Pita PartyPosted: April 13, 2010
Growing up, I didn’t know the slightest thing about Mediterranean cuisine. I had never heard of dolmas, there was no knowledge of falafel in my house and had no idea what hummus was or what it even could be. In fact, the word “hummus” sounded like something akin to the plaster used in drywall. The word “tahini” sounded like an exotic, Caribbean island. When I got to college, my very first roommate (and I would have to say best) Rachel, taught me a thing or two about international dining. I had my first taste of pita and falafel at a tiny restaurant in Flagstaff called “Mountain Oasis.” Not a top notch restaurant, but their famous “Mediterranean Plate” was the beginning of a very long love affair. I immediately fell head-over-heels for the spices and flavors of the Mediterranean. Luckily, I was not alone.
As we were smart, inquisitive young women, we did what any nerdy scholar would do when faced with a new obsession: we read books. This was the time when I began my cookbook collection and unlike so many people who flip through and drool, we actually cooked from the cookbooks. Well, Rachel cooked from the cookbooks and I mostly ate whatever she cooked.
Rachel learned to make every possible Mediterranean dish she could find. I remember coming home to a giant bag of fermenting dough in the fridge, waiting to be patted out into pita, and dolmas steaming on the stove and filling the apartment with the smell of lemon and grape leaves. Our other roommates decided to throw a “Greek” party and instead of a blow-out, drunken, college rager the likes of Animal House, we researched Greek dishes, lounged around in our togas made from sheets and gorged on pita and feta (and I think at this time me and Rachel were vegan and I had made fake feta from frozen tofu dressed with balsamic). Oh the times we had in the kitchen.
I still have not learned to make pita from scratch. I generally shy away from making my own breads. I know I’m not supposed to admit that on this here food blog, but making bread from scratch is my idea of hell. The same way that I wouldn’t want to grind my own sesame seeds for tahini, or pick my own sugar beets, boil them down and process them into granules for my own sugar. Some things are better left to other people. I love a classic pita and I have to say that homemade pita is the most delicious bread possible, soft and chewy. I would even say that Rachel’s homemade pita is better than French pain au levain. Seriously. But if you don’t have several hours of free time, or the inclination to deal with that strange biological mass known as yeast, then just pick up some quality pita at the grocery and don’t think too much about what you might be missing.
Roasted Vegetables for Pita:
1-2 zucchini, I like to slice on the diagonal
1 red pepper, sliced into strips
1/2 red onion
2Tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt and pepper
Pre-heat oven to 450. High heat is necessary to carmelize the vegetables. Toss the veggies in a 9×9 baking dish and coat with oil and spices. Cook for 18-20 mins until browned. (Honestly, I don’t think a recipe is necessary for this, but I feel obliged).
1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
3 gloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon parsley, finely chopped (optional)
Mix tahini, garlic and salt. Add olive oil, lemon juice and parsley. I find this is better made in a food processor or blender. You can thin with a bit of water but be careful, water will make the oils in the tahini coagulate and turn into a lumpy mess.
You can add feta, shredded lettuce or cabbage, pickles, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, just about anything to your pita. It never gets old.
Pita sandwiches are still a reliably healthy, quick meal. Even after arriving home from the dirty, smelly, Chicago subway at 8:30 in the evening, I can still muster the strength to roast some veggies and whip up a bowl of tahini sauce for a satisfying pita pocket. It’s true that I have never actually been to the Mediterranean, and for all I know my pitas are on par with the American PB&J. I honestly don’t get too hung up on authenticity. When it’s good, it’s good. There will always be a place in my heart for (Americanized) Mediterranean.