A belly laffa

There's no end to the savory sandwiches you can make with flatbread.

September 3, 2009 16:33
A belly laffa

wrap 88. (photo credit: )


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The latest stylish "Jewish" food loved by Angelenos is laffa, the fresh, Middle Eastern flatbread used for wraps or rolled sandwiches. Like felafel before it, laffa is being popularized by Israeli eateries just as blintzes and latkes were by European Jews. The word laffa is of Arabic origin, but there is a similar-sounding word in Hebrew (lipuf) which also means to wrap, or to twist around. The Middle East has a long history of making bread. Wheat originated here, and bread began as flatbread, which remains the dominant bread in the region. In southern California there is not only a significant Israeli population, but also a large number of Persians, Armenians and Arabs, all of whom have brought their own favorite flatbread varieties. Wrap sandwiches are gaining in popularity in the West thanks not only to Middle Easterners, but also to Mexicans, who use their corn and flour tortillas to make tacos and burritos. The LA laffa vogue began recently when a number of trendy Israeli restaurants began to offer it. Israelis in Los Angeles were delighted to finally be able to get their beloved bread, which is also known in Israel as Iraqi pita and, in Jerusalem, as esh tanoor. A Los Angeles Lebanese restaurant, Cafe du Liban, started to use the term laffa on its menu to refer to its saj bread, which is sometimes called Druse pita. The bread was similar to the one I know from northern Israel. It is much thinner and larger than the "Iraqi pita-style laffa" sold at the shuk and at Israeli restaurants, which reminds me of the Yemenite saluf that my mother-in-law used to make in her home in Givatayim and of the Indian flatbread, naan. When I asked the owner what happened to the saj bread the restaurant had before, which is baked on a special griddle that looks like an upside-down wok, he replied, "we still have it - it's the same bread by a different name. Because of the Israelis, everyone knows the term laffa, and so now that's what we call it." There's no end to the savory sandwiches you can make with laffa. I love mine filled with creamy eggplant salad made with mayonnaise or with tehina, on its own or paired with turkey. Another tasty option is a laffa rolled around the Iraqi sabich components - hard-boiled eggs, humous and/or tehina, eggplant and amba (mango chutney). For a tasty egg sandwich, spread the laffa with mashed avocado mixed with chopped olives and top it with sliced hard-boiled eggs. When you're composing a sandwich, keep the classic felafel formula in mind - add some Israeli salad to round out the sandwich for good taste, as well as nutrition. For a light brunch or supper, a good choice is the delicious Druse-style saj/laffa sandwich, the way we enjoyed it in the Golan Heights - the bread is spread with labaneh (cheese-like strained yogurt), sprinkled with the za'atar herb-sesame blend and drizzled with fruity olive oil. Adding thin grilled eggplant slices to this sandwich may not be classic, but I find it marries well with the other ingredients. Laffa is best fresh, so if you're not eating the bread within a few hours of purchase, double-wrap it in plastic and freeze it. Thaw it before serving and heat it very briefly in a medium-hot oven before filling it, so it is just warm but still flexible. AVOCADO VEGETABLE WRAP WITH FETA For a vegetarian laffa filling, I like to match grilled vegetables with avocado spread, a touch of hot sauce and a tangy sheep's milk feta. The sandwich is also delicious made with thin slices of lox instead of cheese. If you don't have laffa, make it with a pocket pita. Makes 4 servings

  • 2 onions, peeled and cut in rounds 6 mm. to 1 cm. thick
  • About 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red and 1 green pepper, cores removed, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, or to taste
  • 2 ripe avocados, preferably Hass
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tsp. s'hug (Yemenite hot pepper- garlic relish) or 1⁄2 tsp. hot pepper sauce, or to taste
  • 2 to 4 pieces fresh laffa or Iraqi pita
  • 1 cup shredded lettuce, preferably green- leaf or romaine (optional)
  • 4 small tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 1⁄2 to 1 cup crumbled feta cheese Brush onion slices with oil. Broil or grill them in the broiler or on a stovetop grill on medium-high heat 5 minutes per side, or until done to your taste. Remove onions. Add peppers, skin side facing the heat source, and grill about 5 minutes or until lightly charred but still crunchy. Leave peel on. Cut each pepper piece in half lengthwise. Combine onions and peppers with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon lemon juice and toss lightly. Halve avocado, remove pit and mash avocado. Add 2 teaspoons lemon juice, salt, pepper and s'hug. Taste, adjust seasoning and add more lemon juice if you like. To make each sandwich, spread 1⁄4 of avocado spread along one edge of each laffa nearest you, leaving a 11⁄4-cm. border at the ends so the filling won't come out when you roll it. Top with lettuce, tomato slices and grilled onions and peppers. Scatter feta cheese over vegetables. To make two sandwiches from each laffa, fold the bread over slightly on each side, to your left and your right (as in making blintzes); otherwise, fold only one side. Roll up tightly away from you, cut in two if you wish, and serve. ROAST TURKEY LAFFA WITH EGGPLANT SALAD This sandwich is also good made with turkey cold cuts. Instead of using laffa, you can use pocket pita or any bread you like. Serve with pickles or flavorful olives. Makes 4 servings
  • 2 to 3 cups thin strips roast turkey or chicken
  • 1⁄3 cup chopped green onion
  • 1⁄3 cup finely chopped celery (optional)
  • 1 red or green pepper, diced small, or 1 roasted peeled green or red pepper (homemade or from a jar), cut in thin strips
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 to 3 tsp. strained fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1⁄2 cup homemade or packaged eggplant salad with mayonnaise or tehina, or plain or spicy humous, or more to taste
  • 2 to 4 fresh laffas
  • 11⁄4 to 11⁄2 cups shredded lettuce, preferably romaine
  • 2 small ripe tomatoes, cut in thin slices or half slices or diced Combine turkey with green onion, celery, roasted or fresh pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To make each sandwich, spread eggplant on the end of each laffa nearest you, leaving a 11⁄4-cm. border at the ends. Top with lettuce, turkey salad and tomato slices. To make two sandwiches from each laffa, fold the bread over slightly on each side, to your left and your right (as in making blintzes); otherwise, fold only one side. Roll up tightly away from you, cut in two if you wish, and serve. Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast.

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