Sunday, April 26, 2009

Never buy pita in a grocery store. Ever.

There are few things more likely to bring the bile up in the back of my throat than sinking my teeth into store-bought pita bread. In one of the biggest shams of American food capitalism, somebody had this big idea that they would pass off delicious pita bread as this cakey, crumbly, flavorless nightmare, and then overcharge poor saps for the honor. I'm sure you've had it as well, and unless you're just daft or haven't had the proper stuff, you know what I mean. Go to any gyro/falafel/shawarma shop around and get it from a restaurant. Notice the difference? It's resilient and flavorful.

Well, it's not rocket science to make the good stuff. Once again, people assume something is harder than it actually is. I'm gonna fix this.

  • 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 3 1/4 cup bread flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
Combine your sugar, yeast, and 1/2 cup of water in a bowl. In a large mixing bowl, combine your salt and bread flour. Form a well. Let the yeast sit five minutes in the water, then stir and add to the well, with the olive oil.

Stir in a little flour to form a thin paste and cover for 20 minutes to let it sponge.

Once sponged, start stirring in the rest of the flour. If the mixture binds too fast, add a little of your water. You want to keep the dough as stiff as possible but still keep it together. Eventually, you'll work all the flour in to form a very stiff dough ball.

Knead this thing out for at least fifteen minutes. You want as much gluten activation as you can manage. Once that's done, pop it in a greased mixing bowl, and cover with a damp towel.

Usually I give it 90 minutes to rise, but it's getting warmer these days so I cut it to 75, which is more than plenty.

Once that's doubled, punch it down, chafe it into an even ball, and cut it in two. Re-cover one half, and with the other half, cut it into four portions and make little balls with that.

Roll em out to about 8 to 12 inches diameter more or less. It should be pretty thin but not at risk of tearing apart. I usually give a few passes with the rolling pin, flip the dough, rotate it 90 degrees, and repeat. You'll get a generally round shape but don't worry if its not perfect. You want to cover these and let them proof for 20 minutes. While that's happening, work elsewhere.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and if you've got a pizza stone, put it in there. If you don't have a stone, go ahead and use a baking sheet, but it's not quite as efficient at soaking up heat and dishing it out. You can use paving stones in any hardware store for an alternative if you need stone, it's up to you.

While that's preheating, I go and fry my falafels. These are from an earlier blog posting from last year, all made from scratch stuff. Again, falafel from box mix is terrible, and it's not hard to make the authentic stuff very easily.

I also had made some hommous and tzatziki sauce in advance a few days before. If you want the low-down on the falafel and tzatziki, check the posting Falafel, Tzatziki, and Mutabbal - An Arabic Feast.

The hommous is very easy too.
  • 14 ounce can of cooked chicpeas, with liquid
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp tahini
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon, or 2 tsp citric acid granules
  • dash of hot paprika
  • extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on top.
Combine all that stuff sans the paprika and olive oil in food processor, and let that go on high for about five minutes until a silky puree. Spoon that into a dish, chill it, and when you serve, splash a little olive oil on top and a shake of paprika. That's it.

At any rate, when your 20 minutes is up for the proofing, take the first pita and ease it onto the stone. Let that bake for five minutes. Open the oven, and what looks like a weird bready pillow pops out!

Be gentle with it, it's going to be hard and brittle for a few minutes until it cools and softens up. If you have a towel or cloth bag or something, bundle it in there. Repeat the process with the next pita. Once they're all baked, they'll be supple and flat, but with a wonderful pocket. You can do the same with the next batch of dough, or what I recommend is to put that in the fridge for the next day. Pita should be eaten as fresh as possible to enjoy its full potential.

Dinner is served. We just recently got a nice wrought iron bistro set and wanted to eat outside to take advantage of the nice weather. My wife's carnivorous habits took over and she made beef souvlaki, which was fine by me. I also arranged some eggplant, red pepper, and onion on some awesome kebab skewers my mom gave me, and grilled those up as well. Dinner was served with beer and a healthy portion of Ouzo for a digestif.

Pocket shot. Plenty of real estate in here. I packed in the grilled veg around falafel and drizzled tzatziki all over that.

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