In New York, we don’t really have an understanding of spring. There are but a few days in late April/early May when the snow has melted, the rain has passed, the wind chill is gone, and the sun comes out for an elusive flirtation.
This lasts only a few days, before the oppressive heat and humidity of summer crash the party. Yet somehow, chic New Yorkers are always prepared for this handful of days. It’s like they all secretly have cute-weather-outfit radars – a sixth sense I sadly lack. This year, nature decided to grant us these magical days over a month too early (perhaps this is a spring preview! Pun intended). And sure enough, as I boarded the L train to work on a gorgeous day last week, each red-lipped hipster female was more striking than the one before. I’m talking flowey fabrics, floral prints, perfect woke-up-like-this hair and pastel manicures. Meanwhile, I was dressed in the same pair of jeans I’ve been wearing all winter, and last fall’s H&M jacket that was covered in #fredthecat’s fur.
“Damn it,” I thought, “missed it again.”
Thankfully, the flavors of spring are easier to summon in the kitchen than in the wardrobe (well, at least for me), which is where these divine Eastern European flatbreads come in. For this installment of Cooking from Cookbooks, I am thrilled to talk about Olia Hercules’ Mamushka. A fellow Ukrainian native, Olia is a London-based chef and food stylist, and last year’s release of her first cookbook kinda rocked my world. I was so excited and genuinely touched that the food from my homeland was finally getting the attention it deserves. Olia delivered the kind of cookbook I’d always hoped to write myself – Mamushka is filled with traditional home-style Ukrainian recipes, as well as those of our neighboring countries – Armenia, Georgia, Moldova. Mamushka was even nominated for the Food52 Piglet award this year!
The beloved Eastern European flavor combo of salty feta and grassy herbs in a chewy dough makes these flatbreads perfect for springtime nomming. The base of this dough is kefir, a sour dairy product commonly found in Eastern European cuisines. It gives baked – or in this case, fried – goods a tangy flavor and pillowy texture. What makes these flatbreads ‘lazy’, you ask? Traditionally, the feta and herbs are meant to be a filling for a savory hand pie, but in the spirit of saving time, the filling is mixed straight into the dough. Paired with a simple kefir-yogurt dip, these flatbreads are turned into a complete meal. Aromatic, chewy and satisfying, this is pretty much my new favorite food. The yeast-free dough is very hard to mess up, so I hope this recipe will help you usher in spring as much as it helped me.
This recipe comes from Mamushka by Olia Hercules (Weldon Owen, 2015).
For the Flatbreads
- 2/3 cup kefir, or watered down plain yogurt
- 3/4 teaspoon white vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon sunflower oil (or organic canola), plus about 1/4 cup for frying
- 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- 4 scallions, finely sliced
- 1/2 bunch dill, chopped
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 scant teaspoon baking soda
For the Kefir-Yogurt Dip
- 1/2 cup plain full fat yogurt
- 1/2 cup kefir
- 2 generous handfuls dill leaves, chopped
- 2 scallions, finely sliced
- 3/4 teaspoon ground sumac (*optional)
- Pinch of sea salt
To make flatbreads:
- In a large bowl, combine kefir, vinegar, sugar, salt and 1 teaspoon oil. Add the feta, scallions and dill, and mix well with a fork.
- Sift in the flour and baking soda, and mix in with a fork. The dough should be soft yet dense, and a bit sticky.
- Generously dust a work surface with flour and knead dough until it is homogeneous and holds together, about 1 minute. Divide dough into 6 pieces and roll into balls. Roll out each ball into a circle 6 inches in diameter.
- In a large frying pan over a medium-low flame, heat up enough oil to cover the bottom. Fry breads one at a time, for three minutes per side, adding more oil if needed. Transfer breads to a paper-towel lined platter to drain excess fat before serving. Serve warm with yogurt dip (recipe below).
- Leftover flatbreads can be kept wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge up to 4 days. Reheat flatbreads in a skillet.
To make yogurt dip:
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and season to taste. Serve with warm flatbreads. Sauce will keep in the fridge up to 4 days.