pita. in my mother's kitchen

i love my mother's kitchen. i call it my mother's kitchen instead of my parents' kitchen, though i suppose in fact it belongs to them equally, as does the rest of their wonderful house, but somehow the kitchen, the room in which i learned to dance and sneak raw cookie dough, the place i spent countless hours with friends eating late night snack concoctions i cringe just thinking about now, with the silky wooden cabinets behind which live endless cooking instruments of all sizes and materials and spices for every dish, with the cookbooks so old and trusted the binding is cracked, the yellowing pages marked with her unmistakable scrawl, with the cookbooks so new their contents have not been fully examined and properly judged, with the junk drawers full of unimaginable, useless wonders mixed in with old school photos and art supplies, with the counter i've sat on and laughed on and cried on and wiped clean and the bar stools that are never quite comfortable enough but no one cares because everyone just wants to be in this physical space, surrounded by the light and the warmth and the back splash she tiled herself in iridescent colors of joy because it is the space we are all most comfortable, happiest, where we feel protected and embraced, belongs to my mother. so it is no surprise that i am drawn to this room each time i am home for a visit, inspired and eager to create. and so it was on my most recent trip home. i was inspired enough, even, to attempt, for the first time, to make pita.

i used this recipe, which i loved for its simplicity because pita, when done right, is a simple, perfect food, delicious on its own, even better dipped in hummus. i changed it only slightly by increasing the salt by 1/4 teaspoon and mixing it all by hand. if you saw my mother's counter you'd want to make bread on it by hand, too.

ingredients for the pita:
4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 packets active dry yeast
1/2 cup and then 1 1/4 cups warm water
2 teaspoons sugar

to make the pita:
1. combine 1/2 cup warm water, yeast, and sugar and let it sit for about 5 minutes.
2. in a large bowl mix together the flour, salt, and olive oil until it's combined. make a well in the center of it and pour in the yeast mixture. add 1 1/4 cups warm water and mix with a fork until you're able to knead it by hand (you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook instead), which you should do for about 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and not too sticky. add flour as needed. put the dough in a bowl lightly coated with olive oil, cover it with a cloth napkin or tea towel, and let it rise until it doubles in size, which should take about 1 1/2 hours.
3. when the dough has risen, tear off handfuls of it and roll into 12 equal balls, each about the size of an orange. cover them again and let them rise for another 30 minutes.
4. when the 30 minutes are up, roll out the balls into circles that are about 1/4 inch thick. no need to measure them or make sure they are perfect circles. cover them again and let them rise another 30 minutes.
5. preheat the oven to 500 degrees F and place the dough circles on a sheet of tin foil on a rack centered in the oven. bake for about 6 minutes, or until the dough circles have puffed up and lightly browned and look like... well... pita! i baked them in three batches of four.

it's a long process, but when you rip into the fluffy bread and a little steam actually rises from the center, and you bite into it and it's chewy and the flavor is simple but you can still taste the hint of olive oil and salt, and then you dip it into the hummus and baba ghanouj and labane that your dad picked up from the lebanese place for dinner, you will know it was worth it.


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