In the Middle East, as in the rest of the world, bread is the staff of life.
Sophisticates frown, but those who eat with gusto enjoy flatbreads with every meal, tearing off pieces to scoop up morsels of this or that, dip into dressings and soak up sauces.
Sometimes they fill the pockets with, say, shish kebabs, a salad or one of the many delish bean dishes that are eaten at any time of the day, including breakfast.
As well as stuffing them, whole or halved, with anything you fancy, you can dollop a filling in the centre and make foldovers.
Fillings start with something simple like ham and avocado, blue cheese and celery or cheese, tomato and lettuce - anything that you would put in a sandwich plus a suitable dressing.
The sky's the limit with hot fillings: try carrots, chickpeas and cumin, garlicky mushrooms with parsley or refried beans with sour cream.
Occasionally I use readymade pitas and refresh them in the microwave just before using, but they are never as good as the ones you make yourself.
I have to admit that today's recipe requires some effort; on the other hand, to paraphrase Elizabeth David, good food is always worth the bother.
A version of totally moreish flatbreads baked for us by Egyptian friends in Algeria, I usually make it before a barbecue. Stuffed with a lamb kebab and topped with tabbouleh and hummus, it is "up there" for gloriously messy and delicious eating. Like all such breads it does not keep, but does freeze well.
WHOLEMEAL PITAS (makes about 12)
250g wholemeal flour
250g white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried yeast
good pinch of sugar
2 Tbsp canola or sunflower oil
about 250ml water
Method: Put the flour into a large mixing bowl with the salt, yeast and sugar, mix to combine, and make a well in the centre.
Add 1 Tbsp of the oil and the water and mix, first with a spoon and then your hands, to make a soft dough.
Dust your hands with flour, tip the dough on to a lightly floured work surface and knead rhythmically for about 10-12 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to your hands.
Sprinkle the bottom of the bowl with the remaining oil and roll the ball of dough in the oil until lightly covered (to prevent the surface drying).
Cover bowl with a tea towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place for 2 hours or until the dough has nearly doubled in size.
Tip dough on to the work surface, punch it down with your fist until much reduced in size and knead it again for a couple of minutes.
Divide into 12 portions and roll evenly on a floured surface with a floured rolling-pin until they are about 4mm thick and about 10cm across.
Transfer to 2 greased baking trays (a good distance apart as they spread), cover with a cloth and leave to rise again in a warm place for 20 minutes.
Heat oven to 220 degrees Celsius and bake until the bread puffs up; depending on your oven this will take 12-15 minutes.
Remove from oven and cover with a tea towel (to keep them soft) until cool.
Variation: Sprinkle with dried oregano or finely chopped fresh thyme before baking.
- The Southland Times