“Have you ever made lavash?” asked my friend, Mike Neustrom, lavender grower from Kansas.
“Lavash?” I said, “What is it?”
Then like a game-show contestant trying to respond before the buzzer, I burst out, “Wait. Is it a type of cracker or flatbread?”
Mike said he’d been wondering how it would taste with lavender seasoning. I could not resist this culinary challenge and pledged to find out.
My first surprise came when I looked through my 1970’s “Joy of Cooking.” The index didn’t list “lavash”, however when I searched for “flatbread”, I found a description (“Armenian, Greek, Arab, Syrian, Euphrates Bread”) along with a recipe. More questions entered my mind, such as where and when this bread originated, how it was first made and what role did it serve in the country’s cuisine.
Further research revealed the answers to these questions. Flatbreads date back nearly 10,000 years. Grain mashed and mixed with water or milk created dough that became the earliest form of bread. The dough was rolled thin and cooked over high heat. The quick cooking time preserved scarce fuel. This method of converting grain into bread provided a durable and portable source of nourishment throughout the winter.
Many countries developed their own version of flatbread. Lavash originated in Armenia in the Caucasus.
Other flatbreads are: Matzo in Israel, Lefse in Norway and Naan in India. In the United States, Americans eat English muffins, soda crackers and pretzels, descendants of ancient flatbreads. For a complete list, check out Harold McGee’s book, “On Food and Cooking.”
Where did lavash get its name? It’s an Armenian name with two parts. The first part “lav” means “good”. And “ash”, the second part, means “food, meal”. When joined, the meaning is “good food”.
After browsing for a bit, I settled on the lavash recipe posted in the All Recipes website. I selected this one for two reasons: 1.It met my criteria for an unleavened version (no yeast and on baking powder) and 2. Readers gave it rave reviews and offered tips for baking and serving.
Lavash recipe in hand, I was ready to bake. First I took a quick trip to the grocery store to see whether they sold lavash. The day before Thanksgiving, the store was buzzing. Extra employees were helping shoppers. I found one and asked, “Do you sell lavash?” My second surprise that day was when the woman responded, “Yes, follow me.” She led me to the artisan breads and handed me a box of crackers.
I was shocked at the price of $6.29 – for a box of crackers, really? Yes, I bought them, but only because I wanted to compare “store-bought” to “home-made”.
The ingredients in lavash couldn’t be more basic: Flour, water, sugar, salt, egg white and butter. I mixed the ingredients together into a sticky dough, and then turned it out onto a floured surface, where I kneaded it for 5 minutes. The dough was smooth, soft and stretchy. I inhaled the bread-like aroma. I cut the dough into 10 portions, and covered them with a damp paper towel. I picked up one of the balls and patted it into a disc, and then began rolling it. I tossed it around and rolled it until it was as thin as a tissue. I carefully lifted the dough onto the baking sheet, brushed it with egg white and sprinkled seasoning on top. I used Tuscan Seasoning, a recipe from my book, “Discover Cooking with Lavender.” Other seasoning options include: Herbes de Provence, basil, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, caraway seeds, cayenne pepper, garlic salt, cumin or sea salt. I slid the baking sheet into the hot oven and felt a connection with ancient times.
Soon the aroma wafting from the oven and filling my kitchen awakened my appetite. I peeked into the oven; the lavash was golden with tiny dimples and puffy bubbles looking like a sun-drenched moonscape. I removed the lavash from the oven, letting it cool on a rack. I broke off a piece and put it in my mouth. It tasted warm, rustic and comforting; I tasted the fresh herbal flavor of the lavender and pungent tones of onion and garlic. In my refrigerator, I found sun-dried tomato goat cheese to spread on the lavash.
I was savoring every moment of this private tasting experience, when I glance over to the kitchen counter and saw that I still had lots of lavash to bake. The recipe makes enough for a crowd, and it was not surprising to discover home-baked lavash surpasses the store-bought version in every way – better flavor, less cost, healthier and more seasoning choice.
Lavash, not only simple, cheap and filling, gives the creative cook a blank canvas to showcase aromatic herbs, nuts, seeds, spice and artisan salts to create a flavor masterpiece. I’d recommend serving it with humus, olives, feta and other soft cheeses or salsa. Extremely versatile, lavash can be served as a pizza crust, wrap, dessert cookie or cracker or even an eating utensil to scoop up stew, kabobs or as a plate for rice, beans or vegetables.
So to my friend Mike, I can now report, “Yes and yes: I’ve made lavash, seasoned it with lavender and the entire experience was sensational. Thanks for asking!”
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Mix this seasoning with butter or olive oil and spread on a fresh baguette
for delicious lavender garlic bread.
½ cup roasted lavender (place culinary lavender buds in hot, dry skillet for about 1 minute, stir until buds are slightly toasted)
¼ cup dried onion flakes
¼ cup dried minced garlic
1 tablespoon salt
Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process for 10 seconds or until all ingredients are well blended.
- Store seasoning in an airtight container.
p.s. As I was completing this post, I discovered two other lavash products on the market:
- Ak Mak Bakeries makes organic flatbread crackers.
- Valley Bakery makes large lavash rounds in packages of three.