With the help of strangers, my flatbread journey wasn't a lonely one anymore

Welcome to another chapter of my flatbread journey. In February 2020, I took my first ever baking workshop with Dusty Knuckle Bakery School. Then, on 8th March, just a few days before the coronavirus was confirmed as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, I was out in Central London with one of my girlfriends celebrating her birthday, and on my way home, I grabbed eight packs of cereal and whole-grain flours from Whole Foods Market

 I tried to buy a good selection of flours from gluten brown bread flour to Teff and Sorghum as I had never tried them before, plus I also bought some organic active dry yeast. So, I had my treasure collection without knowing that there is a shortage of flour and yeast on the way. Later on, and after learning more about different types of flour, I realised there is a wide range of underrated, nutrient-rich cereal grains that I didn't know anything about and want to explore further.

The next phase was recipe collecting, both from what was available online and from my friends and network. I quickly started to bake for the first time in my life on a Wednesday evening using a three-line simple Khubz recipe (a general word for bread in standard Arabic), and it immediately became the highlight of my lockdown weeks at my studio flat in North London. 

While doing my online search, I came across exciting food blogs such as Queen of Sheba, Maha's Kitchen Secrets, Nawal Cooking blog, The Taste of Beirut, and others. I contacted a few of the authors and cooks to talk about my passion for flatbreads and my ideas on sharing this pleasure with others. Without the luxury of gathering friends to brainstorm around the dinner table or over a drink, the support and inspirations were acquired from those strangers. Amongst these strangers, I talked to three inspiring women from different parts of the world, and food became our everyday language to communicate. Maha, Nawal and Joumana were generous with their time and talked to me, and each of them inspired me in their way. 

Listening to Maha's journey and her incredible professional journey was heartwarming, which started with law school (like myself) and ended up into what she is passionate about, "food and everything associated with it" and her delicious recipes on Maha’s Secret Kitchen. She was the one who inspired me to document my Wednesday baking practices. Her warm, passionate voice and smile on my screen from miles away during the lockdown meant the world to me.

I was fascinated by reading Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine that Nawal, the author, collected in her book about food and bread with her amazing detailed recipes and tips. So, I also emailed Nawal, whom I knew had been living in the USA for years and to my surprise, she responded to me with her humble tone to suggest having a Skype call with me to supervise baking one of her flatbread recipes. I was over the moon.

On the baking day, Nawal began by checking the texture of my already proven dough, and she was happy with the moistness. She also studied how I was kneading the dough and, whilst doing so, commented on my hands by saying, "it's good that you have strong hands". As nobody had watched my baking before, let alone a cookbook writer and food historian, I was pretty nervous. But then all her caring and encouraging comments such as "careful you may burn yourself", "flatten your dough balls over a parchment paper", "use your wooden chopping board", during baking made me think, I'm in good hands.

After this experience, I contacted at least 30 acquaintances I knew from the Fertile Crescent region to ask them to share recipes and tell me about their childhood memories and attachments to flatbread. It was not an easy task to do, especially considering the timing, it was at the beginning of the pandemic, and everyone had so much on their plates, including me. 

However, the language of food, our passion for bread and all the associated memories from our childhoods brought us together from all over the world at the most challenging time.  

I believe in educating people about food, so in every Bake2Explore journey, I include the story of the people, the culture and the heritage behind the flatbread recipe.

Leila