Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Homemade pita bread - one of life's little pleasures

 I love pita, it's soft, chewy and versatile.
When I was in Egypt, a typical breakfast was pita with olives and feta cheese or sweetened condensed milk and jam -  manna when paired with little cups of strong, sweet Turkish coffee brewed in an ibrik or the hot mint tea that for some reason was always served in small glasses instead of cups.

When we lived in Tarpon Springs, we would have lunch at the Sponge Docks and my favorite part of the meal was the side order of pita and tzatziki.
Pita they sell at the grocery store is OK in a pinch, but if you really want to treat yourself, making your own is quick, easy and very satisfying.

I've been on a cooking jag since the election a week ago trying to blot out the anger and sadness I feel over the defeat of Florida's Amendment 4. I made a huge batch of chicken broth last week and it's been calling me from the freezer. Temperatures were in the high 30's here yesterday morning so I decided to make a big pot of avgolemono for dinner. While I was digging the broth out of the freezer I unearthed a two-pound package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts perfect for souvlaki.
Somebody, quick, offer me a job or we are going to get fat.

On a happy note, I finally mastered the art of using my baker's peel to slide the little loaves of pita onto my baking stone without screwing them up.

I've tried several different recipes but this one from the Tyler Florence and JoAnn Cianciulli is practically foolproof and has great texture and flavor.


1 package active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

11/2 cups warm water

1 teaspoon salt

31/2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon olive oil


In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water; stir to blend. Let the yeast stand until foamy, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Stir in the salt. Add the flour, a little at a time, mixing at the lowest speed until all the flour has been incorporated and the dough gathers into a ball; this should take about 4 minutes.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it's smooth and elastic. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turn it over to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise until double in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Place a large pizza stone on the lower oven rack, preheat the oven (and stone) to 500 degrees F.

Punch the dough down, divide it into 8 pieces, and gather each piece into a ball; keeping all of them lightly floured and covered while you work. Allow the balls of dough to rest, covered, for 15 minutes so they will be easier to roll out.

Using a rolling pin, roll each dough ball into a circle that is about 8-inches in diameter and 1/4-inch thick. Make sure the circle is totally smooth, with no creases or seams in the dough, which can prevent the pitas from puffing up properly. Cover the disks as you roll them out, but do not stack them up. Slide one pita round at a time on the hot pizza stone and bake for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the bread puffs up like a balloon and is pale golden. Watch closely; they bake fast. Remove the bread from the oven and place on a rack to cool for 5 minutes; they will naturally deflate, leaving a pocket in the center. Wrap the pitas in a large kitchen towel to keep them soft.

Avgolemono is the ultimate chicken soup with rice...
When my children were little, one of their favorite books was Maurice Sendak's Chicken Soup with Rice:


10 cups  Chicken broth; strained

3/4 cup Raw long grain white rice

4 Whole eggs, whites and yolks separated

3  Lemons; (juice only)


Bring the broth to a full boil in a soup kettle. Gradually add the rice, stirring constantly until the broth boils again. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the rice is just tender, not mushy, 12 to 14 minutes.
 Remove from the heat and keep warm while preparing avgolemono.
Beat the yolks for 2 minutes or until they become thick and frothy. Continue to beat, gradually adding the lemon juice.
In a mixing bowl with a whip attachment, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form, as if you were making meringue. Gently fold the lemon/egg yolk mixture into the egg whites then slowly add some of the hot broth to the egg-lemon mixture, beating steadily. Stir the mixture into the soup and cook over minimum heat, without boiling, until the soup thickens to coat a spoon. Taste for salt, and keep warm over hot water until ready to serve.
Chicken Souvlaki
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 green peppers
1 red pepper
1 large sweet onion
3 lemons, juiced
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TBS oregano
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, oregano and minced garlic and pour over the chicken breasts. Let marinate in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.
Cut the peppers and onion into strips and set aside.
Shake the marinade off the chicken and broil or grill the breasts until they are cooked through - the amount of time this takes will depend on the thickness of the meat.
Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside to cool. Add the peppers and onions and broil for about 10 minutes or until they are softened and slightly charred.
Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and put the chicken and onion and peppers together in a big bowl.

This can be served over Greek rice pilaf  (especially good with a little tomato sauce and parmesan cheese) or, the way we had it last night, stuffed in a pita with a dollop or tzatziki on top. Diced tomatoes are optional but good too.
1 small cucumber
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/2 tsp dried mint
1/2 tsp salt
Peel the cucumber and use a spoon to remove the seeds and discard the seeds. Shred the cucumber into a bowl and add the salt, mint, garlic and stir in the yogurt or sour cream.
This is great as a dip with the pita bread or served on top of the souvlakis.


Emily said...

Geez, I had forgotten all about that book until you posted it there.

Everything looks so yummy! I'm taking a page out of this book and roasting a chicken and serving it with pita bread and hummus and feta and a Greek salad for dinner.

Jill said...

I wish you were here to cook with me.
I made pastitsio so we wouldn't waste the leftover pitas.

Gotta run to the store to get stuff for a salad and to buy an extra turkey for the freezer.

They are on sale for 69 cents a pound.

Emily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily said...

Wow, for once New Jersey has something cheaper! They're on sale here for 49 cents a pound until Friday. I have to pick up one, maybe two.

(I spelled something wrong in the first one)