Pita Bread; Magical, Versatile and Delicious

Pita, fresh and warm from the oven. Photo by Bradley Labarre

Pita bread. Its awe-inspiring usefulness cannot be denied. It’s so amazing, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures have made it a staple in their cuisine for thousands of years. Besides tearing off a warm corner of it from beneath the folds of soft linen in a bread basket, there are so many things one can do with pita. It can be baked or fried into chips where you can scoop mounds of hummus or your favorite spread. You can make these chips sweet by tossing them with a little-melted butter, cinnamon, and sugar for a nice accompaniment on a fruit and cheese display. Pita can be stuffed with salad and grilled chicken into a “wrap” for lunch or dinner, it can be used to hold falafel or any number of kabobs. Of course, let’s not forget a simple pizza for the kids during the hectic workweek. We can use our imaginations and come up with all sorts of great ways to take advantage of this incredible flatbread.

Rolling out the pita… Photo by Bradley Labarre

The history of this culinary masterpiece goes back for thousands of years. Pita, a round, leavened flatbread is consumed widely across several Middle Eastern, Balkan and Mediterranean cuisines. Of course, we love it here in the US with its many great uses. It is traditional Arabic bread and the main distinguishing characteristic of this bread is that it is flat but has a pocket between the two flat layers. ‘Pita’ is a Greek term, which literally translates to ‘flat’. It can be argued what country it actually originated in, but it is a very well-known simple bread to recreate.

Ready for the oven… Photo by Bradley Labarre

This recipe is used quite often both at home and at work. I love that it has a little whole wheat flour baked inside. Combine that with the crunch of the light dusting of cornmeal, and you have great textural contrast. I love its overall simplicity as a recipe and freeze-ability for future usage. When I have time, I like to make four or five batches of the stuff and stash it away in freezer bags. I can then pull out as much as I need throughout the week. It’s great for tailgating, school lunches, hiking or camping as it doesn’t take up much space and is pretty durable compared to loaf-bread.

The magic “poof” of baking pita Photo by Bradley Labarre

Having tried many recipes for pita, I found that this recipe is both consistent and delicious. Though easy overall, it does take a little time. You may not be able to knock out a batch for dinner during the week necessarily, but with its freeze-ability, one could do this on a rainy day weekend. It’s a great project to get the kids involved in too!

…with its freeze-ability, one could do this on a rainy day weekend.

Check out my favorite recipe for home-made pita. Then, after you’ve made this beautiful specimen, check out a simple recipe for baked pita chips. A huge bowl of these in the middle of your coffee table with your favorite assortment of dips will make all your guests jump for joy during the game.

Pita Bread

Ingredients:

· 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

· 2 envelopes (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons each)

· 1 tablespoon honey

· 2 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees)

· 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour

· 1 tablespoon kosher salt

· 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl

· Fine cornmeal, for sprinkling

Instructions:

1. Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup all-purpose flour, yeast, honey, and 1 cup warm water until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes. Stir in remaining 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, salt, oil, and remaining 1 1/4 cups warm water.

2. Transfer dough to a floured surface. Knead dough, dusting hands and surface with more flour as needed, until smooth and elastic, 10 minutes. Transfer to a large oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let rise again until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

3. Form and bake the dough: Punch down dough, and form into a ball; then turn out onto a floured surface.

4. Quarter dough. Working with one piece at a time (drape a kitchen towel over the rest), divide each quarter into four smaller pieces.

5. Roll each piece into a ball and pinch, tightening the ball. Turn pinched-side down and flatten with your palm.

6. Flatten each ball into a six-inch round with a lightly floured rolling pin.

7. Transfer rounds to rimmed baking sheets sprinkled with cornmeal; drape with kitchen towels. Let rest 30 minutes.

8. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 500 degrees and set an inverted rimmed baking sheet on rack in lowest position. Place four dough rounds on a preheated sheet. Bake until puffed, two minutes. Flip and bake until golden in spots and just cooked through, one minute more. Transfer to a basket lined with a kitchen towel; cover to steam and keep warm. Bake remaining pitas and serve.

Almost ready! Photo by Bradley Labarre

Fun, right? After you’ve made a few of these, it’s now time to make a few pita chips. These are baked, not fried, and can be used for any number of snack ideas. Of course, there’s always hummus to scoop; a healthy alternative to its sour cream laden cousin, French Onion Dip. There are any number of dips one can use for your new-found crispy scoop; spinach and artichoke dip, pimento cheese, bean dips and more. Another great usage would be to turn it into an easy appetizer where you can place a bit of cucumber salad into or maybe even a dollop of salmon mousse. The sky is the limit. These are great to make ahead and store in an air-tight container for when you have a craving for something crunchy. There is more to life than potato chips!

Baked Pita Chips

Ingredients:

· 4 6-inch home-made pitas

· 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

· 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

· ½ teaspoon garlic powder

· ¼ teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Position oven racks in middle and lower third of oven; preheat to 350°F. Coat two large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Cut pitas into eight wedges each and separate each wedge at the fold. Place the pita wedges, rough-side up, in an even layer on the prepared baking sheets. Brush with oil and sprinkle with Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and salt.

3. Bake the pita wedges, switching the baking sheets halfway through, until golden and crispy, 6 to 10 minutes (depending on the thickness).

Can be stored in an airtight container for up to four days.

Crisp and delicious baked pita chips! Photo by Bradley Labarre

I hope you enjoyed this new culinary project. It’s fun and a great way to connect to enjoying scratch-made food instead of store bought. At the end of the day, making something by hand not only tastes better, but it also feels better. If you have found other great uses for this pita, please feel free to share it with us!