Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pita Bread

In Southern California, Sunday meant a stroll through a farmer's market overflowing with colorful fruits and vegetables, fragrant purple-spotted lilies, fresh baked goods, and a musician or too. My favorite booth featured homemade pita bread and a slew of Mediterranean dips - hummus, tzaziki, and baba ghanouj.

Surprisingly, after trips to Greece, Turkey and Morocco, I've only encountered pita bread abroad in two places - the Moroccan Restaurant Annette in downtown Sofia (Bulgaria) and my own kitchen. It takes a few hours to make, but it will fill your house with a wheat-flavored warmth and make you look forward to lunch all week.

Pita Recipe
Slightly adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook

1 cup wrist-temperature water
1 1/2 tsp (half a 1/4 oz packet) active dry yeast
1 TBSP sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 to 2 1/2 cups white flour
a little olive oil
extra flour for rolling out

1. Place the water in a mixing bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes – it will get foamy. Sprinkle in the sugar. Stir in the salt until all is dissolved.

2. Add wheat flour and 2 cups of white flour (ONE CUP AT A TIME), mixing enthusiastically with a whisk, then a wood spoon, then your hand. Knead the dough in the bowl for a few minutes, adding up to 1/2 cup more white flour to combat stickiness (I didn’t add more and I was OK). When the dough is smooth, transfer to an oiled bowl and turn so all the dough is a bit slick. That way it won’t stick to the bowl.

3. Cover dough with a clean tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (1-2 hours).

4. Punch down the dough and transfer it to a clean floured surface. Knead it for about five minutes, then divide it into 10 equal pieces (or whatever number / size you want). Knead each little unit for a few minutes, then, being sure your surface is floured, use a rolling pin to flatten the circle out until very thin, about 1/8 of an inch. It will look sort of like a big cut out cookie or a pancake. Do this for all the circles, then let them rest for 30 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 500 F (I could only get mine to like 480 but it worked anyway). Place a baking tray in the oven for a minute and a half or so to heat it. Then brush it with olive oil and place as many circles on the tray as will fit WITHOUT TOUCHING EACH OTHER. Put into the oven right away and bake 6-8 minutes. Watch them bake because it’s fun to see them poof up, and you want to take them out as soon as they are lightly browned.

6. When you take them out of the oven, set the tray down and transfer that round of pitas into a slightly damp clean towel and put it into a paper bag. Paperclip the bag shut. Let the pitas sit in there for 15 minutes so they don’t turn into crackerlike breads. While they are inside, you can start the next round of pita baking. I was only able to do two or three breads at a time, so it took me four rounds to finish. It was TOTALLY worth it. I don’t think it would be a good idea to do two sheets in the oven at a time, but you could try. I have a feeling the heat wouldn’t be as powerful.

Try it with chicken salad, peanut butter and bananas, or hummus.

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