I’m a big believer in the vehicle—an edible one. Much of what I cook is soupy or saucy and relies much more on flavor than it does on structure, shape: A whole mess of chopped vegetables and canned tomatoes or stewed lentils with a smattering of herbs. It’s great, really (usually), but getting it all to travel through space and into my mouth is a different question.
Enter: the vehicle. Sometimes it’s pasta, at other times rice. I’ll tear apart a crunchy, crusty loaf and give it a dunk or toss some combination of vegetables and herbs into a folded tortilla. A vehicle, as the name implies, is a mode of transportation. It carries, lifts, moves from the plate to your face. And thank goodness it does.
Vehicles tend to let their own flavors take a supporting role, instead allowing their companions to sing an octave higher, louder. Imagine, a thick and creamy salt-speckled tuna and tomato sauce. It smells so sweet and sharp simmering in a saucepan, but what is one to do, just spoon it straight into your mouth? Of course not. (Although we wouldn’t stop you.) Instead, an al dente penne or a friendly fusilli is there to soak up all that goodness. A coconut milk curry with eggs and onions makes so much more sense spooned atop a bed of buttery jasmine rice.
Vehicles are like the missing puzzle piece, their subtle addition, their unassuming presence, brings an entire image into focus. But say, you open your pantry and can find no vehicle in sight. You're halfway to dinner and your rice is all gone, you're fresh out of bread, pasta is a far away fantasy. Essentially, you’re vehicle less, flat-tire-stuck-on-the-side-of-the-road stranded.
Don’t cry, don’t fear, and definitely don’t hitchhike. A back up vehicle, a more than desirable alternative can so easily be yours. All you need is five minutes, a splash of water, and some flour and a vehicle will come together
before your eyes between your hands.
They’re called tiny breads and they were taught to me by a friend, Jordan, who swears by them. She serves every—literally every meal—with a plate of small hand-pressed, pan-fried flat breads that she calls the ultimate vehicles. And they only take five minutes to make:
- Fill a mixing bowl with some flour, let’s say a cups worth, and make an indent in the center of the pile. It should resemble the peak of a dormant volcano.
- Next, slowly drizzle cold water into the indent with one hand as you use your other hand to continuously mix the liquid into the flour, keeping your fingers tight, like a bird’s beak, as you stir. Incorporate until all the flour is gone, absorbed into the water. The dough should be goopy but not too sticky. It should come away from the sides of the bowl enough to be rolled into a cohesive ball. Keep flour and water on hand to keep adjusting proportions as you see fit.
- This here operation isn’t about precise measurements, but rather, eyeballing it. Keep adding a splash of water or a palmful of flour until you find yourself with a dough you can control, not one that controls you.
- Portion your dough into balls the size of clementines and flatten each out between floured palms until they're about the size and thickness of a CD-ROM.
- Heat a pan on high with a bit of oil. Lay a tiny bread in the hot pan, sprinkle with salt, and cook until just crisped—or even slightly charred (it shouldn't take more than 60 seconds per side). Continue with the rest of the tiny breads. (A cup of flour should make about 4 breads.)
Feel free to make as many or as little at once as you can, size of your pan (and group) depending. Jordan and I will eat these with a salad, curry, under a bed of scrambled eggs, drizzled with olive oil and confetti’d with chopped chives.
When we’re feeling fancy, we'll pop some chia seeds into the dough for texture, or a dash of turmeric to color the mix a soft orange. The formula is endlessly riffable. What’s really important is that once we sit down, we have a super quick, super simple vehicle for our nosh and that just makes everything better.