Greece meets West

I’m not usually a big fan of pita bread… it’s often dry and tough unless drenched in tzatziki. However, there is a fantastic little greek restaurant up the hill from my house, Vios, that has the most delightful pita that it made me want to give it a second chance and try it myself. So, I have been thinking about making home made pita bread for a few months now but never seemed to get around to it. But, as I was flipping through a recent issue of Saveur (which included some yummy looking hummus recipes), the recipe was right there, and I decided it was the time was now.

Like most bread, making the dough is quite simple. It’s just flour, water, yeast and salt, with a bit of olive oil thrown in. The key to good pita is not overworking the dough, leaving plenty of time for rising, and getting your oven nice and hot. A pizza stone is required for this recipe, as are lots of clean kitchen towels.

pita

To mix things up a bit, as I am prone to do, I decided to forgo the typical hummus and even grilled chicken or lamb accompaniments, and instead try a little fusion with a pan seared pork chop and salsa verde drizzled with tzatziki and pita on the side. The spiciness of the salsa and the creaminess of the tzatziki worked beautifully together, and gave the whole dish lots of sauce to soak up with little soft triangles of pita. Yum.

pork chops verde

The only real recipe here is for the pita bread. The pork chops were simply salted and peppered, and seared on high heat on one side for about a minute, then heat is reduced to medium and you cook on each side about 4 minutes or until done. The salsa recipe I used is the same from the Pollo Verde recipe I published on [DC] several months ago. For tzatziki, it’s simple enough to whip up with greek yogurt, cucumber, dill and garlic… but I used store bought. Garnishing with herbs, like a fried sage leaf, makes it particularly delicious.

Pita Bread
(recipe adapted from Saveur, April 2006 page 91)
Makes 16 pitas

1 7-gram package active yeast
1/4 t sugar
2 1/2 cups warm water
6 cups all-purpose flour
3 T olive oil
2 t salt

In a medium bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup of the warm water. Stir gently, and let sit for about 10 minutes or until it gets foamy.

Add the remaining 2 cups of water, and 1 cup of the flour and mix until the flour is incorporated. Add another cup of flour and mix well. Add one more cup of the flour, mix and then cover with a towel and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Add 2 T of the olive oil and all of the salt to the dough and mix well. Slowly add the remaining flour, about a 1/2 cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon to incorporate. When you’ve added 5 cups total, start working the dough with your fingers as you add the remaining cup (still at a 1/2 cup at a time). The dough should start holding together as a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for about 15 minutes, or until smooth and elastic, adding a bit of flour if necessary. The dough will still be a bit sticky. Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil, and place the dough in the bowl and turn once. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rest in a warm place for about 2 hours.

Punch down the dough, and knead for a few minutes. Then return it to the large bowl.

[editors note: the recipe in Saveur recommended that you divide the dough at this point, and form it into small balls. I found that when I placed the balls back into the bowl while I worked them, they just got stuck together.]

Take a handful of dough (a little more than a 1/2 cup) and form it into a ball. Lightly pat into a flat disk. On a floured surface roll out the dough into a thin disk, about 5 to 7 inches in diameter. Place the disc on a clean towel (preferably one with a smooth surfaced like a flour sack towel), and cover with another towel. Repeat with another handful of dough, placing the disc about one inch away from the previous disk. Do not overlap the disks. They will stick to one another, and you’ll have to re-roll them. Repeat until all the dough has been rolled out. Let the dough rest for about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 500F, with a pizza stone in the oven, on the center rack.
To bake, place 2 to 4 discs on your pizza stone at once (depending on the size of the stone), and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden. I found that I had a hard time getting them to brown, so next time, I’m going to increase the heat to 525F.

Once cooked, wrap the pitas in a clean kitchen towel to keep them soft and pliable before serving. Once cool, they can be kept in a plastic bag for a day or so.

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  • http://blog.jagaimo.com/ Jason Truesdell

    For me, calling the usual stale/tough from-a-bag pita a pita is kind of like calling a supermarket L-word bagel a bagel. They are quite different animals, and any resemblence between the two is purely symbolic.

    My own pita-making results were shown here, from a late-summer/early fall evening when I made Egyptian-ish foul mudammah: http://blog.jagaimo.com/archive/2005/10/04/2035.aspx

  • http://www.cookandeat.com/ L

    Hi Jason,

    Looks like yours turned out very well too. Mine puffed up as well, but I smashed them down… I wanted them a bit on the soft/chewy side, and I was afraid that the air bubble would make the crust too crisp in spots.

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  • http://blog.jagaimo.com/ Jason Truesdell

    That was a “right out of the oven” photo; they deflate fairly quickly. None were crispy, except for one or two that I left in the oven a minute too long. I think they stay soft/chewy until they become stale…

    If you have stale pita, cut them into wedges, toast them and make fatoush salad.