A harvest of flavors and textures: soft, warm pita; crunchy chopped salad

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A few months ago, we posted a blog written by a friend of mine, Dani, detailing her daughter’s wedding, and the gluten-free cake she baked for it.

The couple was married in the bride’s hometown here in America; then traveled to Israel for a second ceremony, in the groom’s native country.

Wouldn’t you know it? Out of that ceremony came the inspiration for another blog – this one focusing on one of the memorable foods Dani enjoyed in Israel.

Dani and her significant other, Mike, couldn’t stop raving about the golden pita bread served at every meal, usually with a simple salad of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers.

“This is like no pita bread you’ll ever buy at the store,” enthused Mike.

What makes this pita special? Could it be that it’s homemade, and eaten hot, just minutes out of the oven?

Let’s find out.

Dani came back with both tales of delicious meals, and photos. Here’s the view from the wedding site, overlooking the city of Karmiel.

Dani found a woman making pita bread at an outdoor oven. The pita on the table had risen for a while, and was ready to go into the oven.

Dani watched as the pita went onto a hot stone in the oven, and was turned once.

It was taken out and painted with a variety of olive oil/garlic/tomato/chopped olive toppings.  As Dani said in the email accompanying this photo: “YUMMMY!!!”

Further quizzing revealed that this was probably a whole wheat pita, and that it was usually served with a simple yet superb salad made of chopped tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, and olive oil.

Hey – this sounds very approachable, right? Let’s replicate it.

First, the whole wheat pita.

We’ll start with King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour on the left, and King Arthur Organic 100% White Whole Wheat Flour on the right.

Our white wheat is lighter and milder-tasting than our Premium Whole Wheat Flour. Use it when you want mild (rather than full-bodied) whole wheat flavor.

Put the following in a bowl:

1 3/4 cups (7 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Organic 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 to 1 1/8 cups lukewarm water*
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons olive oil

*Use the greater amount in winter or in a dry climate; the lesser amount in summer or a humid climate.

Why the orange juice? Just a little trick we learned while writing our Whole Grain Baking cookbook.  Orange juice smooths out whole wheat’s flavor. But go ahead and substitute water if you don’t want to bother with the OJ.

Mix till the dough comes together…

…then knead to make a smooth dough. This should take about 7 minutes in a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large measuring cup, cover it, and let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes, till it’s just about doubled in bulk.

While the pita dough is rising, make the chopped salad.

Dani recalled that some versions of the salad included scallions and lemon juice, along with the tomatoes, cukes, and olive oil. So I gathered all the ingredients I might possibly need.

First, the tomatoes.

But, time out – here it is, the best $7.95 you’ll ever spend! This American-made tomato knife slices tomatoes better than any knife I’ve ever used. Its ultra-thin serrated blade glides through tomatoes like – well, like a hot knife through butter.

Yes, $7.95. And just in time for tomato season. Put it on your “next time I order” list.

I was a skeptic; now I’m a believer. I’m buying one of these for home…

Start with equal parts chopped tomatoes and chopped, unpeeled cucumbers. I’ve used 1 large tomato, and 1 medium-large cuke. Each measured about 2 cups chopped.

Toss the vegetables in a bowl.

Next, we’ll add salt.

When you’re preparing something with just four ingredients, you’d best be sure those ingredients are top-notch. If you have any fancy salt, now’s the time to use it.

I love this Fleur de Sel. Unlike table salt, its flavor is absolutely pure; not a hint of that metallic taste iodized salts sometimes carry.

See how coarse it is, compared to table salt? You’d think it would be crunchy; but I found that it dissolved quickly, and I actually used less Fleur de Sel than I would normal salt. Maybe it’s extra-salty?

Sprinkle the tomatoes and cukes judiciously with salt. I probably used a heaping 1/8 teaspoon – really, that’s all. If you’re using table salt, you might want to use more. But err on the side of not-enough. Remember, you can always add more; it’s tough to take it away.

Drizzle in your favorite olive oil. How much? Just enough. This is one of those “play it by mouth” recipes. I’d guess I used about 2 tablespoons.

Toss to combine. Taste and adjust the salt.

At this point, you can add sliced scallions, and/or lemon juice to taste. I added both, just to see how it all tasted. Excellent.

OK, back to the pita.

Towards the end of the dough’s rising time, you’ll want to start preheating your oven to 450°F. If you have a pizza stone, set it on the bottom rack.

The dough is nicely risen. Who says whole wheat dough doesn’t rise well? Yeah, this is mixed with bread flour, but still – nice!

Gently deflate the dough.

Next, we’re going to divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Using a scale makes this easy.

Round the pieces into balls.

Cover the balls and let them rest for 10 minutes; this will make them easier to roll. A deli platter cover comes in handy – I keep one on top of the fridge here in the test kitchen.

Work with two pieces of dough at a time. Pull each into a rough disk…

…then roll into a 6” to 7” circle. Your goal is about 6”, once the dough stops shrinking.

A lightly greased silicone rolling mat is handy here.

Two dough disks, ready to bake.

Gently flop the pitas onto the hot stone.

Four minutes later, they might look like this.

Or, if your oven is TRULY at 450°F, they’ll look like this. The first two pitas I baked, the oven wasn’t quite up to temperature. What a difference 25° makes!

After 4 minutes, turn the pitas over. Bake for another 60 seconds.

Remove from the oven, and place on a cotton towel; this will help keep the pitas soft.

Next, choose your favorite flavored olive oil. I happen to like Moroccan Blend, with its oregano, chilies, fennel seeds, and cumin.

Brush the hot pita generously with the oil.

Oh, boy… lookin’ good, eh?

Pull the towel up around the pitas to keep them warm and soft.

Bake the remaining pitas, brushing them with oil while they’re hot.

We’re ready for the salad.

Tear the pitas into pieces…

And use them as a “mop” for the salad.

Warm pita, fresh-picked vegetables, olive oil… it just doesn’t get any better than this.

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Whole Wheat Pita with Middle Eastern Salad.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. lishy

    This looks fantastic, and I was trying to think what I would do with the glut of tomatoes and cukes we have here. Perfect! Plus I am trying to use tons more whole grains, so I don’t even have to adjust the recipe! Thank you for brightening my morning with a great recipe to try, some amazing pictures, and a terrific story to go with it, what a beautiful part of the world. I loved seeing the oven outside and all those beautiful pitas rising!

    Reply
  2. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez

    I love specially the whole grain pitas. I think they´re more rustic, and of course are better to our health. I love it´s smell, texture and specially if we use them with simple and delicious fillings and dipp them in such oils.
    The only difference is that i never tried orange juice as smoother and i ever add some raw sugar for sweetener.
    But your fleur de sal is always a good trick.
    The another common error is to lay some breads over others. If you do it, the part of breads that touched ons would become wet, shaggy. Never put the pitas to rest after they´d come from the oven one over another, set them pull apart never touching one with other.
    The another good recipe are a ´must `here in Brazil, Kebabs or wraped sandwiches deserves a nice post in this blog. Another suggestion, a good Italian bread…always a baker´s challenge!
    And don´t forget Barbari bread!
    Nice post as ever!

    Reply
  3. Judy

    PJ, I am just about crying tears of JOY! I miss the wonderful pita we had in Israel, and even Los Angeles. I remember going to a restaurant where this smiling Ethiopian boy was putting the pita into an outdoor oven. The bread was amazing!
    Now I live in the boonies, and I’ve been trying to get my pita to look like this. I’ll try your method, and I am so grateful. Thanks for the orange juice tip, maybe that will help.

    A MILLION THANKS!!!

    Reply
  4. kristilindgren

    I love this! I lived in Karmiel as an exchange student 20 years ago. I have such wonderful memories…sights, sounds, and oh! the smells and tastes! Thank you for bringing all of these back to me this morning. I know what we’re having for dinner.

    Reply
  5. Susan in CT

    Thanks for showing how to do this on a pizza stone. I tried homemade pita *once* using greased baking sheets (b/c parchment won’t take a 450–or was it 500?–degree oven) and ended up with lots of smoke in the house, plus a hard-baked coating on my favorite Chicago Metallic sheets that’s still there. :-(
    Now that I see how to do it on a stone, though, I may be tempted to try again.

    Reply
  6. yasmin66

    Being from Israel myself and having brought one of those ovens shown in the photos to Israel for the purpose of baking Pita bread, amongst other things, I can add some tips to this wonderful blog.
    Luckily for us in Israel, we can purchase wonderful pita bread in every supermarket. Very few people actually make it at home.
    Instead of topping the pita bread with various items after baking, we actually do it prior to baking – yes, just like a pizza.
    For the “real” Israeli-Arabic salad, try adding chopped parsley and mint. The “fresh factor” jumps up be ten fold.
    Bete’avon and Sakhtain!

    Reply
  7. Mark Wisecarver

    Bom Ricardo. My wife is from Brazil and we both have Lebanese family. I’ve been making the traditional breads since the early 60′s. One tip, higher heat. We always shoot for at least 540 degrees. 800 degrees is best but in a home oven crank it up.

    Reply
  8. LeeB

    I’ve been using Nancy Jenkins’ pita recipe from The Mediterranean Diet cookbook for years. It most closely replicates the pita we ate while in Turkey. I make a preferment with the whole wheat flour, water and yeast then let it sit six+ hours. Then it’s pretty much the same as your recipe to make it all come together. The extra time really impacts the flavor nicely and I don’t need to use the OJ to mellow the wheat.
    Also, re: the tomato salad – we really like some finely minced fresh mint and fresh oregano in ours. We serve it all along with fresh whole milk yogurt like they did in Turkey – mmmmmm!!!!!

    Reply
  9. Lanette Miller

    I made the pita’s and the salad tonight — I added some boiled shrimp, marinated in the same olive oil/lemon juice as the salad — it was the perfect dinner

    lanette

    Reply
  10. Rachel

    If we manage to not eat the entire batch of these as they come out of the oven, can we freeze and reheat them as needed? What would be the best way to do that?

    Yes, you could freeze them. Just remove them from the freezer and lightly toast them before eating! Kelsey@KAF

    Reply
  11. Lenore

    what are your thoughts on using a good canned tomato vs an off-season store bought one?

    Wouldn’t work texturally; but taste-wise it would be fine, Lenore. Depends if you’re more interested in taste or texture, in this case. PJH

    Reply
  12. lindadv

    How would the pitas be stored for a couple of days? Are they only good when fresh? They look like we could eat them all at once but that might be a bit too much for the two of us.

    They look yummy!

    You could wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store them in the freezer until you need them. Then lightly toast them before eating! Kelsey@KAF

    Reply
  13. one_percheron

    I love both of these recipes!!!
    I am lucky enough to have been able to travel to Israel and enjoyed the incredible array of fresh veggies and tremendously healthy food. Such a beautiful agarian countryside.
    And this is the pita recipe I use.. why would anyone ever use anything but a KAF recipe for bread stuff? ;)
    The pitas are perfect except for one problem: the thickness of the bread is not even on both sides of the pocket. The top is very thin, and the bottom is very thick… not a problem unless one wants to use it as a pocket bread… which is what we love to do. They look and taste great, and they do puff wonderfully…
    Any ideas why it would do this?

    I have this same issue with trying to make the perfect pocket, and no, I’m not sure what causes it, though I suspect it’s uneven heat, top and bottom. Commercial pita are baked on racks, I believe, which blast them with heat on all sides. You might try putting pita in the oven, cooking for just a minute or two, then turning, to even out the heat? PJH

    Reply
  14. lishy

    These are the best pita I have ever made, and I topped them with some zaatar spice. It went so well with the yummy salad, though I added some fresh parsley, since it reminded me of tabbouleh without the bulgur. We had it with some grilled beef chunks and it was a great dinner. One of the last summery meals on the deck till next year, since it was 36 degrees when we woke up this morning! Thanks for a great recipe!

    Lishy, 39°F here this morning – happy last day of summer! Glad you celebrated with some nice warm pita and fresh veggies- PJH

    Reply
  15. KimberlyD

    Your tomato knife looks like the one I bought from RADA which is USA made also. I love it!

    Could you freeze them before baking and only take out what you want that way they are fresh when you want them? I mean do everything but bake them? If so how long do you think the dough needs to unthaw before baking?

    You could try freezing the shaped rounds, Kimberly – I think that would work. You’d probably need to let them thaw for 30 to 45 minutes or so? Until they’re soft and pliable. PJH

    Reply
  16. dmurray407

    Both these recipes were great! I tried making pita years ago and was quite unsuccessful, these were perfect. I halved the recipe and it worked very well just to make 4 pitas. The salad was excellent as well. I will definitely be using both recipes again! My husband thought I had made Indian (Navajo) Fry Bread when he saw them. My fry bread recipe is quite similar except that it has a bit of honey in it (and it’s fried, not baked)-I wonder how these pitas would be with a touch of honey??
    Thanks for a yummy meal!
    Deb
    Honey on almost anything is good in my book! Elisabeth @ KAF

    Reply
  17. Aaron Frank

    Very cool. But what is your secret to getting whole wheat flour to rise? I’ve even tried baker’s dry milk in 100 percent whole wheat bread and I still cannot get a rise out of whole wheat flour.

    For Susan in CT parchment will work at 450 or 500 for a bit. I use it instead of cornmeal when I make pizza because the cornmeal makes an awful mess. The trick is to put the parchment in, then once the bread has set – only a couple of minutes – pull it out from under the bread. The bread is set enough so it won’t stick and the parchment is only lightly scorched where it wasn’t under the bread.

    This works up to about 650 and on a baking sheet or a pizza stone.

    Thanks,

    Aaron

    WW can be a challenge, certainly. That is why it is always good to have some white flour in conjunction with WW in yeast bread recipes. White flour will help with the rising. You could try allowing your dough to rest for 10-15 minutes before you knead. This will allow the bran in the WW to soften. The germ and the bran in WW are like sponges! Softening the bran will help in the kneading process and will help in the development of the dough. Elisabeth @ KAF

    Reply
  18. arathi

    thanks a lot for the recipe..i made it for the dinner!”and it was a soope hit!. and i was sooo bored to use my oven. instead i made it on regular crepes pan!! ;) it came out just as fluffy as the traditional one.oven baked :)

    Reply
  19. joanneblaine

    My young daughter enjoyed baking these with me (being extra careful when placing the pita on the pizza stone). The salad was just as tasty as the one we’ve enjoyed in the local syrian restaurant down the street from us. My daughter enjoyed both so much, she asked to have it packed in her lunch box the next day. I’ll be adding some hummus, and a melon fruit salad to make it a perfect meal!

    Sounds delicious, Joanne – and as you say, good for you, too. Thanks for getting your daughter off to a great start with healthy eating! PJH

    Reply
  20. haviva

    This looks lovely! I did not know it was so simple to make pita bread :-) As for the salad, you just need to add onions (red or white) and juice from one lemon! Then it will be super-authentic!

    Cool tip on the rolling mat. Happy pita-ing everyone!

    Reply
  21. peaceland

    Taking the pitas out of the oven now. PERFECT…I knew they would be! Taking them to a pool-side B-day gathering. Serving them with a layer Greek Salad. Lots of tomatoes and cucumbers long with some hummus and greek yogurt! I’m glad I read most of the post – picked up lots of good options to try!

    Glad to hear this went well for you – thanks for sharing your enthusiastic feedback here! PJH

    Reply
  22. k.g.mom

    Wonderful! I wanted pita bread to serve with chickpea burgers I was making for dinner. This recipe was very easy to make, I stirred together in a bowl and kneaded by hand. I let it rise in fridge until I was close to serving dinner. The pitas puffed beautifully in the oven – and they tasted great! Whole wheat is a definite bonus – trying to eat a little more healthy ;)

    Reply
  23. Jennifer

    The pita looks great, but I’m a little confused about the backstory. Doesn’t Dani have celiac disease? Why was she eating pita on her honeymoon (especially after that gluten-free wedding cake)? That must have been some truly delicious pita…

    Jennifer, it’s Dani’s daughter, the bride, who’s gluten-intolerant; not Dani, who happily eats all kinds of breads and crackers. :) PJH

    Reply
  24. bbiswas

    Just made them and served them with a made up version of Salad Niçoise. Didn’t have bread flour, so used 10 oz of the WWW flour, and 3.5 KAF AP flour. The dough was a bit on the wet side – but I left it like that. Had no problems with rising. My dough made nine pita breads – they were soft and delicious. I did not want to haul my pizza stone, so instead preheated the oven to 500F with my cast iron skillet. Slapped the pita on the skillet – it cooked just like a naan. Quick question about substituting completely with WWW flour – would the liquid amount need to be reduced? Thanks for another winning recipe in my household. My husband and I HAVE TO eat healthy – white flour is almost out. Alas – I am the card carrying member of the carboholic group!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi there,
      Great thinking on your feet with the cast iron. For the WWW, you may need to increase the liquid as WWW will absorb more than bread flour. It’s always a “play it by ear” situation, just use your bakers instinct. :) ~ MJ

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