Like many of us, I am a big fan of Middle Eastern food. It’s healthy and makes the most of fresh and simple produce. Here in Sri Lanka, we have a lot of the same ingredients, so Middle Eastern is my weekly go to. I make a few tweaks like using fresh limes for lemons and curly parsley for flat leaf. Sometimes you can purchase lemons and flat leaf parsley here but the limes are incredible as are the mint and coriander.
My cookbook shelf is jammed with Middle Eastern books. I am a huge fan of all the Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi books and Jerusalem is my definite favourite. In fact, all of my ‘cheffy’ friends agree Jerusaem is one of the best. More on that in another post. I recently got my hands on Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley’s follow up to Jerusalem book: Falastin Like Jerusalem, Falastin is a book about the food, produce, history and the people of it’s title Palestine. I highly recommend it for the recipes as well as the beautiful photography and stories.
During the lockdown, I made many of dishes from this book and our family especially loved the fresh pita bread. We cut the rounds into pockets and stuffed them with salad, hummus, labne and roasted chicken.
T&T TIP: Now the kids have gone back to school, I have made a batch and frozen them for school lunches. They also make great ‘toasties’ if you fill them with cheese, roasted vegies, salami and so on. Not very Middle Eastern but definitely delicious.
They are easy to make and have a few resting times so start early but once you have done them once, they are a super easy and I hope they become a family favourite like they are at my home
Makes 12 pitas
- 2 teaspoons fast-action dried yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 420ml lukewarm water, approximately
- 750g plain flour plus extra for dusting
- 35g milk powder (also known as dried skimmed milk)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for greasing
Put the yeast, sugar and 200ml of lukewarm water into a separate small bowl or cup. Set aside for about 4 minutes, or until the mixture starts to bubble up. If the mix does not bubble up, your yeast could not be working, don’t proceed until it looks like it is alive a little! It might need more time or just some warmth or a new packet of yeast
Place the flour, milk powder and salt in the bowl of a free-standing mixer with the dough hook attachment in place. Mix on a low speed for just a minute until the ingredients combine. Increase speed to medium, then slowly pour in the warm yeast mixture, followed by the oil.
Note that I do not have a mixer with a dough hook, so I do this by hand. It’s not that hard or messy. I mix everything together in a large bowl, then tip it out onto the bench with some extra flour so it does not stick and I start kneading.
The mix will start as a shaggy mess, you need to add the remaining 220mls of warm water bit by bit and as you keep kneading (or your machine does), it will soon come together as a dough ball. Once this happens keep kneading for up to 7 minutes. You want the dough to be smooth and elastic and for the it not to stick to your fingers when pinched.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and place somewhere warm, ideally close to the oven or stove for about 1 hour until the dough had risen by a third.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, cut into 12 pieces and shape into round balls. Each weighing about 100gm. Cover with a clean, slightly damp tea towel and rest for 10 minutes. You will not see much change in size or shape after 10 minutes but it’s still important for the dough to have this ‘rest’.
After 10 minutes, flatten the balls of dough one at a time, first with your fingers, then using a rolling pin to shape them into 15-18cm wide circles: use more four to dust the work surface, if you need to, to prevent them sticking as you roll. Take care not to have any tears in the dough, as this will allow steam to escape in the oven and prevent the pitas puffing up. Continue until all the balls of dough are rolled out, covering them with a damp tea towel once rolled, to prevent them from drying out. Set aside to prove for a final 20 minutes.
While the dough is proving, preheat the oven to 250 C or 482 F. Basically, the highest temperature your oven can go. Place the oven trays you are going to bake the bread on into the oven to heat up. Fit in as many as you can fit noting that you will only fit 2-3 pitas on each tray and you will need to do them in batches.
When ready to bake, slide out each tray, place 2-3 pita rounds on each with no dough touching. Place them top side down as this allows better puff. Bake 4-5 minutes or until they puff up and their tops are slightly golden. I flip them over and give them another minute or so on the other side. You don’t want them to take on too much colour, as this will lead to the bread being hard.
Arrange the pitas in a tray and cover them with a clean tea towel while you continue baking the batches of dough. Covering them is important for keeping them moist and pillowy so you can split and fill them.