"Bread is life." This is something my father always said, it always made a lot of sense to me. I love bread. I love its earthiness; the golden wheat stocks that form the most basic of crops, the living yeast, flavourful salt, precious oil, and life-giving water that mysteriously transform into soft, warm loaves.
Bread is something meant to be shared. No one makes only enough bread for one person--all recipes make enough to go around. In the Middle East, where I lived for many years, bread is eaten with every meal, traditionally making up your fork, plate, napkin and dinner as you dip into the various salads, dips and main dishes that are shared from central bowls. If an unexpected visitor shows up around a mealtime, it is no problem because there is always more bread that can split so no ones goes without.
In the Middle East, bread is deeply symbolic. It means life--it is the most basic commodity, and if you can't afford bread it means you can afford nothing. It is always torn becasue traditionally it is taboo to cut bread with a knife, for it is like you are cutting your own child. With whom you break bread is very important, for if you eat with someone you are committing yourself to their wellbeing. Reconciliaiton between enemies takes place over bread and tea.
Pita, or pocket, bread, is the most basic Arab bread. While it can be a little involved, the results are worth it! And you can make your own hummus to dip it in. Sahtayn! Or, to your health!
Pita Bread (Middle Eastern Pocket Bread)
2 pkg. dry active yeast
2 2/3 c. warm water
2 tsp. sugar
2 Tb. veg. oil
1 1/2 tsp. salt
7 cups flour
Dissolve yeast in water.
Stir in oil, sugar, salt and 4 cups of flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle. Knead until smooth and elastic on lightly floured surface (about 10 minutes). Let rise in greased bowl about 45 minutes (Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched).
Punch down. Divide into 12 parts. Shape into slightly flattened balls. Cover, let rise 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat cookie sheets. (It is important to place dough on heated sheets. I recommend baking on upside-down cookie sheet on bottom shelf of oven.)
On floured surface, roll each ball into a 6 - 7" circle, about 1/8 " thick, turning a quarter turn with each roll. Take care not to stretch or puncture dough.
Place 4 rounds on hot non-greased cookie sheets and bake 3-4 minutes until puffed and set. Turn over with spatula and brown 2 minutes more.
Remove from sheet with hot pad or turner, leaving sheet in oven to stay hot while rolling next batch. (Bake 1 batch before rolling the next.)
Place bread rounds on cloth and cover with another cloth while cooling (covering keeps them soft). When cool, store in plastic bags (in fridge if made ahead of time).
To serve, warm briefly in oven or microwave.
1 can garbanzos (chick peas)
1 or 2 large garlic cloves
1/4 c. tahini
3 tbs. olive oil
juice of 2 small lemons (or one large)
salt to taste
Drain half the liquid from the garbanzos. Put all the ingredients into a blender (put the garlic through a garlic press first). Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust by adding more tahini or salt.
To serve: spread on a flat dish, dribble olive oil over the surface and garnish with chopped parsley, paprika or sliced olives.
I usually double the recipe and adjust to my own taste.
Serve with pita bread.