Homemade Pitas & Hummus

Homemade Pitas & Hummus

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016071-homemade-pita-bread?login=email (* See footnote.)

The first time I watched someone make pita bread from scratch, I was totally enthralled. My roommate in my early 20’s, a cafe manager and avid baker, would make huge batches of pitas like it was no big deal. I’d never seen it in person, and found it totally magical: the rounds of flatbread dough are tossed onto a very hot pan in a very hot oven, and within a minute or two they puff up into perfect little balloons. It’s quite captivating, and even now having done it a few times myself, it still hasn’t gotten old.

So, the key feature of pitas is the hollow pocket that forms inside as they bake, perfect for stuffing with your favorite sandwich fillings. Why does pita dough puff that way, you ask? The key is to put fairly moist, thinly-rolled dough into a very hot oven. When you do that, a couple of things happen. First, the intense heat quickly starts to solidify the outer surfaces of the pita. At the same time, it penetrates to the center, turning the moisture inside the dough into steam. That steam expands and pushes outward from the interior as it forms. And because the outer surfaces have already baked a little bit, they are solid enough to stay intact as the steam pushes on them, forming the hollow pocket.

With that in mind, these are the keys to perfectly-puffing pitas:

1) Don’t work too much flour into the dough as you knead. Just dust it with barely enough to keep it from being completely unmanageable. Too much flour will soak up all the moisture you need to create steam at bake time.

2) Roll the dough out pretty thin. The NYT recipe says to go for 1/8”. I find that a little bit unattainable; 1/4” is also a reasonable goal, or somewhere in between. If it’s any thicker, the heat won’t penetrate to the center quickly enough.

3) Place the dough onto a pre-heated object of some kind in your very hot oven. A baking stone or cast iron skillet would be great options. I don’t have either of those, so I use a cookie sheet turned upside-down. (Turning it upside-down was my fiance’s suggestion; he thinks it traps more heat underneath, and it does seem to produce good results.) Also, don’t put the next batch into the oven at the same time you take the previous batch out. I have better luck if I close the door and let the pan reheat for about one minute in between batches.

And arguably, I’d say the fourth key is: if it doesn’t puff, don’t sweat it. Some won’t. This batch I made today was my best batch to date, and I’d still say about a third of the pitas have incomplete puffs. Doesn’t matter at all; they’re still delicious.

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So, once you have your delicious puffy pitas, you need something to put in them! I love making hummus from scratch; the hardest part is finding out where your grocery store keeps the tahini. From there, you just whizz everything together in a food processor, adjusting proportions to your taste and adding whatever extras you want. My current favorite recipe is Tori Avey’s:

http://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/2010/07/classic-hummus/

Tori Avey has done extensive research into the history of Middle Eastern cuisine; I definitely plan to try more recipes from her site in the near future. I’ve also used her tutorial on roasting red peppers (which, incidentally, are great to throw into this hummus if you have them on hand).

This recipe is a nice starting point with good proportions. I typically halve it, since two full cans of chickpeas make more hummus than I can eat in a reasonable amount of time. Or I should say, I halve everything except the garlic. Full disclosure: I love garlic. In the entire time I’ve been cooking, with all my numerous misadventures, I’ve yet to make a recipe that caused me to think, “Man, I put too much garlic into this.” (And I put a lot of garlic into things.)

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Looks about right.

But of course, this is the joy of making your own hummus – you can fine tune it according to your tastes. 😉

The point of making pitas & hummus this week is to have another way to enjoy your leftover chopped Greek salad. It’s a perfect pre-made sandwich filling; just add it to your pita along with some hummus and extra feta cheese for a quick & tasty dinner, lunch, or snack.

Deliciousness score: 8
Easiness score: 6

6.3 rating

* Note: This recipe from the New York Times does require a free account to view. I balked at this the first few times they hit me with it, but eventually signed up and haven’t regretted it; their cooking column is pretty interesting, if a bit aspirational. This isn’t an affiliate link or anything like that; I just like their pita recipe.

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Crispy Baked Onion Rings

Crispy Baked Onion Rings

http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2014/01/07/crispy-baked-onion-rings/

So this tasty side dish has been a favorite of my fiance’s and mine for a while now, because in theory, what’s not to like? Make-at-home onion rings, baked instead of fried, perfect with grilled burgers and healthier than the fast-food version.

In practice, while tasty, these are not quite as effortless as Sally makes them seem. There are two logistical complications which can be deal breakers, depending on your point of view. The first is that you have to plan ahead: the onions need to be soaked in buttermilk for at least 4 hours (and she suggests a minimum of 12). So if you want to make them, you basically have to plan for it the night before.

The second is that the breading doesn’t always adhere like you hope it will. These turn out pretty tasty even if the breading isn’t perfect, so don’t let that scare you away. But do be prepared to get frustrated during the breading process. I’ve made these about three times now and still haven’t gotten it perfect, so definitely let me know if you discover the secret, but the best advice I can offer is this:

– Don’t over-beat your egg whites. I whipped them too long this time, until they turned quite white & foamy, and I don’t think I was supposed to do that. Stop when they’re just lightly foamy and they will be stickier.

– Split your bread crumb mixture into two separate bowls. I had issues with the bread crumbs absorbing liquid from the onion rings and getting gummy. The first onion rings had nice, even breading, but as the mixture got wetter, they got progressively worse. If you split it into multiple bowls, the second bowl will stay dry, and you can switch over once your first bowl is too gummed up.

As you can see from this photo, the first rings on the cookie sheet look pretty okay. Toward the end, as the breading got gloopier, I started taking the smaller, bowl-shaped onion rings and sort of packing the breading down into the middle. Like onion ring donut holes, if you will.

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I sprayed everything with a healthy dose of cooking spray and baked as directed, 15 minutes on each side. Even though I was cautiously optimistic about the breading, you can see that mine did not come out as lovely and golden-brown as Sally’s. I’ll blame it on the fact that I’m still getting used to my new oven; it does run hot, and I ended up with some deeply-browned areas and some barely done at all. Next time I will try a lower temperature for a shorter time (and possibly a bit more oil), and try to get it to cook more evenly.

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That said, they were still a tasty side dish, great with any dip and perfect if you need something to fit in with a summer barbecue but want to cut down on fat. Even though this batch wasn’t a total home run for me, I’d still say they’re worth a try.  Sally is one of my favorite go-to recipe authors, and I usually have excellent results with her baked goods, often on the first try.  For this reason, I’m willing to assume I just need to fine-tune the process a little until it turns out perfectly.

If you give it a try, let me know how it goes!

Note: if you’re cooking along with this week’s menu, you’re going to save a couple of things from this recipe.  It calls for egg whites – don’t throw out the yolks!  Save them in an airtight container in the fridge; they’ll be used in a fantastic brunch on Saturday.

Also, after you take the onions out of the buttermilk, don’t throw away the buttermilk! There’s a lot of oniony goodness there; save it in an airtight container in the fridge, and you can use it to make delicious savory onion-cheese biscuits later in the week. Stay tuned for that review on Friday.

Deliciousness score: 6/10
Easiness score: 6/10

5.3 rating