The Food Column: Homemade pita makes everything better.


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Pita makes any sandwich better.

I like its chewy texture better than airy sandwich buns, and the pocket lends itself so well to all kinds of creative fillings: roasted veggies and cheese, egg salad, chicken salad with thinly sliced apples. Even plain lunchmeat and lettuce taste better in a pita pocket. And in the summer, you can grill a regular old burger, put it in a pita and turn it into a Mediterranean specialty.

Problem is, pita is so darn expensive in the grocery store.

Paging through a book awhile back, I saw a recipe for pita and decided to give it a try at home.

If I’d realized how simple it is to make, I’d have been eating pita sandwiches for lunch every day for the last decade.

Granted, you need a chunk of time at home. If you’re a family that rushes home from work and runs around to kids’ activities every day, this might not be the project for you.

But if you do have a few hours at home, you don’t have to devote yourself to pita making for the entire time. Just arm yourself with a kitchen timer so you remember the rising and punching-down cycles, and then go off and do your laundry.

One of my favorite recipes for pita sandwich filling isn’t really a recipe at all, so I’ll just describe it here: Put some shredded chicken (or even drained canned chicken) in a bowl. Add a combination of mayo and sour cream (reduced-fat versions of both work fine) – just enough to moisten the chicken a little. Add a couple shakes of salt, pepper and paprika. Finely mince some celery, green onions and fresh parsley and toss those in, too. Stir it all up, stuff your pita and then jam in some cucumber slices, baby spinach, bell-pepper strips or whatever veggies you like.

Yum, this is making me hungry. Now if only my KitchenAid mixer hadn’t broken last month…

Oh well. I may be on temporary pita hiatus, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. The recipe accompanies this column.

Ethnic

Brisas del Caribe: Una Noche en San Juan: Traditional Puerto Rican dinner and drinks, live music and art. 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, July 12, at Most Wanted Fine Art, Garfield. Free. cafeconlechepgh.com.

Bake sale 

“Wrapped in Love” Bake Sale: Proceeds help to provide handmade blankets to chemotherapy patients in the Pittsburgh area. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, July 18, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 19, at Crafton Public Library. wrappedinlovefoundation.org.

Festivals

National Ice Cream Day Celebration: Live music, face painting, giveaways, games, crafts, ice cream eating contest. 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, July 20, at Bruster’s, 9600 Perry Hwy., Ingomar. Free admission. brustersingomar.com.

Rib & Wing Festival: Ribs and wings, live music, crafters, beer garden and children’s activities. 4 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 25; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m Saturday, July 26; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 27, at Seven Springs. $7 for adults; free for children ages 11 and under. 7springs.com/events/rib-wing-festival.

Sewick’s Chicks: Behind-the-scenes, self-guided tour of the backyard chicken coops of Sewickley. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 31, starting at Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley. $10 for adults; free for children ages 12 and under. theitaliangardenproject.com.

Flat Bread (Pita)

1 tablespoon yeast

1¾ cups water, approximately 110 degrees

4⅖ cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

Place the yeast and warm water in the bowl of your mixer. Wait until yeast begins to activate, approximately 15 minutes. It will change color and begin to bubble. Add the flour to the yeast mixture. Then add the rest of the ingredients.

Mix with the dough hook for 5 minutes. Start on the slowest speed to keep the flour from splashing out of the bowl and then increase the speed to medium slow. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes and then mix for another 5 minutes. The dough should be slightly sticky and springy to the touch. Add flour 1 tablespoon at a time if dough is too sticky or water if it is too dry.

Remove and place in a large bowl. Cover with kitchen towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise until it doubles in size, approximately 1 hour. Punch down the dough, cover and allow to rise a second time. After the second rise, turn out on a floured surface and knead for approximately 20 seconds. Divide the dough into 10 to 12 balls and cover with the kitchen towel or greased plastic wrap. Allow to rise until doubled, an additional hour.

Place a pizza stone, oven bricks, or a thick baking pan in the oven. Preheat to the highest temperature, usually 500 degrees. Roll out each ball of dough on a floured surface until it is 7 or 8 inches in diameter. Using a pizza peel or the back of another baking sheet dusted with flour, slide several pitas onto the baking surface. In several minutes they will puff and then begin to brown. (Watch closely so they don’t burn.) Take out of the oven and stack on a cloth kitchen towel. Fold the towel over the top of the pitas or cover with another towel so the bread continues to steam as it cools. Makes 10 to 12 pieces of flat bread.

-- “The Food and Feasts of Jesus” by Douglas E. Neel and Joel A. Pugh (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012)

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