The Pleasures of Pitta

I find myself torn between the Scylla of ending up with a blog that only updates once a year (though I suppose at least that would be nice and regular) and the Charybdis of turning into a monothematic food blog, since my last post was on that subject and the thing I’ve just thought about writing is too. Still, since it would seem a shame to put up such a short post just to say I was thinking about posting, I suppose it’s better to steer more towards the latter danger than the former one.

Recently I find myself eating quite a bit of pitta bread. It’s always been a bread product that I have enjoyed but in the last few months it seems to have become my go-to bread and I have discovered that it’s even more versatile than I thought.

A few months (or perhaps a year or two) back, I came up with an idea which is probably not entirely new in the grand scheme of things but I’m fairly sure I hadn’t (consciously, at least) borrowed it from anywhere. This is a tasty snack that I call a zapped cheese pitta and is essentially what happens when pitta bread meets cheese on toast (described by Bill Bailey as the National Dish of Wales). Or rather, what happens when I get a craving for cheese on toast but realise the only bread I have to hand is pitta and then decide that the microwave is quicker and easier than the grill.

Zapped cheese pittas are easy enough to make. First take one or two (or more, if you’re making for several people or feeling especially hungry) pitta breads, cut or tear them open and put in some thinly sliced cheese (as with regular cheese on toast, I usually use cheddar but a whole range of different cheeses work and give some quite pleasingly different results), stick them on a plate and microwave them for about a minute, leaving to stand for a short while and proceeding with caution as the cheese can get pretty hot. I quite often add a little bit of mustard, especially when I’m using cheddar. I’m sure other condiments could be used too. I suspect brie and cranberry would work nicely, and that reminds me of another pitta-related snack that I’ve enjoyed several times in the last few months…

Bacon butties (or sandwiches, if you prefer) are one of life’s great joys (and one of the reasons I don’t think I’d ever entirely convert to vegetarianism) and can be nicely enhanced by a slice or two of brie (and quite possibly some cranberry sauce, though I’m not sure I ever tried that). In recent months, most of the bacon butties I’ve consumed (pretty much all, sadly, without brie – although some have been enhanced by other delights such as maple syrup instead) have been put together with pitta breads. For these I might gently zap the pittas in the microwave to warm them through, and if I’m feeling decadent I may slide a bit of butter into them before piling in the bacon, but actually they work fine with cold pittas and no butter, just letting the heat from the bacon warm them through.

That last one was a bonus, as I didn’t actually have bacon butties in mind when I started writing this post. The thing that prompted it was in fact my discovery this evening of a perhaps surprising combination: a pitta noodle sandwich!

At the moment I am stuck in my office awaiting a meeting later on and don’t have access to my usual cooking facilities and ingredients, so I had a pot noodle for dinner. When I say “pot noodle” I mean one of the nice spicy ones from East Asia – this one from South Korea, I think – that are a bit cheaper and, IMHO, much tastier than the western version (which I pretty much never eat). To go with it, I had a couple of pittas and a chunk of slightly stale cornbread. I started with the cornbread, as that most needed using up, and it soaked up quite a lot of the liquid from my noodles so when I got on to the pittas I decided to try putting some of the noodles into the pitta rather than dipping it into the broth. It turned out to be very tasty (although I suspect not super healthy) and is probably an idea I’ll try again sometime.

Meanwhile it’s nearly time for my meeting, so I’d better publish this and go and wash up my fork.

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Green eggs (but no ham)

I mentioned yesterday that I was intending to do some more noodlesprucing for dinner.  That, indeed, is just what I did – with quite interesting results…

The starting point was a packet of spicy prawn flavoured instant noodles.  For vegetable content, I had some left over (uncooked) red cabbage and a spring onion that needed using up, so I chopped them up fairly finely and fried them in the saucepan before adding the spicy prawn flavour sachet and boiling water, followed by the noodles themselves.  I also lobbed in a handful of caraway seeds, as caraway is generally a good accompaniment to cabbage.

Having written yesterday about poaching eggs in baked beans as a way of noodlesprucing them (to use the term in its more general sense), it occurred to me that an egg could also be poached in the broth in which noodles are being cooked.  Since I happened to have an egg to hand, I decided to test this theory, putting the egg in about half way through the simmering of the noodles (i.e. about 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time).

When I transferred my noodles into the bowl for eating I was initially somewhat dismayed to discover that the egg had turned a somewhat unpleasant, mouldy-looking greyish green colour.

I then remembered an exciting food chemistry factoid that I learned from a book several years ago, which is that red cabbage juice reacts with egg white to make it turn green.  As far as I recall, there is some enzyme in the cabbage juice that reacts with a protein in the egg; as far as I know, it only works for red cabbage juice.  I remember doing some experiments frying eggs with red cabbage juice and discovering that the result was not a particularly attractive shade of green.  Still, it doesn’t seem to have any appreciable effect (positive or negative) on the taste of the egg and it was comforting to know that this colour change was an expected chemical reaction and not an indication that I’d accidentally used a bad egg or something.

The idea of poaching an egg in my noodle broth seems to work very well and I’ll doubtless try it again in future.  I assume that if (as is usually the case) I’m not cooking up red cabbage with the noodles, the egg shouldn’t come out green.  Who knows, though, what other interesting colour changes I might discover.

Noodlesprucing

Over the years, I have eaten many instant noodles.  Although not quite living up to their name, they are nevertheless quite quick to prepare as well as being cheap and, with not too much extra work, quite tasty and reasonably nutritious.

I don’t generally prepare them quite as directed on the packet (which is usually to boil/simmer them for about 5 minutes in water with the contents of the included flavour sachet added).  The simplest change, which I always make, is just to cook them for a bit longer, usually around 10 minutes. This makes them softer and more succulent than they would otherwise be.

The other way I perk up my noodles, which not only improves the taste but also provides a nice lot of variation on the 4 or so basic flavours sold by my local supermarket, is to add various spices and occasionally other ingredients.  This can be as simple as just a dash of extra paprika or whatever else comes to hand when I reach for the spice cupboard.

As an example of a slightly more sophisticated noodle-enhancement, here’s what I did last time I had noodles for dinner, a few days ago.  I started by chopping up a spring onion and lightly frying it (with a small amount of oil) in the saucepan I would be cooking the noodles in.  While it was frying I boiled a kettle and then added boiling water, the chicken seasoning packet (contents) from the noodles, a bit of extra 5-spice powder and a dash of soy sauce to the pan and let it come back to the boil.  I then added the noodles and simmered for about 10 minutes before serving in a nice deep bowl with a generous blob of salad cream in the middle.  It was very tasty for a meal that took less than 15 minutes to prepare.

The reason I mention this now is that I have come up with a new word for the culinary art of transforming instant noodles into fine dinners without too much work: noodlesprucing (so called as you are sprucing up the noodles).  I’m not sure how long I’ll continue to use that term and I suspect it won’t catch on with the general public, but I submit it now as a humble offering towards the enrichment of the English language (as well as a potential inspiration for any budding chefs, especially those on a tight budget).

Despite the name, there’s no reason why noodlesprucing can’t also be applied to other foodstuffs.  The one that springs to my mind is baked beans (especially when served on toast), mainly because I have been doing mildly exciting things with these for longer than I have with noodles.  Again, it usually amounts to cooking them up with random spices; I quite often like to put some cheese on top as well, or to poach an egg in the baked beans.

I shall probably have noodles for dinner again tonight, so I will doubtless engage in a spot more noodlesprucing.  It remains to be seen what inspiration will strike this time, but I look forward to finding out.