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The lovely Kelaneh

One of the things I love about bread (and food in general) is how it showcases human interactions and mixing of cultures. They show us how ideas spread and change depending on terrain and practices of each region. Case in point: Kelaneh.

I had not heard of Kelaneh until about 3 years ago. This bread absolutely surprised me. I was researching the flatbread of Iran, and within a few clicks I was bombarded with images of Kelaneh. This Kurdish bread was referred to as the signature bread of the Kurdish-Iranian cuisine. I was captivated. A flat bread made with herbs stuffed inside and served buttered and warm? How did I not know about this before, and may I please have some??

What made it even more interesting was the fact that there are similar bread being made in neighboring countries like Azerbaijan (Qutab), Armenia (Jingalov Hats) and Turkey (Gozleme). Each one similar on the surface (a filled flatbread with herbs) but vastly different (the type of dough and the herb mix inside). Even inside Iran, you could find similar items in other provinces, such as Moshtak-Piazi in Bushehr, or Egenjeh in Northern Khorasan. In each case, the bread had been adjusted to accommodate the regional ingredients and cooking style. The Turks usually use Spinach and Cheese, The Armenians use a whole mix of different herbs, and the Azeris have different versions of Qutab, from herb filled to meat filled. Kelaneh is specifically filled with Herbs of the Allium family and baked on a Saaj. Moshtak-Piazi is mostly onion filled and has Red pepper to make it spicy. Finally, Egenjeh has Lentils and Potatoes added to the herb mix and can be made on a Saaj or fried in oil.

What I could not find in all my research was the origin of this bread. Considering the history of the region and the movements of tribes, it is difficult to trace where this particular item was first made. At any point in the past 2000 years, the borders of Persia have changed, and the lands ruled over by Kings of Parsi/Afghani/Arab/Turkish descent. Since I am not a food historian, I cannot make any claims about the origins of this bread. What I can do, is make the bread!

So, I started testing. On the surface it seemed simple. Make a straight dough, chop up the herbs and put it inside. Roll thin and grill. Or so I thought.

The First issue I had was the dough. A straight dough (meaning a dough made of simply flour, water, and salt) just wasn’t appealing enough. It was not consistent and baked too dry (which explained the practice of brushing the bread with butter before serving). So, I replaced a part of the water with Milk, and added some sourdough starter. The resulting dough was smooth, baked soft and held up.

The Second issue was the herbs. Traditionally the herbs used in this bread, are herbs known as Pichak that grow on the hillsides of Kurdistan province in springtime. These herbs are of the Allium family and are only available for about a month. Thankfully, since this bread is so in demand, bakers have already found a year-round replacement: Scallions.

The last issue was the brush of butter at the end. It seems like a no brainer to butter up a piece of warm bread before eating it. But you cannot butter a piece of bread and then package it to sell later! And taking the butter out, left the bread lacking. Deciding that I wanted to keep the presence of butter and its flavor, I tweaked the recipe and used that butter to sauté the scallions. Then to give it more dimension, I added Parsley and Cilantro. This duo of herbs evened out the flavor of the scallions and brought more depth to the bread. Finally, black pepper. Because, well, everything is better with a little pepper.

Now I had a bread I liked a lot! And as it turned out others agreed with me. Within a month of adding Kelaneh to the roster, it outsold Barbari at the market. Customers were coming back with stories of dishes they had made using it, excited to have found something new to add to their weekly meal plans. My Middle Eastern friends and customers would tell me of how it reminded them of their own herb flatbreads and the memories that came with them. I love those conversations the most.

For me, Kelaneh is now an essential part of my meal planning. On days when I don’t have time to make food, or I need a quick snack on the run, taking 2 minutes to warm up a piece of Kelaneh and simply slather it with Labneh yogurt is easy. When I have more time to plan, I make different wraps using this bread. Scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast, grilled veggie wraps for lunch or dinner, or my all time favorite: grilled cheese! If you have not tried grilled cheese on Kelaneh, you are MISSING OUT!

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