Recently at the Culinary Literacy Center, Bruce Schimmel, founder of the Philadelphia City Paper and community chef, taught a class on Israeli salads and their perfect pairing—pita bread! With just a few ingredients you can make this traditional Mediterranean flat bread at home and pair it with a warming dish of chickpea and cauliflower curry. Be sure to check out future classes with Chef Schimmel in 2016 at the Free Library’s Culinary Literacy Center.
- 1 cup warm water (not hot or boiling)
- 2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
- 2½ - 3 cups of all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
- mixing bowl
- rolling pin
- cast-iron skillet (for stovetop baking) or
- baking sheet or a baking stone (oven baking)
- Mix the water and yeast together and let sit for about 5 minutes, until the yeast is dissolved.
- Add 2½ cups of the flour (saving the last half cup for kneading), salt, and olive oil (if using).
- Stir until a shaggy dough is formed.
- Sprinkle a little of the extra flour onto your clean work surface and turn out the dough.
- Knead the dough for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Add more flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or to the work surface, but try to be sparing.
- Clean the mixing bowl and film it with a little olive oil.
- Set the dough in the bowl, turning to coat it with the oil.
- Cover the bowl with a clean dishcloth or plastic wrap and let the dough rise until it’s doubled in bulk, 1-2 hours.
- Gently deflate the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured work surface.
- Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and gently flatten into each piece into a thick disc.
- Sprinkle the pieces with a little more flour and cover with a towel or plastic wrap until you’re ready to bake them.
- Using a floured rolling pin, roll one of the pieces into an 8-9 inch circle about ¼-inch thick, turning and flipping the dough frequently so the dough doesn’t stick to your work surface (sprinkle the surface with more flour as needed to help with sticking).
- Repeat with the other pieces of dough. (Once you get into a rhythm, you can be cooking one pita while rolling out the next.)
To bake the pitas in the oven:
- While shaping the pitas, heat the oven to 450° and place a baking stone or baking sheet in the oven to heat.
- Place the rolled out pitas directly on the baking stone or sheet and bake for about 3 minutes.
- The pita should start to puff up after a minute or two and is done when fully ballooned.
- Cover the baked pitas with a clean dishtowel while cooking any remaining pitas
To bake pitas on the stovetop:
- Warm a cast-iron skillet over the medium-high heat until a few beads of water sizzle immediately on contact.
- Drizzle a little oil in the pan to coat and wipe off any excess.
- Lay a rolled-out pita on the skillet and cook for 30 seconds, until you see bubbles starting to form.
- Flip and cook for 1-2 minutes on the other side, until large toasted spots appear on the underside.
- Flip again and cook another 1-2 minutes to toast the other side.
- The pita should start to puff up during this time; if it doesn’t or if only small pockets form, try pressing the surface of the pita gently with a clean towel.
- Keep cooked pitas covered with a clean dishtowel while cooking any remaining pitas.
Storing the dough: Once it has risen, the pita dough can be kept refrigerated until it is needed. You can also bake one or two pitas at a time, saving the rest of the dough in the fridge. The dough will keep refrigerated for about a week.