While I was in Israel earlier this month, I made a quick jaunt to Cairo and the only flight back to Tel Aviv was at midnight. At 2:30 in the morning, I finally arrived at Sarah’s doorstep with my over-sized luggage and met for the first time. I felt horrible arriving so late, and had repeatedly asked whether it was OK, and Sarah reassured me that she was accustomed to her husband arriving on flights at all hours of the night.
We didn’t say much to one another on this first meeting. Just a few tired smiles, a handshake, and Sarah opened up her home to me. I dragged my suitcase upstairs to and flopped onto the bed she has prepared for me.
The next morning, I awoke to the smell of pita toasting in the oven with za’atar and found a full Israeli breakfast on the table – including salad and labne. Mmm, savory breakfasts.
Over the next few days, Sarah played local tour guide, taking me to see the bell caves and ancient olive press in Beit Guvrin, the shuk in Ramle, and the Ayalon Institute on Kibbutzim Hill — the clandestine ammunition factory in operation from 1945-1948.
In between our sightseeing trips, Sarah and I shared cup after cup of herb-infused tea. While I do make nana (mint) tea back at home, Sarah picks herbs from her front yard and I loved adding white sage and lemongrass to a steaming cup of tea. Between the two of us, we picked her yard dry, leaving only the hanging knotted rope from which her sons swing in front of the house door.
We cooked together, I taking the lead on pancakes for dinner one evening and herb and arugula salad. Taking Sarah’s lead, after washing the arugula, I threw the water onto the yard — not atypical for Israel where there is a currently a drought (of course, I was not complaining about the warm sunny weather!). Sarah made pizza (including dough from scratch), arugula pesto, chicken soup, some braised meat that I missed out on trying. Most meals were accompanied by her home cured olives.
On my last day, we stopped by a grocery store and I bought some fresh pita, still warm, for my long airplane ride home.
Back in my apartment, I froze the remaining pitot to savor some of the flavors of my trip for a little bit longer. But, recalling Sarah’s comment a few days earlier while preparing pizza that the dough was a simple recipe and could be used for pita, I was inspired to make my own pita. I have made it twice since I returned and it is infinitely better than anything you can buy here.
These pitot are the closest I have found to the ones you get in Israel, fluffy and perfect with hummus, for mopping up leftover salad dressing, or filled with chocolate spread. The trick to forming the pockets is baking in a very hot oven on a baking stone (or, if my case, on hot cookie sheets) and refraining from opening the oven during baking.
Makes 8-10 pitot.
- 2 1/4 t yeast
- 1 1/2 C warm water
- 1 T sugar
- 4 C flour (I used all-purpose)
- 1-2 T olive oil
- 1 t salt
Make the dough. Dissolve yeast in 1 C of the warm water with sugar. Allow to bubble up (takes ~ 10 minutes). Add to flour, olive oil, and salt in bowl of mixer. Knead with dough hook for 10 minutes. Add additional water, tablespoon by tablespoon, until dough forms a slightly sticky ball.
First rising. Pour a little olive oil into a large bowl. Roll the ball of dough in the oil until coated. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let dough rise until doubled (1.5 – 2 hours). I punch the dough down a few times during the rising.
Shape bread. Most recipes call for you to split the dough into 8-10 portions to roll out individually. But I prefer to easier method of rolling out all the dough and using a bowl to cut out 5-6 inch rounds. You can bake the scraps or re-roll them (this time I rolled the scraps into 3 individual pitot with not-so-round results).
Second rising and preheat oven. Allow the pitot to rise a second time for ~10 minutes. I do this on top of the oven as it preheats to 500º F. Heat cookie trays in the oven while preheating.
Bake. Pull a hot cookie tray out of the oven and quickly transfer half of the pitot onto it and return to the oven. Bake until all pitot have puffed to form pockets, 3-6 minutes. Repeat with remaining pitot.
Store. Pitot go stale pretty quickly, so the best way to store them is in in a bag in the freezer. You can reheat them for 20 seconds in the microwave after spritzing with a little water.