You Have All The Ingredients To Joy, Mix Them - Recipe For Barbari Bread
Updated: Mar 4
I couldn't do this moment that I'm about to mention any justice, even if devoted the rest of my life collecting every word and phrase just to capture it fairly. Waking up on a Sunday morning to the intoxicating smell of fresh bread being baked is possibly the best reason for why I became a chef, and why I am so enamored by the romance that this career and life has had. Sunday mornings at our home growing up were for family. They were for conversation, for hot Persian tea, for sultry tomato and turmeric omelettes, mixed Iranian crudites (a collection of tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs and walnuts), but most importantly, they were for Barbari Bread. And I didn't realize then, that this moment of nostalgia, would someday save me.
It’s never been the challenge I’ve come across in life that scares me, but to what lengths I’d go in order to get what I want. I’m a strong believer in sacrifices, not compromises. I will never compromise on the true things I want, and I’ve been willing to sacrifice everything imaginable to get there. They say suffer is a form of passion. I’ve been willing to suffer in unimaginable ways to do what I want in life, to stay in this career and to pursue my dreams, because the latter is an existence far worse that any stress I go through in my day to day; a form of mediocrity and complacency that I could not stomach. When I moved into my first apartment in New York, I had 7 days to prep for a Top Chef audition, where I was asked to cook an original dish. In the same 7 days I had to create an edible piece inspired by surrealism for a Salvador Dali workshop where a multitude of New York’s best creatives we’re pitching the idea of a gallant dinner to the Salvador Dali Estate. I also had to prepare and execute for a restaurant tasting of a food program I had the privilege of being apart of in the East Village of Manhattan – all three of these events occurred in the same day. I was pretty much broke when I arrived - maxing out all my credit cards to purchase furniture, kitchen equipment and everything else I needed to stage the house. I spent the last of my money buying dried duck necks from Chinatown to make some Frankenstein Jus, Tremblay Appraries Orange Blossom Honey from the Union Square Farmer’s Market (the best honey merchant in America), and a $20 pair of red heels from Payless Shoes to plate my “Sole In The Sole Of A Shoe” for my Salvador Dali workshop.
All my kitchen equipment arrived in time – and nothing else. I spent the week sleeping on card board and bubble wrap in my kitchen, waking up to prep 18-20 hours for my endeavors and going back to sleep the same place I stood for the whole day. By some miracle, I made it to the following Sunday with all my prep done, I executed each event; from the morning in Brooklyn for Top Chef, to Midtown for Salvador Dali, and finally the East Village for the tasting. I went back home – empty, exhausted, broke, and broken. I find out the next day that my restaurant opening was being delayed by months, and I was stuck in limbo, with no real work, not being legally able to take any formal jobs, and trying to get by in a city where I knew no one. I was too ashamed to ask my family for money or help. I had worked too hard to set myself up for success in New York, and by the time I got there I had nothing. I’d Airbnb my apartment while I slept in the fire escape of my building. And because I had a grocery budget of almost nothing, I’d bake bread to survive for weeks at a time.
In my dark place, I wanted nothing more than to close my eyes and wake back up in my bed, to the smell of fresh Persian flat-bread being made by my mother on those Sunday mornings, to the sounds of mixed Jazz and Persian music filling the air by my father’s curation. So I played “God Bless The Child” By Billie Holiday, and baked bread patiently everyday to bring myself home to them in some way. The second the smell of toasted flour and the sounds and rhythms of something so familiar filled the air, I could feel in my heart that I was home. This went on for months, till I was notified of my second audition with Top Chef, which I turned down due to having no savings or credit to mediate myself during the auditions & filming in LA, the opening of my restaurant was finally announced which would later be a place of deep misery for me to work, and the Salvador Dali estate absolved our ideas - we never heard back.
I learned to be a New Yorker pretty fast. I had to flight for my life, for what I wanted and believed in, even before I stepped foot into this city. I couldn’t let anyone be right about my career, about my life; I had to protect my dreams, as I saw it from anyone who’d discourage it. I couldn’t be that person who tried to do it all differently and fail. I couldn’t rightfully sit within my skin, knowing that I had complications in my health (a story for another time - possibly never), that challenged the expectancy of my time here, all so that I would have risked nothing to gain more in the process. I couldn’t compromise on the version of happiness I felt like I deserved, that everyone in this world deserves. I sacrificed in more ways than I’ll ever be brave enough to share. It changed my perspective of food ultimately. I needed food to survive, in every capacity that it lent me life. It was the only way I got by those months in New York – it’s still the only way I get by now. Being able to press my hands into flour and water, to have my fingers entangled into a supple sticky mass, to take something that looks like nothing, and through kneading, and forming and working, turn it into food – it amazes me still.
Bread is one of the few things that grows through acts of discouragement. We beat and knead the dough, and it comes together into something smooth and supple. We let it rise in warm faith before we punch it down. We allow this brutally to happen often twice. We pull it apart at the corners to shape it to our will, before we poke it – slice – glaze it - pinch it. All before we throw it into an insanely hot oven and bake it aggressively and without apology. And the result of all this abuse? Something extraordinary. Food and nourishment from ingredients that couldn’t sustain life on its own, but through their collective bereavement – sustenance of the most immaculate order is made.
We humans are made to be broken, we’re made to be challenged, many of us were conditioned through suffering, but we would not be who we are without all those challenges. There are no losses, just lessons. I use bread now at the beginning of every food program to bring guests to the same safe space that nurtured me for months. It’s an ode to home which I chose to start every meal with, to remind myself of how grateful I am for how far I’ve come, for every friend & family I rely on and can look to now, and how I’ve never lost sight of what’s important. My work will forever be around culture, my family, & the food and stories that hope to celebrate them bravely. So then, by choosing to bake bread, you are making one of the bravest decisions of your life. As suffer is a form of passion, and bread is another form for perseverance. And as Billie famously said, “Papa may have, and mama may have – but God bless the child, whose got his own.” I'm grateful to have my own now - and so much more.
Here's What My Advice Boils Down To After 5 Years Of My Barbari Affair
- Start with the best. It is 5 ingredients. Salt, flour, sugar, yeast, water. Go buy some quality fine kosher salt, filtered water to show your dedication, fresh yeast when possible, and most importantly - buy stone ground bread flour from your local market if you can, otherwise Organic King Arthur’s Bread Flour is my go to (you cannot use AP flour in this recipe).
- Express yourself. The dusting on top of the barbari is the most special part. It allows you the ability to personalize each loaf. I love using za’atar mixed with nigella, cured sumac, rose petals and crushed Caspian Blue Salt. Take an opportunity to work outside the recipe and put a personal touch on the bread.
- You will fail sometimes, and it’s ok. Bread is a body of dough being made by micro-organisms breathing air into the pockets of dough and gluten. Their ability to expand and rise depends on the temperature of your oven, the temperature of your home, the texture of your counter top, the moisture in the air, the mood of your day, the mood of your cat, what you had for lunch – forgive yourself if it doesn’t turn out right, assess the failure, learn from it, try again.
- Use your intuition. Because of all the factors that play a part in bread, you need to approach the recipe differently almost every time to accommodate for temperate, humidity, and the nature of the ingredients. Nothing is entirely consistent. Be comfortable to let it cook in the oven longer for example,or adding or reserving flour according to the feeling of the dough. Intuition is power.
- Take pleasure. This is the most important part of making any food. Learn to take pleasure, or whatever you’re making is not worth the effort. Nothing delicious was made by grief. Light a candle, play some music, pour yourself a glass of wine, but set yourself up to be exclusively involved with making this bread, and it will change how you do everything else in your life forever.
For The Bread:
- 500g Bread Flour + More For The Work Surface
- 2 Cups Tepid Filtered Water
- 25 g Active Dry Yeast (use ½ the amount of Dry Active Yeast alternatively)
- 5 g Granulated Sugar
- 10 g Kosher Salt
For The Glaze (Roomal):
- 15 g Flour
- 180 ml Cold Water
- 180 ml Boiling Water
- 5g Baking Soda
- 5 g Kosher Salt
- 15 g Mixed Black & White Sesame Seeds or 15 g Za’atar
For The Bread:
- Preheat your oven to 485°F and place a pizza stone or flat pan on the lowest rack.
- Dissolve yeast and sugar in a bowl with the tepid water, and set aside for 10 minutes to allow yeast to activate. A bubbly sponge will form on top of the water once the yeast is ready.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together, bread flour, and kosher salt. Create a well in the flour and add your yeast and water mixture. Using a wooden spoon, slowly mix together the flour and water, until it starts to resemble a shaggy mass, and the dough starts to come off the sides of the bowl.
- Light flour your work surface, hands, and the top of the dough, and turn over your dough ball onto your working area. Gently knead your dough for 10 minutes and add only more flour if necessary. Press the palm of your hands at the bottom of the dough with one hand as your gently grip the top of the dough with the other in order to pull the mass and develop the gluten strands that will give it structure for rising. Fold the dough over top of itself and repeat in personalized, expressive motions. This dough should be slightly more wet than your standard dough, so refrain from over-flouring it. It should be right on the verge of sticky while still being able to peel away from the counter clean.
- Once a stretchy, buoyant and supple mass has formed, lightly cover the outside of the dough ball with flour, place into a clean bowl, and cover with a towel for 1 hour in a warm place or until the dough has doubled its size.
- After your dough has risen, punch it down and turn onto a lightly floured work surface again. Gently knead it for two minutes and return it back into the bowl, and allow it to rise for a second time, approximately 45 minutes or until doubled.
- Once the dough has risen for a second time, punch it down again, and return it back to your work surface. Cut the dough in half.
- Place the dough on 10 x 15 inch section of parchment paper. Cover very lightly all around with flour to assure it doesn’t stick to the parchment. Gently wet your hands, and using the tips of your fingers, press into the dough and spread the dough into the shape of a rectangle, to about 8 x 13 inches. Allow the bread to rise one last time for 25 minutes.
For The Glaze:
- Meanwhile, prepare the Romal (the glaze). Gently whisk cold water and flour in a non- stick pan until smooth and combined. Cook over medium-low heat until a thick paste forms. Add baking soda and hot water and continue to whisk until the glaze turns smooth and resembles the thickness of yogurt. Take off the heat and place into a bowl.
- Using a brush, gently glaze the bread loafs all over the surface and sides to cover it evenly.
- Using the side of your hand, drag 4-5 lines into the dough from the top to the bottom, spread approximately 1 inch apart, in what look like guitar lines on an instrument (hence how the word “barb” finds its way into “Barbari”.
- Sprinkle the bread with sesame seeds or za’atar before transferring the bread to a paddle.
- Slide the bread onto the preheated stone or pan and allow to cook for 10 –12 minutes or until golden brown all over.
- Once baked, removed from the parchment paper, shake slightly to release any lose garnishes and allow to cool on cooling racks.
- To serve, re-toast the bread in the over for 3-4 minutes. Alternatively store the bread in a dry place for 3-4 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.