My very first job was an interesting one, to say the least. It was in a small American/Lebanese restaurant that primarily sold gyros. I worked there for two of my high school years, and it was a very unique job, one that I’ve realized I’ll never quite experience again.
When I began working there, I already knew the owner, a friendly man who loved to talk with his customers; He was a very chatty man. And when you got him going, he would get so hooked on whatever story he was telling that he became oblivious to everything else.
He was also a pretty fun boss – my coworkers and I would always be joking around with him (because he was so easy to fool) and he never minded. This, we took advantage of…
One evening, as I was filling up mustard bottles in the back while another employee was washing dishes, our boss came to the back and started chatting with us. He was taking a break and happened to be enjoying an ice cream cone (as he had quite the sweet tooth). While we continued working, he talked and talked, going on and on about some crazy customer or the like, without notice to any of his surroundings. As he was speaking, I walked closer and stood there, nodding my head along to the story as I began squeezing the mustard bottle I was holding onto the top of his ice cream.
He didn’t notice.
He bit into the ice cream.
He made a face.
The face he made that moment he licked the mustard was probably the best thing I experienced the entire time I worked there. It was absolutely hysterical – a combination of surprise, confusion, a “did I just imagine that,” thought, followed by “what the heck was that??” thought, ending with wide eyes and a pucker face. He looked at me, and all he could say was, “my ice cream” as I grinned and held up the mustard bottle.
And that was not the only time we messed with his food. I recall a salty salad and a peppered sandwich as well.
Along with giving me my first job (one I even considered fun occasionally), this restaurant was place I discovered the wonders of pita bread (and feta cheese and kalamata olives). Every time I ate a sandwich there, I would make it with pita bread. Fluffy, bubbly, grilled pita.
Since then, I’ve learned that pita is actually quite simple to make homemade (albeit, sort of a long process). And more delicious, of course. This bread even poofs up and gets pockets in the middle, perfect for stuffing full with veggies and hummus and other delicious stuffs.
Oh yeah, and homemade hummus is super easy and quick to whip up. I make a batch about every week; it’s just that delicious. You should make some!
Whole Wheat Pita Bread
Makes about 8 pitas, easily doubles for 16
3 cups whole-wheat flour (all purpose works too)
1¼ cup warm water (about 110-115 degrees F)
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (or one ¼ oz packet)
1 ½ Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon honey or sugar
Begin by proofing the yeast – dissolve the yeast in ½ cup of the warm water and the tablespoon of honey. Wait about ten minutes until it’s nice and foamy.
Combine the rest of the water, flour, salt, and olive oil in a large bowl. Once the yeast is foamy, mix it in with the flour mixture. All of the ingredients should form a ball. If some of the flour isn’t forming into the ball, add a bit extra water. Once a ball is formed, place on a work surface covered in flour and begin to knead the dough – press the dough down firmly, fold it in half toward yourself, turn it 90 degrees, and repeat. Once you get the hang of it, it will all be a swift motion. Do this for about ten minutes, until the dough becomes smooth, stretchy and elastic. (You could also do this in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment on low for ten minutes.)
When you’re finished kneading, place the dough ball in a lightly oiled large bowl, rolling it around a bit so the dough has a thin coat of oil all over. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Once doubled, punch the dough down to deflate and divide into 8 balls. Let rest again for 10-20 minutes (they will rise more). While they are resting, place a baking stone in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. If you don’t have a baking stone, a cookie sheet will work too.
After the dough balls have rested, roll each one out to ¼ inch thick disks. Now, this may seem monotonous, but let the disks rest once again for ten minutes. I tried skipping this step for a few and they didn’t form the big pockets in the middle that we’re aiming for. After they’ve had a nice ten minute nap, place the a few pitas on the hot baking surface, being careful not to burn yourself, and bake for 3 to 6 minutes. They should get nice and puffy in the oven. Remove from oven with kitchen tongs or a fork and cool on a wire rack or kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining dough disks.
Notes: The purpose in kneading for so long is so the ingredients are thoroughly combined and the flour starts to “glutenize”. (I may have made up that word?) The dough will start to become elastic, which is necessary for it to rise properly because the yeast mixes with the other ingredients and releases gases, which stretch the (elastic) dough and form air pockets, giving the bread a lovely texture. So knead away!
Serve with hummus and veggies, make a wrap, or any of your favorite sandwich ingredients!
We also made our own chicken gyros for dinner – pita, grilled chicken, homemade tzatziki, tomatoes, sautéed onions, kalamata olives, and feta cheese! It was delicious.
1-2 cloves fresh garlic
1 15oz can fresh chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
¼ cup tahini
2 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Combine all in a food processor, pulse until desired texture.
-If it’s too thick, add extra water or olive oil.
-Add more or less salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper to taste.
-I’ve tried being lazy and used a magic bullet. Trust me when I say food processor, I had to switch and just ended up with even more dirty dishes.
-This is a recipe I have memorized and just guess the quantity of ingredients I pour in whenever I’m making it. To write this recipe though, I did use these exact measurements as I was putting the ingredients in. I just wanted to let you know that the proportions do not need to be exactly these – if you like more of an olive oil taste, add more, if you want less garlic, only put one clove in, etc.
-Try experimenting with different flavor combinations. I personally love the simplicity of this by itself, but variations such as olive, roasted red pepper, or cilantro are really good as well.
-I garnished mine with toasted pine nuts, fresh parsley, and a drizzle of olive oil. Perfect.
Pita recipe slightly adapted from The Fresh Loaf