When we think of Pita varieties, our choices are usually white or whole wheat. Truth is, there’s a few more varieties than that of this Eastern Mediterranean flat bread which started becoming popular in West in the 1980s: there’s Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Egyptian, Israeli, Syrian, Indian… and more. The Pita we that we associate with Pita is an Arabic version: a flat, round bread, about 7 inches (18 cm) wide, with two sides to it that open up to form a pocket to hold fillings. Some of the other varieties, though, are just a single layer of dough, with no interior pocket.
We tend not to think of Pita as being a yeast-risen bread because if any of our yeast breads turned out that flat, we’d go crazy. But though the recipe will vary slightly from region to region, the common ingredients tend to be yeast, flour, salt, water and sugar.
The pocket forms during baking at high temperatures — usually 500 F (260 C.) The high temperature seals the outside of the dough, and the yeast gas and the steam get trapped inside, forming a pocket in the dough making a top and bottom layer. Single layer flat breads are cooked at much lower temperatures, precisely to avoid that happening.
Pitas are quite fiddly to make, and chances are you wouldn’t do much better than the many varieties now available in stores. Make them if you have special dietary needs to cater for, such as knowing exactly how much sugar and salt is in play, etc.
Pitas are best served warm if you are serving them as bread to accompany a meal, otherwise room temperature is best if you are using them as sandwich wraps or as chips for a hummous dip.
Leftover Pitas make excellent bread crumbs.
To make your own Pita chips (about 6 dozen), brush 12 Pitas with an oil and herb mixture of your own making or choosing. Cut each Pita into 8 triangles, spread out on a baking sheet, and toast for 7 minutes in an oven preheated to 400 F /(200 C). Don’t wander away towards the end as they will burn easily, and if they look brown and crispy before the 7 minutes are up, get them out anyway.
To make Pita Pockets for stuffing, simply cut a small portion of the tops off the Pita breads. You can eat the tops or dry them for bread crumbs. To make Pita halves for stuffing, just cut them in halve. Whichever way you have gone, you then gently separate the two sides from each other to open up the space inside.
To heat pockets or halves, either zap them in the microwave for 30 seconds, or wrap in tin foil and heat in oven, toaster oven or in barbeque at about 350 F / for 3 minutes or until warm and soft.
Pita freeze very well; and thaw in about 5 minutes when heated in a toaster oven.
Pita has become a generic word for round flat breads. It actually comes from the Greek word “pitta”, with two t’s, meaning apparently thin flat layers.
The Indian version is spelt “nan” or “naan”; there seems to be no agreed English spelling, though most Indian restaurant menus seem to spell it “nan”.