Pita and hummus. Two simple foods that were such a revelation to me back in middle school when I first discovered that these foods existed. Compared to my otherwise very traditional American diet, this strange flatbread dipped in an unfamiliar bean spread seemed exotic.
I couldn’t get enough of this dynamic duo and my usual lunch of PB&J with a Granny Smith apple got replaced with pita, raw veggies, and hummus. I thought I had everything on the pita-hummus front figured out until I actually went to a Greek/Middle Eastern restaurant and was introduced to more authentic fare.
Instead of the stiff, dry disk of bread with an unusually perfect pocket found in grocery stores, I was presented with a warm chewy flatbread filled with yeasty pockets of air. Love at first bite.
This became my ideal flatbread, but I was constantly disappointed by store-bought and homemade versions. I accepted that my flatbread enjoyment would have to be isolated to visits to my favorite Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants.
Finally, after much research, I found a recipe that mimics the flatbread of my dreams and now I regularly enjoy this treat at home. This simple (for a yeast bread) recipe yields a chewy texture and a great yeasty flavor elevated by toasty notes from being perfectly grilled on a cast iron skillet.
You know when you are on to something good when your family frequently requests a dish you have made and that is just what happened after I made this recipe for my family the first time. My dad loves this bread and has even trekked across international lines with it in tow for a midday pick-me-up.
A few notes on this lovely recipe. This flatbread is not “pita” per se, it is more akin to the Indian flatbread, naan, and is not intended to be stuffed and made into a sandwich. If you are a gyro fan (which you should be), this would be the perfect bread to wrap around all that juicy, sizzling lamb.
The bread gets it’s chewiness from bread flour. While all-purpose flour will work if you are in a pinch, the extra trip to the grocery store to buy bread flour definitely is the key to perfecting this recipe.
There is a smidge of yogurt in the recipe. When cooking with yogurt, I prefer to use a Greek style yogurt like Fage. Get the plain version for this recipe of course.
If you aren’t much of a baker and the idea of making homemade bread brings on anxiety, I really encourage you to try this recipe. There are no tricky steps and the time commitment is much less than the typical bread (the rise time is only 30-45 minutes). In general, I find this recipe easy to catch-on to and a joy to make.
The bread turns out best when grilled on a hot cast-iron skillet. If you don’t have one, just use your best non-stick skillet.
I typically serve the flatbread with homemade hummus, Greek salad, and some sort of grilled chicken. This week I presented it with Turkish Spiced Chicken Kebabs with Pomegranate Relish and Tahini Yogurt from the latest issue of Bon Appetit (pictured below). It was superb and it gave me a chance to use my new mortar and pestle!
Enjoy! I think you will fall in love too.
Chewy Pan-Grilled Flatbread
Makes Eight 6- to 7-inch Breads
Adapted from the Baking Illustrated cookbook
Note: if you don’t think you can go through all eight of these flatbreads, you can keep the dough in the refrigerator for a couple of days, pinch of how much dough you are going to use, let it come to room temperature, and then cook as instructed in recipe.
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
2 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting counter
1 cup water, at room temperature
1/4 cup Greek style plain yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for oiling bowl
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast, sugar, salt, whole-wheat flour, and bread flour and mix with paddle attachment until blended, about 15 seconds. Add the water, yogurt, and olive oil and mix on low speed until a shaggy dough forms, about 30 seconds. Replace the paddle with the dough hook and knead the dough on medium speed until smooth and glossy, about 8 minutes, adding more flour in 1-tablespoon increments if necessary for the dough to clear the sides of the bowl (the dough will stick to the bottom of the bowl). Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. (This can all be mixed together by hand and then kneaded on a floured work surface for 12-15 minutes)
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a draft-free spot until the dough has doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. (At this point the dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days)
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkle lightly with flour. Used a chef’s knife to cut the dough into eight equal portions. Roll each portion on the work surface to form a round ball. Roll each ball into a 4-inch circle, let rest for 10 minutes, then roll into a 6-inch circle.
Five to 10 minutes before cooking the flatbreads, heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Working one at a time, lift the dough circles, gently stretch about 1 inch larger, and place on the skillet (I like to hear it sizzle a bit). Cook until small bubbles appear on the surface of the dough, about 30 seconds. With tongs, flip the bread and cook until the bottom is speckled and deep golden brown in spots, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
Transfer to wire rack and let cool about 5 minutes. Wrap the breads loosely in a clean kitchen towel and serve warm.