A recipe for making your own whole wheat pita bread.
If you don’t live in the Middle East, where the pita is the staple bread, and can be used instead of napkins for wiping humus off your face, chances are the pita breads you will find are old and stale. Or packed with chemicals, or frozen. If you do live in the Middle East, you’ll be hard pressed to find whole wheat pita. But dear readers, I have the ultimate recipe for you thanks to a young Yemenite woman who taught this westerner the tricks of the trade. (Sad disclaimer: I grew up on Wonderbread). Keep reading for the recipe and scroll to the bottom of the post for all the images.
Sari has been coming over to my house a few days a week to help take care of my baby. A few weeks ago she brought a pita bread, one she’d made with her grandmother, in the old Yemenite way. “With one hand, two fingers!” her grandmother insisted. Enjoying a new health food store near my house, I picked up some high-quality, pre-sifted whole wheat flour, and some quick-rise yeast, and Sari taught me the old Yemeni ways.
Our first round of pitas were a resounding success, and I gave a bag full to my husband’s band as they were heading for an event in Jerusalem. They are yummy eaten alone, drizzled with olive oil, or wrapped around some goat cheese. For breakfast, I commit an act of sacrilege by eating them with butter.
The method for making whole wheat pita
The trick is not just forming the pita with one hand, two fingers, it’s about maintaining a delicate balance with water. Add too much water and the pita will be hard to form, and too little, they will be hard. Another important piece of equipment is a pita pan. If you live in an Arab country, just ask a local store for a pita pan. See picture below. If you can’t find one, I’ve included a picture if it’s useful, then improvise. The trick is to have intense heat on both sides of the pita at the same time.
Handmade, organic Yemenite pita
1 kg pre-sifted whole wheat organic flour (set aside half a cup for the end)
1 tsp salt (or more depending on taste)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tbs olive oil (or more depending on taste)
1 1/2 tsp of yeast
2 cups water
Pour flour into a large bowl. Add dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon.
Add olive oil to 2 cups of water, luke warm, preferably filtered with a Brita or similar device.
Take wooden spoon and stir while adding water. Dough should be considerably softer than when making regular bread. Firmer than cake dough, but softer than bread dough. About the consistency of cake icing or pizza dough. Later, as it’s rising you should be able to see bubbles on the surface.
Pita bread rising schedule:
Stir all the ingredients together, then set aside for 10 minutes covered with a clean towel. You can sprinkle the surface with a bit of water.
Take one hand, dip it in water, and plunge into the dough along the side of the bowl, and let the dough flop down trapping air. Repeat this for a few minutes, but only add water to prevent your hand from sticking to the dough.
After 10 minutes, repeat.
Let dough sit flat in the bowl and cover with cloth to let rise. After it rises, about 1 to 1.5 hours depending on temperature, fire up your pita pan. Put the stove on to medium high.
Wet fingers, and take a tangerine size ball of sticky dough and drop it onto a flour surface, preferably a tray to contain the mess. Pull wet dough from the side, and fold it up on top to form a round ball lined on the outer side with flour.
Form it in your hands, or pat the pita down on the surface covered with flour. Quickly drop it onto the pan, and immediately place the lid on top so the element in the lid heats the top side of the pita. Leave for about 1 minute or until you see a bit of smoke.
Remove with tongs and repeat. This recipe makes about 20 pita. Be careful about burning yourself though. I’m nursing a nasty burn as we speak.