The first time I visited Cairo in Egypt, my senses were overloaded. There were so many new sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Traffic lanes didn't seem to exist. Animals, like poultry and small goats, were walking down back streets winding their way among vendors selling large trays of intestines and other things I hadn't realized were edible.
Amid all this extraordinary life, the thing that stood out to me was the bicycle bread carriers. Men riding bicycles were wearing giant trays of stacked flatbread like hats.
They were balancing the bread tray with one hand. Then, they were steering their bikes through incredible traffic and obstacles with the other. The bread stacked on top looked like a puffed-up pizza crust without the toppings.
The Bread of Life
Right after I got done marveling over the bike riders physical prowess, my next thought was “How can people eat that stuff? That can't be sanitary.”
They didn't have any covering over the bread. The air in Cairo is full of pollution. Things were flying off the back of trucks and spraying the bread trays.
I saw one rider wipe out, put the bread back on the tray, and ride off in the same direction – clearly continuing his delivery. To my American sense of food safety, this was outrageous.
After I had lived in Egypt awhile, though, I learned why people would eat that filthy flatbread. The bread was subsidized by the government to feed the poor people. The price per loaf was about 1 penny in US money. For many, that bread was the difference between life and death.
I finally understood why the bicycle-delivered flatbread called Aish baladi was also referred to as “The Bread of Life” in Egypt.
The Bread of Poverty
When you start looking around the world, you'll find a diverse array of flatbreads in almost every culture. When you look deep enough, you'll also discover that those flatbreads usually evolved as easy ways for poor people to get their daily allotment of calories.
Before the advent of gas and electric ovens and electric-powered mills, loaf-style bread was hard to make. The grain was course because fine grinds were hard to achieve. Commercial yeast and salt were scarce or expensive. Making loaf-style bread required too much cooking time to be realistic. As such, flatbreads were the bread of the common people.
The Bread of Homesteaders
Even though I am not rich, I do have a gas oven and access to buy fine-ground grain and other commercial ingredients. I can also make loaf-style sourdough bread that ancient royalty would envy. Still, because of my time spent in Egypt, I have come to appreciate the benefits of simple flatbread.
Flatbreads are great for the homestead cook for several reasons. They are quite easy to make. They only use a few ingredients. Once you have the batter ready, they often cook in minutes. For some recipes, you can even use your stovetop or campfire for cooking.
Many of the ingredients used in flatbreads can be grown on the homestead. Even if you don't produce the grains yourself, they can be bulk purchased for just pennies per serving.
Some recipes use high-gluten grains to deliver high calories. But others are made with gluten-free grains like teff and corn. There's enough variety of flatbread styles to meet all the modern diet preferences.
Personally, I have ten flatbread recipes in my regular cooking repertoire that I use as a homesteader. But there are endless varieties to be tried and tasted!
10 Flatbread Recipes to Use on Your Homestead
If you want to save money and make bread at home, consider trying some of these flatbread recipes on your homestead.
1. Corn Tortilla
As a child, growing up in Southern California, we ate a lot of Mexican-style food. Our favorite restaurant had a stall in the center of the dining area where “the tortilla lady” made fresh corn tortillas while you dined.
We always ordered extra to take home. Then for breakfast, we would warm them up in the stove and eat the tortillas with egg, avocado, and salsa. It felt like such a luxury to eat handmade corn tortillas.
It wasn't until years later that I learned how easy it is to make corn tortillas. You can make them with three ingredients (masa harina, water, and salt). If you grow meal corn, you can even make your own masa harina at home.
A plastic-wrap lined pan bottom works just fine as a tortilla press. So no special equipment is needed. Though, if you plan to make these often, a press is nice and can be found for under $30.
2. Flour Tortillas
Flour tortillas are about as simple as corn tortillas. Instead of corn flour, you use wheat flour. You'll also need water, salt, and some fat. Traditionally, this fat would be lard. But for non-meat eaters, butter or your favorite oil also work.
Some flour tortilla recipes call for baking soda. Baking soda makes the dough more pliable so your finished tortillas roll-up a bit better. If you are using cheap flour, I recommend it. But if you are using good flour, it isn't necessary.
You roll out your dough on a floured surface, so no press is needed. These can make your pan smoke. So, make sure to turn on your vent fan when cooking.
What? You didn't know pancakes were an international form of flatbread?
Those tasty breakfast and brunch treats date back thousands of years. The milk, flour, and sweet syrup iterations seem to hearken back to ancient Rome and Greece.
Instead of maple syrup, honey was used. In lieu of baking soda, curdled milk was the leavening agent. Otherwise though, the classic American flatbread is actually an ancient flatbread treat!
Injera is a traditional Ethiopian flatbread made from teff flour. Teff flour isn't standard in grocery stores, so you may have to special order the flour. Alternatively, you can often find the teff grain at health and gourmet food stores. The grain is tiny and easy to grind, even by hand.
This takes 4-5 days of waiting for it to ferment. But, otherwise, it is basically just like making pancakes. Also, it can be dairy and gluten-free if you don't cut the teff with wheat flour.
5. Congyoubing (Chinese Scallion Pancake)
My mom used to make us Chinese pancakes when I was growing up. The green onions added such a tangy, sweet flavor to the batter. They seemed so exotic and gourmet.
Despite the amazing flavor, these are still common folks food. You can even sub in wild onions or ramps, instead of scallions, for a wild-foraged treat!
Nothing says homestead cooking like naan (at least to me). I make this stuff weekly because it works so well as a sandwich wrap, meal-filler, and a dipping bread. This is a perfect way to use your homemade yogurt too!
If you make your own palak paneer, this is the perfect compliment. It also makes a great accompaniment to hummus.
If naan isn't rich enough for you, how about a flatbread folded with slow clarified butter (a.k.a. ghee). Paratha is a bit more work to make than naan. But it's so worth it! It's like a flaky croissant meets a fluffy flour tortilla.
Focaccia flatbread requires yeast, but not much rising time. Unlike loaf breads, you can also just knead it for a few minutes using your mixer. The key ingredient for this tasty treat is good olive oil. Rosemary also makes it incredibly aromatic.
Personally, I love to use this for sandwiches. Just cut it into sandwich-sized portions. Then cut between the top and bottom to make it like slices.
Roast some peppers, eggplant, and tomato, to put on the bread. Also, smear the interior with hummus instead of mayonnaise or mustard. Viola! You have just made yourself a gourmet Mediterranean meal to serve up for summer lunches.
I have to be honest, Pita is low in this line-up because I like the richer breads a bit better. However, if you want to make a more grainy, whole wheat kind of flatbread, Pita is unbeatable.
Pita also seems to last longer than some of these other options because there's no butter, lard, yogurt, or milk involved.
Bannock is a flatbread that hails from Scotland. You may not have heard it named had by this name before. But you have probably enjoyed its distant cousin called skillet (or campfire) cornbread. Yep, cornbread is a variation of bannock.
Traditional bannock is made from an oat-based dough. Updated versions can be made with corn meal or wheat flour too.
Flatbreads may have humble origins as the food of the poorest people. Thankfully, though, that doesn't stop them from being some of the most tasty and useful breads you can make on the homestead.
Even if you aren't rich in material wealth, with loving attention and humble ingredients, you can find nourishment with all these simple recipes. Bread is life. Enjoy it with those you love and be thankful for a full stomach!