17 July 2013

Jerusalem cuisine

Fresh homemade pita bread

I am, like millions of others, seriously into Jerusalem, a recent cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi that extols the varied cultural cuisine of that city.  Cooks and food bloggers around the world spent the last year gloriously exploiting (much to the authors' delight, I'm sure) each and every recipe in this book, with such clever ideas such as Jerusalem potluck dinners, Jerusalem cooking classes, etc.  Not wanting to miss the boat, but not wanting to be too cliché, either- I've decided to share with you, dear reader, a recipe that is complementary to Middle Eastern cuisine, but not included in the book: homemade pita bread.

By the way, Jerusalem is terrific- I suggest you stop reading my blog and order it now.  I'll wait.   

Arab/Israeli Salad, pita, baba ghanoush, falafel

Finished?  Good.  You will need the book in order to make something delicious to eat with your pita.  

While I've stuck with the more familiar dishes Middle Eastern dishes (hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, chopped Israeli/Arab salad), the book is rich with extraordinary recipes that originated in the kitchens of many Jewish, Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese, and Arab families in the region.  My sumac and tahini are ready, and I can't wait to experiment further.  But in the mean time, why ruin a delicious recipe by eating it with pita from a twist-tie bag?  So I set out to find a simple and tasty recipe.  Once you taste fresh pita and see how easy it is to make, you will never go back.  And, all your friends will be impressed with your skill and acumen!  Serve your homemade pita with everything, but especially hummus or baba ghanoush.

Shhh...resting pita dough!
In order to bake pita successfully, one must bake it at very high heat with a baking stone.  Since it is about 100 degrees outside, I decided to eschew the indoor baking and use the grill.  That way, a baking stone was not necessary, and the results were outstanding!

Pita Bread

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
Use a stand mixer and dough hook.  Put the yeast in the bowl of the mixer, and pour 1/2 cup warm water over.  Add the sugar, and mix on low for a minute.  Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes until it turns foamy.  Add the flour and salt.  Turn the mixer on low and slowly add the remaining water.  Once the ingredients are incorporated, turn the mixer on medium and knead the dough for an additional 10-15 minutes.  Remove the dough hook, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel.  Set in a warm place to rise until doubled (about 1 1/2 hour).  

When the dough is doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and place on a floured surface.  Place a baking stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees (or light the grill).  Knead until the dough is fairly smooth (it will be a bit wet, so the floured surface is important).  Let the dough rest for an additional 15 minutes.  

Divide the dough into 12 knobs.  Roll each knob into a circle (about 6-8" diameter, you choose the size) and place on a floured pizza peel (I fit three rounds at a time on the peel).  Once the oven is ready, slowly slide the pita rounds onto the stone (or onto the grill rack, if using a grill).  The pita should puff up (forming its distinctive 'pocket') as it bakes.  When the pita is slightly brown on one side, flip it (approximately 2-4 minutes, depending on your cooking method).  When the other side is slightly brown, the pita is finished.  Remove from heat and wrap the pitas in a clean, damp towel (to keep soft) to serve.  Store uneaten bread in a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator or freezer. Makes 12 pita bread rounds. 

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