Pita Bread and Hummus

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.

Hummus

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.

Notes:

-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

Advertisements

Words and Blueberry Lemon Quick Bread (Update: and Muffins!)

I’m a shy person. Quiet might be a better term. I don’t typically lead conversations, and I often think of things I might contribute but then let them  go unsaid forever. Some might say that this sort of personality is a strange thing, and I used to hate this trait in myself, but somewhere in the mess of high school and the experience of college, I’ve grown to appreciate my character more.

You see, words are such a powerful thing. When spoken, each and every syllable carries significance as each and every sound and inflection speak meaning. The way that we say things, the order, the pitch, the choices we make, have the biggest impacts.

But I’ve come to realize that I don’t need to have a lot of words – one simple word might carry the same weight as a string of sentences threaded and weaved together. I think both of these ways are just as perfect as the other.

Sometimes I just don’t talk a lot. Some people assume that I’m uncomfortable, or maybe that I don’t like them. Sometimes, I’m perceived as a snob. Really though, I love conversations and listening and I don’t always feel the need to add words. I don’t think a conversation needs to consist of back and forth speaking, equal words from both sides. I believe one can contribute equally to a conversation with few words, maybe even with no words at all. It’s all about an exchange – an exchange of sense, of meaning, of feeling. Presence alone gives this. Words have specific denotations, but there are also so many other ways of sharing and communicating. I like to find those ways…

Baking is a way I communicate without speaking. It can display my mood. It can express love. The process itself is more for me, learning about myself, spending time to reflect on my surroundings, having a moment alone. The outcome though, it’s for me to share – to communicate with the people around me, to communicate with you as you read this now.

I made this blueberry lemon bread for family and a few friends. It was for you, too. In making it, I was able to unwind after a day that left me upset. I then happily shared it with some people who each carry special places in my life. And now, I’m able to use it to communicate even further, with you. For you to enjoy the photos, hear a story, and then maybe follow the recipe for your own loved ones.

I’m really loving this adventure of blogging I’ve started, and this new way of expressing myself – this place where I can be “quiet” but still communicate. Where I can be shy, but not so unspoken.

And I really hope you do make this sometime or another, as it was so simple to make, but so perfectly sweet and tart with the combination of fresh blueberries and lemon. The inside dense and moist, speckled with blueberries and lemon zest, and completed with a yummy crumb topping. It’s like a blueberry muffin, but better and in bread form!

 

 

 

IMG_9051 IMG_9102 copy

Blueberry Lemon Quick Bread with a Crumb Topping

Recipe makes three mini loafs, or one 8X4 inch loaf, Can also be used in muffin tins for 24-36 muffins

 

For the Bread:

1/3 cup butter, melted

1 cup sugar

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 eggs

1 ½ cup self rising flour

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cup fresh or frozen blueberries (If using frozen, do not thaw)

Zest of one lemon

For the Crumb Topping:

3 Tablespoons butter

½ cup flour

3 Tablespoons sugar

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, lemon juice (note, zest your lemon before juicing it), and eggs together. Add about half of the self-rising flour, then the milk, then the other half of the flour, beating well after each addition. Once well combined, gently fold in the blueberries and lemon zest. (Note – toss the blueberries in a bit of flour before folding in, and they shouldn’t sink to the bottom as much) Pour batter into 3 greased mini loaf pans or one larger 8 inch by 4 inch loaf pan.

To make the crumb topping, combine the butter, flour, and sugar in a small bowl. Use fingers to mix together until a crumb forms, leaving some crumbs larger than others. Sprinkle crumbs over top of each loaf, gently pressing down a bit so it sticks.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 18-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. If using one larger pan, it will need to bake about 60-70 minutes. Cool at least ten minutes before removing onto a wire rack.

Note – If using all-purpose flour instead of self-rising flour, add in 1 teaspoon of baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt when adding the flour.

Another note – I like to used browned butter in the batter to give it a subtle rich and nutty flavor. Try it, I think you’ll like it! It’s really not very complicated, just heating the melted butter a bit extra, but the results are crazy awesome. Technique here.

Update: If making muffins, fill muffin tins with cupcake liners 2/3 to 3/4 full and top each with crumb topping. Bake 15-20 minutes, starting with 15 and checking center with a toothpick. It should come out mostly clean with possibly a few crumbs clinging on.

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home.

Much love,

b

IMG_9028 copy