For years we bought pitas, ’til we started on our path to trying to eliminate processed and premade foods from our diets. Now homemade pitas are a staple in our household. We always have them at the ready, and running low automatically means it’s time to make more.
I’ve experimented with mixing different flours, from whole wheat to chia, with varying success. I recommend starting off with standard white flour at first, ’til you get the hang of it. Then sub in 1/2 cup whole wheat, plus more for flouring your surfaces etc. I have also experimented with sugars, including coconut sugar and bio dynamic sugar. My yeasties like the latter. Not so much the former.
I make these pitas on a gas grill, on clay tiles. Protip: In some parts of the world – like Arizona – you can get kiln fired 100% clay saltillo tiles at the hardware store (think Home Depot) for under 2 bones a tile. Read the box carefully. Make darn sure there are no additives, sealants or glazes! Real Mexican saltillo tile is just clay. I go through lots of them (they tend to crack after multiple exposures to high heat). Still, if you can track them down they’re totally worth it. Grilled pizza is the best on them. I do falafel on ’em too.
I’ve never tried to make these pitas in an oven. One of the keys to pitas, like good pizza, is high heat. They cook fast, and I have a hard time imagining that the necessary heat could be maintained in the average kitchen oven with the door being opened every 40-60 seconds to add, flip and remove. I manage to keep my grill hovering around 500° F throughout the cooking process (even higher in Arizona summers – no surprise there).
- 1 1/8 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1+ tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons white sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
Add the sugar and yeast to the warm water and let sit for 10 minutes. In a large bowl (not plastic please!) mix the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add your now activated and munching away yeastwater and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Stir with a fork to combine. At first it’s going to seem like more liquid is needed. It isn’t.
Dump the contents onto a well floured surface. Keep extra flour at the ready. With equally well floured hands work the dough, kneading tenderly. If/As it begins to stick to either hands or surface, add more flour in small quantities to combat. Knead continuously for at least 15 minutes (look on the bright side – make these every day and you’ll be blessed with wicked cool Popeye arms you can tattoo anchors on). Dough should reach a pleasant, smooth, almost pillowy consistency, and be absolutely sticky free.
Coat your large bowl (sure, use the same one. I don’t even clean mine first) with olive oil. Form dough into a ball, plop into the bowl, and roll all over to thoroughly coat with oil. Cover with a dishtowel and let sit somewhere pleasant and warm until the dough at least doubles in size. I regularly leave it be for upwards of 3 hours.
Dump the dough back onto a well floured surface and pull gently into a long hot dog bun shape. With a sharp knife, cut into 10-12 equal medallions. Don’t form them into balls – don’t handle them too much. Leave them on your surface and cover them with a dishtowel. Let them sit for 10-20 more minutes while you preheat the grill.
(In fact, it’s good to start the grill at its highest setting, with the tiles on the cook surface, a full half hour or more before. You want that grill, and those tiles, hot)
You need to be armed with the following within close proximity to your preheated grill:
- Rolling pin
- Floured flat surface (I use a large cutting board)
- Flour to continually dust your flat surface and rolling pin
- 2 to 3 wet tea/dish towels (soak them under the faucet in cold, then wring them out thoroughly. You want them uniformly wet, but not soaking or dripping)
Now comes the real challenge! I can fit 2 pitas on my grill at a time. I’ve discovered that the length of time they should cook before flipping is exactly the length of time it takes me to rapidly roll out a single pita, and the length of time they need to cook before being removed is the same. In other words, I throw two on the grill, slam the lid, quickly roll out one pita, even more quickly yank the grill lid open and flip the cooking pitas (no utensils here, you sissy. They just slow you down. Use your hands!), slam the lid down and quickly roll out a second pita, yank out the two now fully cooked pitas, rinse and repeat. Roll them out thin, but not paper thin. They need some substance to them, but too thick and you’ll get something stiff and dense rather than light and airy. I know, that’s vague. Play with it – you’ll quickly figure it out.
Loosely wrap the cooked pitas in the wet towels immediately upon removing them from the grill. This keeps them soft and supple. I find I can fit half a batch stacked in each towel. Your mileage may vary. Don’t remove them from the towels until you can lay your hand on the towel and feel no heat radiating from them at all. Then transfer them to a airtight container. I use a round casserole dish with a well fitting lid. You could use large ziplock bags if you’re not against plastic.
- You’ll be tempted to leave the pitas on the grill longer than you should. When in doubt, take them off before you think they’re done. Just a few moments too long and your pitas become pita chips. Still delicious, but not nearly as versatile. I estimate my actual cooking time per side is a whopping 40 seconds, and I shoot for 30 in the summer!
- Be careful when you remove them. Any pocket or bubble will contain air hot enough to seriously burn your paws if you’re silly enough to push on them. It’s so, so tempting to want to deflate a pita that resembles a bready portuguese man-o-war. Resist. Don’t do it. Stick it in the wet towel, wrap it loosely, and leave it be. It’ll deflate on its own.
- Speaking of the infamous pita pocket – it’s an art. I consider it a success if more than half my pitas form a truly functional pocket. Don’t be sad if yours don’t. Instead, revel in your ingenuity, as you’ve made not just pitas, but also naan! They work great as flat bread. And seriously, warm ’em in a toaster oven and slather some ghee on them – you’ll be glad you did, partner.