aka not in the house.
Flatbreads are typically unleavened breads, meaning they’re flat without all the air bubbles that come from yeast eating sugar. (I should also mention that flatbreads are healthier due to the lack of refined sugar)
Of course, unleavened bread is dense. So either it’s made extremely flat, or a chemical leavening agent is used in modern times. Baking powder is the most common.
Today I’m going to employ both methods to make a really nice flatbread for pennies AND I’m going to make it on the grill!
Mr. Tako’s Bacon Avocado Flatbread
If you study the world’s flatbread recipes, from Mexican wheat tortillas, to Indian chapati, and of course Italian Piadina — you’ll find that most flatbread recipes are incredibly similar.
Traditionally they contain 4 main ingredients: flour, salt, water, and some kind of fat (oil, butter, lard,etc).
My flatbread recipe uses all those traditional ingredients and adds baking powder:
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour (can be substituted with gluten free versions)
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1.5 tablespoons of baking powder
- 3/4 cup of warm water (approximate)
Combine the dry ingredients first and mix thoroughly.
Then, add the oil and water. Knead for a couple of minutes with your hand or mixer. I prefer fewer dishes to wash, so I just use my hand.
Right about now is when I go start my grill and get my cast iron pan warming-up. We’re going to cook this on the grill afterall!
Next, seperate the dough into golf-ball sized balls. Once rolled-out these make a flatbread about 6″ in diameter. This size fits nicely in my cast iron pan.
Any of the dough I don’t intend to use, I freeze for later use. (They thaw and cook up great!)
Next, roll-out a dough “golf ball” using anything round. If you have a rolling-pin, use that. If not, use a can of beans or a water glass. Anything round works. We’re not trying to be fussy here.
Try to make the bread as thin as possible. Dust with flower as necessary to keep the dough from sticking, and place it on a plate. It takes a little practice.
Cooking The Flatbread
By now, my cast iron pan is usually quite hot on the grill. Off to the side of the grill I usually put down a couple strips of bacon. If you don’t have room on your grill for bacon, you can always cook it in the microwave.
Next, I tend to add a couple drops of olive oil to the pan to keep things from sticking but it might not be needed depending upon your pan. Wait for the oil to heat up.
Place the flatbread into the pan and let it cook until it starts to brown on the bottom.
Once the bubbles appear, check for a very slight browning on the underside. The flatbread should still be quite flexible at this point. Flip the flatbread over.
It should look something like this.
Next, I add about a teaspoon of olive oil and dust the flatbread with oregano and some cheese (I like parmesan and mozzarella for this).
Close the grill or cover the pan to create an oven-like environment. Obviously we want the flatbread to be not too crispy and not too soft. There’s a Goldilocks area of doneness with flatbreads. Usually this is around 2-4 minutes on my grill, but grill temperatures vary significantly. Watch it close!
Once the flatbread is toasted on both sides, remove it from the heat. The bacon should be pretty close to done now too. Chop the bacon and add some thin slices of avocado on top.
If the bread seems a little dry (will depend upon your cheese) drizzle a little extra olive oil. I like to crack some fresh ground pepper over the top too.
I hope you enjoyed this little foray into flatbreads. With a little practice this flatbread recipe can be made in 10-20 minutes for mere pennies without toppings. With toppings, it might cost around $1-$2.
It’s an incredibly cheap meal that might cost $10 to $15 in a restaurant. In fact, I challenge you to find a flatbread this good and this cheap in a restaurant!
My recipe uses avocado and bacon because they’re two of my favorite toppings. If you don’t like those toppings, feel free to use whatever makes your tastebuds happy.
Sans toppings, this flatbread recipe also goes great with chili, chowders, and Indian curries. It’s a very generic flatbread that’s incredibly versatile.
Hmmm… I wonder what else flatbread could be used for?
[Image Credit: Hiyayako @ Wikimedia]