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Barbari is a type of flatbread made in Iran. Along with sangak, another type of Iranian flatbread, it is a popular feature at meals, and is often served with curries, cheeses, and other dishes. The yeast leavened bread is made with white flour, so it is fluffy and light in texture. Many people compare barbari to naan, another type of flatbread which also hails from Asia. Bakeries which specialize in Persian specialties may carry barbari, and it is also relatively easy to make at home.
The full name of the bread in Farsi is Nan-e Barbari, or “bread of the Barbars.” The Barbars are a people native to Afghanistan, who probably brought the recipe for the bread with them to Iran in the 1700s. The bread quickly became popular in Iranian cuisine, and the name credits the original developers. Bread is a crucial part of a sit down dinner in Iran, along with herbs, cheese, and condiments such as pickles and freshly sliced cucumbers.
A formal Iranian dinner may include several breads. Barbari is recognizable because it is roughly oval in shape, and very thick. Each diner takes a whole barbari from the bread tray or basket, since the bread is formed into small, personal loaves. Traditionally, barbari is baked in a stone or brick oven over fragrant woods, which creates a crispy layer on the bottom of the bread and gives it a rich charcoal flavor.
To make barbari at home, combine a package of yeast with one cup of warm water and one teaspoon of sugar. Allow the yeast mixture to sit until it is foamy before adding two cups of warm water and one teaspoon of salt. Slowly start start blending flour into the mixture. You may need eight or more cups of flour to get the right consistency. When the dough is soupy, add four tablespoons of oil or melted butter, and continue adding flour until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead it until it is smooth and elastic. Oil the barbari dough lightly and place it in a dark, warm place covered with a towel for four hours. Punch the dough down, turn it over, and cover for an additional two hours. When you are ready to make the individual pieces of barbari, divide the dough into 12 pieces and form them into oval, flat loaves.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (260 degrees Celsius). Dredge the barbari loaves in cornmeal to coat their bottoms, and lay them out on a cookie sheet, sprinkling the tops lightly with sesame seeds and pressing down to flatten the loaves and give them texture. Bake for eight to twelve minutes, until the breads turn golden brown, and serve immediately or cool and freeze for later use.
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