A couple of weeks ago we were lucky enough to enjoy some modern Greek street food. Needless to say we were blown away by the quality of the home made pita bread wrapped around our souvlaki. Soft, fluffy and slightly tangy, it was worlds apart from the commercial variety that so often makes an appearance in my shopping trolley. So much so that I vowed, then and there, that I would try my hand making flat bread from scratch at home. After all, it’s something that has long been on my long back burner of a list of recipes I must try.
Promises once made, are rarely allowed to pass unheeded in our house. With Summer just around the corner, and lengthening, balmy evenings providing the perfect excuse to once again fire up the barbecue for lazy, alfresco dining, I’ve found myself, after more than a little persuasive, gentle nagging, to be in the unenviable position of having to deliver on that pita promise this weekend.
General consensus seems to be that making pita at home is relatively easy, and once you’ve successfully mastered a batch, there’s no going back. The hallmark of a great home-made pita seems to be a dramatic puff as the thinly rolled dough hits the hotplate and cooks at high temperatures; a separation into two distinct layers to form a pocket as it cools and deflates; and last but not least a nice crusty char.
The leavening agent responsible for all that puff and separation? A relatively unexpected ingredient, my old nemesis and not closest of culinary friends; yeast. And, truth be told, there’s the rub. From my point of view, without careful handling, yeast can be notoriously unstable and unpredictable. Will it rise to the occasion, or lie stubbornly dormant and unyielding? Once bitten, twice shy. These days I always make a point, irrespective of use by date, to activate my yeast first. Simply mix with a little sugar and tepid (“blood temperature”) water. If the mixture froths, all is well with the world, the yeast is alive and I’m happy to proceed. Of course, much quicker, dare I say it perhaps less authentic, versions of the recipe skip the yeast altogether, substituting a more modern ingredient baking powder. I gather, however, the results are not quite the same. Little wonder I’m road testing pita making on a Wednesday for a barbecue debut this weekend.
I will admit, having made sure the yeast was properly activated, pita making proved quite straight forward. Mixing and kneading no more complicated than putting together pizza dough from scratch. Substituting yoghurt for water and oil in the recipe seems to be a Turkish adaptation, which I’ve happily borrowed as it gives the pita bread a lovely soft texture and subtle tang.
This morning I cooked my pita on the stove top using a heavy based fry pan. The puff, separation into layers and char was quite impressive. Perfect pita pockets. Ready for stuffing sandwich style. This weekend, we’ll be firing up the barbecue and cooking another batch on the grill. Some we’ll serve souvlaki style wrapped around barbecued lamb, tzatziki and Greek salad, the rest we’ll simply tear apart and use to scoop up the accompanying dips and salsas. Best of all once the pita dough is mixed, rested and rolled, my work will be done. As everyone knows, here in this part of the world, the barbecue is traditionally well and truly the domain of the Aussie male.
Grilled Yoghurt Flatbread
Makes 8 pieces
Recipe suitable to double or quadruple to feed a crowd
1 ½ cups plain flour, sifted
¾ cup natural yoghurt
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 sachet) dried yeast
1 teaspoon caster sugar
olive oil, to brush
To Make Flatbread
COMBINE yeast and sugar with one tablespoon of lukewarm water in a glass jug. Allow to stand for a few minutes to activate the yeast. When mixture begins to froth, whisk in yoghurt.
SIFT flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add yoghurt and yeast mixture. Stir until combined into a soft, shaggy dough.
TURN dough out onto a flour dusted surface and knead with the heel of your hand for 10 minutes until smooth, silky and elastic.
PLACE dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean tea towel set aside in a warm place for 2 hours until dough has doubled in size. Punch down dough and knead for a further 5 minutes, before dividing into 8 pieces.
ROLL out each piece on a flour dusted surface as thinly as you can. I like to aim for plate sized 15 cm rounds. Stack rolled flatbread between small sheets of non stick baking paper in the refrigerator if not cooking immediately.
To Cook Flatbread
PREHEAT your barbecue plate, griddle or heavy based fry pan over medium high. Take each flatbread, very lightly brush one side with oil, and place oiled side down onto the hot base.
FLATBREAD should immediately start to bubble up. Cook for 2-3 minutes each side until slightly puffy and lightly charred. Serve immediately.
THESE are best eaten fresh but leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 days. To warm through before eating, simply re-toast in a hot pan or wrap in foil and place in a hot oven for five or so minutes.