One of the best things about eating Middle Eastern food out is the aroma of fresh pita bread that hits you right when you walk into a restaurant. Bring me an array of fresh dips such as tzatziki, hummus or baba ghanoush ~ along with some homemade, warm pita and I am pretty much in heaven right there. (OK ~ maybe some baklava too….)
Pita reminds me of living in New York, where late night walks home would take me along St. Mark’s Place to my East Village apartment. If you have not walked along St. Mark’s, it is basically a hungry, slightly tipsy person’s late night eating heaven. All I can say is, thankfully, by the time I was in grad school, I had developed a smidgen of self-restraint. This was the pre-food truck era, so we actually had to walk inside a building to purchase late night food (imagine!!)
In addition to Crif Dogs, Ray’s Pizza, yakitori, ramen, and frozen yogurt, there were several falafel places that were always tempting me on the walk home after a night out. But honestly, I didn’t even really need the falafel. The fragrant, warm pita bread, with a smear of hummus, would always hit the spot. These days I am usually in bed before I would even have gone out back in the New York days, but freshly baked pita is still high on my food craving list.
I had no idea that pita can be easily made at home. It seems like creating that glorious pocket, which I view as prime real estate for filling, would require some sort of magic. However, I was pleasantly surprised when an old school cookbook that my mom recently lent me had an easyish recipe for pita bread. The name of the cookbook is “Jewish Cooking Made Slim”, which made me laugh, but it actually has some great recipes in it. I never thought of pita as a particularly slimming food, but nonetheless, I am very happy with the result. These delicious pita pockets are well worth the rolling and kitchen dirtying process ~ just a few ingredients and 5 minutes in the oven yields a perfect brown crust with a fluffy, pillowy interior.
And while I’m at it, I thought I’d throw in a new favorite hummus recipe as well. Y’all may have seen the sweet and tangy hummus recipe in the July edition of Bon Appetit. It sounded delicious, but I was unable to find some of the ingredients in the store. In an effort to use things that are more readily available, I adapted the recipe to include roasted red peppers and molasses. Roasted red pepper hummus has always been a favorite of mine and the molasses adds a smokiness to the hummus that I really love. I was not able to find pomegranate molasses, so to keep with the Middle Eastern theme, I garnished the hummus with a few pomegranate seeds. The pomegranate seeds add a good-for-you sweetness to the mix.
With football season coming up, this is definitely an appetizer combination that should be added to your regular tailgating rotation. Come game day, I know what I’m making! Instead of walking home on St. Mark’s Place, I might just be sneaking into my own kitchen late night. . .
Smoky Red Pepper Hummus (adapted from Bon Appetit)
1 15.5 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup tahini
4 oz of roasted red peppers, drained
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon molasses
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt, to taste (be generous here)
pomegranate seeds, for garnish (optional)
Combine all ingredients in the food processor except for the salt and pomegranate seeds. Pulse until smooth. Add salt to taste and pomegranate seeds if desired for garnish.
Homemade Pita (adapted from Jewish Cooking Made Slim)
Makes about 6 pitas
1 envelope yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
3 cups bread flour plus more for rolling out
1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine yeast with sugar and water. Stir and let stand for 10 minutes until yeast starts to bubble and activate. Add salt and 2 cups of flour ~ stir to combine. Add flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough starts to form into a ball and becomes less sticky. You will know it is the right consistency when you are able to handle it without it aggressively sticking to your fingers. Knead the dough for a few minutes on a lightly floured surface until the lumps begin to smooth out.
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a dish towel. Leave in a warm place for about an hour or until it doubles in size. Punch dough down. On a well-floured surface, divide dough into 6 balls. With a very well-floured rolling pin, roll out each ball into a circle about 1/8-inch or 1/4-inch thick. Place dough circles on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, cover with a dish towel and allow to rise for another hour.
Heat oven to 500 degrees and place another cookie sheet inside the oven. Transfer the pitas to the hot cookie sheet and bake for 5 minutes or until very slightly browned. Be careful not to over bake. Enjoy with olive oil, hummus or any of your favorite dips!