I love bread. It’s one of those foods that makes civilization so worth it. The problem is that the body uses carbohydrates like sugar if they’re not properly prepared. So I set about to finding ways to get my bread fix, making it fully satisfying but healthier than the typical selections. Mind you, some of us of African and Native American descent also have a problem with too much bran from certain grains, so switching to whole wheat wasn’t a good option.
From reading sites about glycemic index, and how the body processes grains, I learned that they should be fermented before they’re eaten. This alters their chemistry so that their GI is lower, and the sugars break down slightly, and become more digestible. People in Africa and the Mediterranean, as well as Japan, have been doing things like this for aeons. One group with a very tasty fermented dough recipe I’ll reveal to you today are the Druze. You can read about their fascinating culture here.
They make a special “pita” that isn’t like the pita pocket bread most folks are used to seeing in the west. In fact, almost every ethnicity in the middle east has their own kind of pita, and some even have more than one.
Druze pita are similar to what Americans may think of as “wrap” bread. If you get the genuine thing, it’s about the circumference of a large pizza, and very very thin. It is even thinner than a tortilla. If you put them in a plastic bag right away, they’ll be soft, but if you leave them out, they become nicely crispy. As crips, in my opinion, they’re better than potato chips.
Before we get started, I’ll let you know that there is an art to it. You probably won’t get perfectly round, uniformly paper thin pitas until you’ve been practicing for some months, or weeks if you do it every morning (which you might). If you follow my instructions though, you and your family will enjoy the practice pitas very much.
First of all, you need to make sure you have the things you’ll need to prepare this special bread.
A wok or other convex shaped pan that can take heat on the inside. The reason for this is that you will be turning that over so that you have a dome on which to “throw” and cook your pita.
You should be using a gas burner. You can’t do this on an electric stove.
Your wok should be able to rest securely so that the fire is more or less under the center of it. Because of how heat is channelled through a wok, it’s not so important if it’s a bit off. Just make sure it sits there securely.
Wooden spatula. It’s the same wooden spatula you’d use if you were cooking things on the inside of the wok. You’ll need this to slide under and lift your pitas without burning your fingers.
A round (unused) seat cushion. That’s right, a seat cushion. This will help you to stretch the pitas out, and to throw them on the pan fully spread out. If you don’t have one, or you don’t think you can keep it out of the household circulation of seat cushions in the laundry or something, you can instead use a large plate covered with a lint free cloth. You’ll need to tie the cloth securely around the plate. It will not work as well, but it’ll do in a pinch as a stretching surface and “throwing” guide.
Now, the ingredients.
1 kg. wheat flour
1/2 cup corn or potato starch
2 tsp. salt
1.5 tsp. baking soda
1.5 tsp. cream of tartar
Reserve about a cup or cup and a half of the flour for the kneading.
Sift all of the dry ingredients together into a large bowl.
Add enough lukewarm water, while squishing it together with your fingers, until you have a somewhat wet ball of dough. Once you have enough water in, continue to squish out any major lumps.
Spread some flour over the counter, and turn the dough out onto it. You may have to do some scraping off the bowl and your fingers.
Knead the dough, adding flour as you go, until you have a pretty firm ball of dough that is somewhat dry and “heavy”. If you need to add more flour than you reserved, do so.
Put the dough in a food safe plastic bag, and squeeze out as much air as you can. Don’t seal the bag right up against the dough though. Give it some room to rise a little.
Now for the fermentation: put the bag of dough in a bowl in a warm but not too warm place for an hour, or put it in the refrigerator overnight. On top of the refrigerator is usually perfect for the hour.
When you are ready to start making your pitas, have ready your surface, some flour, a small roller, and your covered plate or cushion. Then heat your upside-down wok. The heat needs to be high or as close as possible without being nuclear.
Take about a half cup or palm sized ball of dough from the bag, and roll it to make it somewhat spherical. Then mash it flatter between your hands, and even more flat between your fingers.
Slap it down onto your floured surface, and then turn it over and slap it down again. This will help spread out the flour, and get the dough “conditioned” for stretching.
Mash the dough down even flatter, using brisk striking motions or just pressing firmly but quickly. It depends how familiar you are with say, pizza making. If you are, you’ll know the right “touch”.
Using the small roller, roll from the center of the patty of dough outwards. Rotate it a little, and roll out from the center again. Rotate and roll, rotate and roll, and on and on until you have a fairly thin, tortilla like circle of dough.
Gently transfer this onto the plate or cushion. Most like to do this using the back of their hands to avoid tearing it.
Pick up the cushion, and gently, a little at a time, stretch the dough over it. You want a large disk of dough that is not quite as big as your overturned wok. If you make it too big, it will hang off the edges.
Now, take the cushion with your dough, and plop the dough onto the very hot wok.
Once it is bubbling, it is basically done, but if you’re new at this, there may be some wrinkles, or your edges might be a little thick. Slide the spatula under the pita to lift it, turn it over, and then flip down the edges so that they touch the pan. You might need to press here and there with the spatula.
The cooking barely takes a minute, so be watchful, or you’ll burn holes right through it.
When it’s done, slide the spatula under it, and lift it. Put it on a plate and eat it.
These are usually served with labane, zaatar, and other middle eastern foods and salads.
Now, here’s a video I found on Youtube of an expert at work.