Ingredient: Pita Bread

I don’t know that I have adequately stressed one critical essential to the Lebanese style of eating: whether it’s kibbeh, tabbouleh, hummus or just olives and labne on your plate, the thin, soft piece of bread in hand to scoop up your bite is just as important to making the party in your mouth as the rest of it is.

There’s Lebanese flat bread, which I grew up calling Syrian bread, and there’s pita bread (which we call kimaj, the English spelling of which has long dogged me). We’re not going to talk about the flat bread today because it’s a doctoral thesis in and of itself, and we will get to it soon enough. As for the pita bread, there are two types: the flat, thin style that is easily torn and has a chewy texture, and the thicker, spongy style used as a pocket for sandwiches. I have never gotten behind the thick, spongy pita and even have a kind of irritation about it. I don’t like it, and the thick pita is unfortunately the only pita to be found in most grocery stores, which is maddening because the thin pita is difficult to replicate at home. I got so worked up about the dearth of good pita at one point that I wrote an article about it for the Chicago Tribune. My hope was that places like Whole Foods would get with the program and start carrying better bread, but that was to no avail.

Thankfully I have moved back to Michigan, where there are so many of us that there is no question about the demand for and availability of thin-style Lebanese pita. Virtually all of it seems to come out of the Middle Eastern bakeries of greater Detroit like Beirut Bakery (whose web site announces: “Raw Kibbe Fridays!”), Al Shams Bakery, or Yasmeen.

Thin, soft all-natural pita bread is so good when it’s fresh that you’ll find yourself eating one for breakfast and needing nothing else with it. Just fold it up and get it in there as you walk out the door. As the baker at Middle East Bakery in Chicago told me in his classic Arabic accent when I interviewed him for my Trib article, “The bread is so good that I need nothing with it,” he said. “I eat the bread with the bread!”

We’re going to make a super easy, super delicious, Super Bowl-worthy appetizer with our pita this week. The recipe works great with thin or thick pita, so you can make it even if the good stuff isn’t anywhere to be found near you.

 

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16 Responses to Ingredient: Pita Bread

  1. Anne Saker says:

    Cousin, my father used to make Leb bread at home, liberally dusting the entire kitchen with flour but OMG that bread hot from the oven was as close to heaven as can be reached here on earth. Hope you’re well. xoxoxo

  2. Diane Nassir (My maternal grandmother was an Abowd) says:

    Oh yes, Syrian bread! I grew up in a small suburb of LA–no seasons, no snow, but plenty of cold fog rolling off the beautiful blue Pacific, inland, right into our house–so it was cold in the winter–On one Saturday of each winter month, my Dad would take us to the movies and drop us off, in our 1930s car (cars were very hard to come by after the war–so we always had an old, barely running car–a disjunctive image for LA, I know)–we would each get 50 cents, 25 for admission, a dime for popcorn, and each of us would save a nickel for the phone call home –letting it ring three times as a signal–then hanging up to retrieve the dime. The BEST part of the whole day was rounding the corner onto our humble little street, and the smell of my Mother’s bread would waft all the way up the street–we would bound out of the car and she would have timed it perfectly so that she was just taking the first loaf out of the oven as we threw open the screen door and ran into the house, and she would tear that loaf into three pieces and slather each with butter (the only time we ever had real butter) and put a piece into our outstretched, waiting hands, frozen from the cold. We would DEVOUR that bread–my Mother was the best cook of all the Syrian ladies in the LA community, her bread, her kibbeh, her tabooleh, her batlawi, all of it was to perfection! And the bread soothed our tummies and warmed our hands all at the same time, and the whole house smelled of that aromatic bread. Thank You Maureen for the memories you bring back to me of a beautiful, loving childhood in my parents’ home! As our mutual cousin Charlie Abowd says, “One of the ways our culture shows it love is through our food.” Blessings always.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      It’s all about the love, Diane!!! And the bread and butter. What I’d give to walk into your mama’s kitchen…. thank you for the beautiful story!

      • Diane Nassir (My maternal grandmother was an Abowd) says:

        Maureen, your writing brings those memories back into sharp relief for me, TY!!

  3. David says:

    Can you provide a recipe for this deliciously thin pita?

  4. azam says:

    please tell me how to make this thin style pita bread…i have search every where and tried each recipe but couldnt achieve this. all i can make is fat bita bread. please help

    • Maureen Abood says:

      I share your frustration, Azam! I am still in search of a very thin pita bread method. It seems impossible to achieve it at home. I will keep searching and will let you and everyone else know if and when I find it! Thanks for your comment!

  5. Patricia Abood says:

    I ran across your website looking for a thin chewy pita bread recipe. I see you must be still working on it since I don’t see a recipe for it. I’m wondering if the secret to making the bread is using a pita pot. I have not found one to buy in the US. Strange looking contraption but that’s what is used to make puffy pita.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Patricia, and thank you (my aunt is also Patricia Abood…)–I am not familiar with a pita pot but will investigate!

  6. Saad says:

    any success in exploration of recipe. I am also searching the recipe for a long time.

  7. SSimon says:

    This is exactly the type of bread that I am searching for a recipe for — you’re right that growing up in Michigan makes us spoiled when it comes to the best of thin pita style bread. Any chance you’ve mastered a recipe yet?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Well thanks–I am making pita and including it in my book, but it just doesn’t seem possible to get the bakery pita we love to come out the same without the special machinery they use to achieve it in the bakeries!

  8. Mrs. Ghazel says:

    Maureen, I echo your sentiment about pocket bread! The thick, old pita bread on the standard supermarket shelf is barely palatable. I live in a remote location, and true pocket bread is far away. :-( I attempted making it once years ago, and it was ‘OK’. I’m sure that whatever you come up with for a recipe will be far better than what is available in the grocery stores!

 

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