I’m giving you a great recipe for a kind of rustic homemade hummus. And I’m going to tell you how to make your own pita bread at home.
Why ever would you do that? It’s simple: because that’s the way you get the freshest pita.
The other reason: making pita is actually a lot of fun. Once you get the hang of it, it’s one of the easiest bread-baking projects for the home cook, usually with good results on the first try. If you make the dough the day before and give it a cool rise in the refrigerator, it’s even easier.
Which isn’t to say that it takes no time; it does. That’s the nature of baking bread. Still, the active cooking time is minimal. The dough keeps its own company for the most part.
Start off by making a sponge in a large mixing bowl. Dissolve some yeast in warm water and add enough flour to make a thick batter. When it is bubbly, add salt, more flour and a little olive oil. Stir it all together (I like to use a pair of chopsticks for stirring) until it forms a rough, shaggy lump.
Now press the contents of the bowl together. This is your dough. Turn it out onto the counter and knead it for a couple of minutes until it begins to look smooth. You will notice that the dough has become firm and tight. Normal. Cover it with the inverted bowl and let it rest for 10 minutes. You will see that the dough has relaxed; knead it again. If kneading makes you tired, you’re doing it wrong. Just lean against the dough, then lift it, turn it and lean again. Cover the dough to keep it warm and take a break for an hour.
Get your oven hot and put a heavy pan on the bottom shelf. Take a piece of dough and roll it into a thin circle. Toss the dough onto the hot pan and quickly close the door. When you peek into the oven a minute later, you’ll see that the flat bread has puffed itself up rather dramatically, and is now verging on spherical.
Homemade Pita Bread
Time: About 2 hours
Yield: 8 6-inch-diameter breads
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
35 grams whole-wheat flour (1/4 cup), preferably freshly milled
310 grams unbleached all-purposed flour (2 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Make sponge: Put 1 cup lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl. Add yeast and sugar. Stir to dissolve. Add the whole-wheat flour and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and whisk together. Put bowl in a warm (not hot) place, uncovered, until mixture is frothy and bubbling, about 15 minutes.
2. Add salt, olive oil and nearly all remaining all-purpose flour (reserve 1/2 cup). With a wooden spoon or a pair of chopsticks, stir until mixture forms a shaggy mass. Dust with a little reserved flour, then knead in bowl for 1 minute, incorporating any stray bits of dry dough.
3. Turn dough onto work surface. Knead lightly for 2 minutes, until smooth. Cover and let rest 10 minutes, then knead again for 2 minutes. Try not to add too much reserved flour; the dough should be soft and a bit moist. (At this point, dough may be refrigerated in a large zippered plastic bag for several hours or overnight. Bring dough back to room temperature, knead into a ball and proceed with recipe.)
4. Clean the mixing bowl and put dough back in it. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, then cover with a towel. Put bowl in a warm (not hot) place. Leave until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
5. Heat oven to 475 degrees. On bottom shelf of oven, place a heavy-duty baking sheet, large cast-iron pan or ceramic baking tile. Punch down dough and divide into 8 pieces of equal size. Form each piece into a little ball. Place dough balls on work surface, cover with a damp towel and leave for 10 minutes.
6. Remove 1 ball (keeping others covered) and press into a flat disk with rolling pin. Roll to a 6-inch circle, then to an 8-inch diameter, about 1/8 inch thick, dusting with flour if necessary. (The dough will shrink a bit while baking.)
7. Carefully lift the dough circle and place quickly on hot baking sheet. After 2 minutes the dough should be nicely puffed. Turn over with tongs or spatula and bake 1 minute more. The pita should be pale, with only a few brown speckles. Transfer warm pita to a napkin-lined basket and cover so bread stays soft. Repeat with the rest of the dough balls.
Note: Some measurements for dry ingredients are given by weight for greater accuracy. The equivalent measurements by volume are approximate.
Mediterranean Smashed Chickpeas
Time: 30 minutes
Yield: About 3 and 1/2 cups chickpea spread
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground toasted cumin
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup finely diced celery
4 cups chickpeas (garbanzo beans), cooked or canned
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered (optional)
Minted yogurt (optional), see note
Tahini sauce (optional), see note
1. Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook gently until softened, about 10 minutes. Raise heat to medium-high. Add garlic, cumin, red pepper flakes and celery. Stir to combine. Let sizzle without browning for 1 minute.
2. Add chickpeas and let them heat through. With a potato masher or wooden spoon, crush about half the beans. Stir well, taste and adjust seasoning. Add ½ cup water (or bean cooking liquid if you have it) and let mixture simmer briskly for a minute or two. Stir in lemon juice and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Serve warm in pita or as a dip or side dish. Garnish with quartered eggs, accompanied by minted yogurt and tahini sauce, if desired.
Note: To make minted yogurt, stir 2 tablespoons chopped mint and 1 minced garlic clove into a cup of thick yogurt. Season with salt and pepper. To make tahini sauce, mix ¼ cup Middle Eastern sesame paste with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 minced garlic cloves, ½ teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons olive oil.