What makes Greek souvlaki so unique, juicy grilled meat aside, is, of course, the pita bread. The Greek pita resembles very much the Arabic flatbread, but unlike them, our pita breads are leavened. Their taste is neutral and pita are soft and flexible so that it can wrap around the grilled meat and tzatziki or home-made gyros I made last week. The best part about pita bread? It’s the easiest bread you will ever make.
Head straight to the recipe.
In Greece we love pita bread so much, it is unthinkable to have a BBQ without grilled pita bread or tzatziki. My first attempt on pita bread was in London, in a tiny kitchen. Greek pita, unlike the very popular Arabic flatbread is very hard to get by. You will need to go hunting to get a proper one. And whilst I love Arabic flatbread, using it for souvlaki is as close to sacrilege as any Greek can ever get.
The idea of the home-made pita bread came from the chef of the Olive tree, a small Greek taverna close to Arsenal station that is unfortunately long gone. The Olive tree was one of the very traditional Greek taverns where the owner would be the chef as well and the waiter would be the husband, family run in proper Greek style. The chef came out to meet and greet us and of course ask what we thought of the food. I for one couldn’t be happier to get the real Greek souvlaki. In our brief chat, she fleetingly mentioned she is making her own pita breads. I felt the light bulb lighting up, why hadn’t I thought of this before? She quickly told me the process, one of the easiest things and she also shared a little secret: you have to get the best flour you can get your hands on. Tip noted and experiments commenced. Fluffy, soft and flexi pita breads was one supermarket trip away.
To be truthful you need so little to make pita breads, not even a trip to the shops is necessary. Pita breads hold the bare basics of any kitchen: strong flour, salt, water, milk and of course yeast. My first attempt, I admit was not the most successful. In my haste to make them, I didn’t allow the yeast to work properly. Not that the result was disappointing, it just resembled more a flatbread than a fluffy pita bread. To avoid this, treat your yeast with love and mainly warmth. Fast action yeast needs 30 minutes to 2 hours to get activated and leaven the dough. My tip for success and the added bonus of accelerating the process is the oven. Switch it on on the lowest temperature for 10-15 minutes, whilst you are preparing the dough. Once the mix is ready, switch off the oven and let the dough rest in its warmth. The pita bread dough is going to double in size within half an hour.
Below, I share the basic pita bread recipe that can proudly accompany souvlaki or dips. Don’t hesitate to experiment with herbs and spices. I have a soft spot for fresh thyme and oregano leaves, which are really great when mixed in the flour. Definitely check the cupboards for black sesame seeds or poppy seeds, a teaspoon is more than enough to get things a little more interesting. If, however, you forget whilst making them, don’t worry, a light dusting of sweet paprika or the classic salt and dried Greek oregano will still work wonders.
Ingredients (for 6 pita breads)
- 350 gr strong flour, plus extra for dusting
- 15 gr fast action yeast (or double the amount fresh yeast)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tspns sugar
- 2 tspns olive oil
- 150 ml milk
- 100 ml water (lukewarm)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, yeast, salt and sugar.
- Slowly start integrating the water, milk and olive oil. You should get a supple dough that comes away from the sides of the bowl.
- Leave the dough in a warm place to rest and rise until it has doubled in size (30 min -2 hours)
- Once the pita bread dough has risen, lightly dust a surface and cut in 6 pieces.
- Using a rolling pin, roll out each dough ball in 20 cm rounds, approximately 5mm thick. Turn the dough clockwise to achieve the round shape. Then, lightly score with a knife or pinch each pita with a fork.
- Heat up a skillet, brush with a bit of olive oil and cook the pita bread on medium heat for 3 minutes each side.
- Use immediately for your souvlaki or dips. Alternatively you can store the pita in airtight bags to keep them moist.
From Athens with love,