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.