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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

S.F. Rising: Persian Herb Bread from Middle East Market

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Berkeley's Middle East Market bakes LP-sized herb breads. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Berkeley's Middle East Market bakes LP-sized herb breads.

A weekly survey of bread in San Francisco ― the baked and the fried, the artisan and the novelty.

Persian herb-cheese bread


Middle East Market, 2054 San Pablo (at University), Berkeley, 510-704-8800.
Price: $3

Toast-appropriateness: not for the toaster ― but great when rewarmed in the oven for a few minutes.

Middle East's Afghan bread. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Middle East's Afghan bread.

If you walk into Middle East Market at just the right time ― say, late morning ― you'll catch one of the bakery workers walking up the aisles with stacks of three-foot-long Afghan breads draped across his arms as if he's returning from the dry cleaners with a week's worth of shirts. The market has been around for three decades, but when Mehrdad Jafarzadeh took it over 15 months ago he began baking Afghan and Persian breads. First it was a few days a week, now it's every day except Saturday: white and wheat Afghan breads, two kinds of crackers, a sweet breakfast bread that's more like cake, bread sprinkled with za'atar, and my favorite: the Persian herb bread pictured above.

The album-sized flatbread is covered in a fine paste of scallions, cilantro, basil, olive oil, and mashed feta, then baked until it's soft and golden. The oven softens the bite of the green onions and shades in the bright floral notes of the cilantro and basil, so the herbs come through as an aromatic pesto; the feta adds a bright, acidic edge. The counterwoman I spoke to said it can be eaten like a pizza, or simply

warmed and sliced up, then dipped in olive oil with a little chopped

garlic. Having driven all the way to Berkeley to try it, I found myself leaving the market with my own stack of flatbreads draped across my arms. Getting the door of my car open: difficult. Making it back to San Francisco without devouring the herb bread: even harder.

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