At a young age my Mom introduced me to an eye opening and exotic cuisine, Middle Eastern/Greek food. I grew up in Spokane, WA and Olive Garden was about as far as we’d travel on the global cuisine map. On a sketchy corner somewhere in East Spokane was a divey little drive-in style, fast food joint called Azar’s. Unlike most of the homogenous chain restaurants that pepper Spokane, this place had character; in both grime and flavor.
It was here that I tried my first Gyro or jy-ro as I pronounced them, beef of course (lamb was unfathomable at 10 years old). As a lifelong hater of mayo, I instantly fell in love with it’s older, mysteriously tangy cousin, tzatziki. I had my first taste the strangest and most exotically spiced food I’d ever laid eyes on, falafel. These foreign flavors were all so new and exciting to me, I wasn’t even sure what I was eating but I knew this was something special.
When it came to food preferences as a kid, I had strange taste. I never cared for McDonald’s or hamburgers in general, I liked my PB and J’s sans J, fish sticks turned my stomach, and anything with mayo was enough to make me go on a hunger strike that would last well into the next day. I was often called a picky eater but looking back, I believe I was a conscious eater. I had valid preferences and an underdeveloped palette. Had falafel and freshly chopped Greek salad been on the menu at school, I surely would have licked my plate clean and gone back for seconds.
Over the years I have learned a thing or two about Greek cuisine. Saganaki is the ultimate in flaming foods, pita bread and tzatziki sauce are the best snack ever created, and learning to make authentic Greek baklava, from my dear pal Yiorgi, is one of my favorite recipe memories of all time. In addition the the baklava, he casually taught me how to prepare tzatziki sauce, years ago. I have since developed my own go-to version and now I am excited to share my favorite combination of recipes, Pita Bread with Tzatziki Sauce. The tangy and addictive tzatziki sauce can be whipped up in 8 minutes flat and is heavenly when combined with warm, freshly made pillowy pita bread. The pita bread is less work than you’d think and makes such a big diff. This recipe for Pita Bread with Tzatziki Sauce can be prepared alone as a snack or enjoyed as a base to a gyro, falafel or hearty Greek salad.
While I ate my fair share of white bread and fast food, I am grateful for those special times that my Mom and I would forgo the overwhelming proliferation of chain restaurants and try a local hole in the wall. We had our favorites and some still stand today. Unfortunately, Azar’s as I know it, doesn’t seem to exist anymore. But, it looks like the Azar family has stepped up their culinary game and now have a proper restaurant space. I’ve never been to the new restaurant so I can’t attest to the quality or authenticity of their food but I’d love to give it a try on my next trip to Spokane. It’s been 20 something years since I had the original, and who knows if it was actually good, but the experience of tasting an entirely new and exotic cuisine as a ten year old was priceless.
Puff Puff, pass! It’s like magic.
- Greek yogurt - 2 cups
- cucumber - 1 medium sized
- fresh dill, finely chopped - 2 heaping tablespoons
- fresh garlic, finely minced - 1-2 cloves
- lemon juice, freshly squeezed - 1/2 of medium lemon
- salt - 1 teaspoon
- black pepper - 1/2 teaspoon
- all purpose flour - 2 3/4 cups
- water - 1 cup
- active dry yeast - 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons)
- salt - 2 teaspoons
- olive oil - 1 1/2 teaspoons
- sesame oil (optional) - 1/2 teaspoon
- Begin by peeling, deseeding and grating 1 medium sized cucumber.
- Place the grated cucumber onto a cheesecloth or other thin (non-linty) dish towel and wrap and twist until the grated cucumber is fully wrapped. Gently squeeze the liquid from the wrapped cucumber until dry-ish. Set aside. (I like to reserve the cucumber juice and add it to water for a refreshing drink.)
- In a medium bowl; mix together yogurt, squeezed cucumber, lemon juice, dill, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours to allow the flavors to develop.
- Warm the water up to 106° - 110°, if water is too cold the yeast wont activate, if it's too hot the yeast will die. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the water and yeast together, and let sit for about 8-10 minutes until the yeast is dissolved and begins to bloom.
- Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour (saving the last 1/4 cup for adjustments), salt, olive oil and sesame oil (if you aren't using sesame oil, just substitute with olive oil).
- Using a stand mixer with a dough hook, knead the dough on a medium - medium/high speed for about 7-10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. If the dough seems too sticky after kneading for a few minutes; add remaining flour 1 tablespoon at a time. But add sparingly, you don't want to dry out the dough.
- Turn dough onto a smooth surface and shape into a round ball. Clean the bowl and lightly oil with olive oil. Place the dough ball in the oiled bowl and lightly cover with a clean dishcloth or plastic wrap. Place in a warm area and allow the dough to rise, it should double in bulk after about and hour and may take up to two hours.
- (At this point, you can refrigerate the pita dough until it is needed. You can also bake one or two pitas at a time, saving the rest of the dough in the fridge. The dough will keep refrigerated for about 5 days.)
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently deflate. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, I like using a kitchen scale for accuracy during this process. Gently roll each piece into a ball and flatten into a thick disk. Lightly sprinkle the disks with a little more flour and cover them with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap wrap until you're ready to cook them.
- Using a rolling pin, roll one of the dough disks into a circle 8" wide, about 1/4" thick. Lift and turn the dough frequently as your roll to to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface. Sprinkle with a little extra flour if its starting to stick. If the dough starts to spring back, set it aside to rest for a few minutes, then continue rolling.
- Repeat with the other pieces of dough. (Once you get into a rhythm, you can be cooking one pita while rolling the next one out.)
- Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until a few beads of water sizzle on contact. Drizzle a little oil in the pan and wipe off the excess so it isn't greasy.
- Lay a rolled-out pita on the skillet and bake for 30 seconds, until bubbles begin to form. Quickly flip the pita and cook for 1-2 minutes on the other side, until large toasted spots appear on the underside. Flip again and cook for another 1-2 minutes to toast the other side. The pita should start to puff up at this point; if it doesn't (or if only small pockets form), try pressing the surface of the pita gently with a clean towel.
- Keep cooked pitas covered with a clean dishtowel while cooking any remaining pitas. Repeat until all pitas are cooked.
- Serve warm pita bread with fresh and zesty tzatziki sauce.
- Recipe adapted from The Kitchn - How To Make Pita Bread at Home .
- Pitas are best when eaten immediately after cooking, yum! Leftover pitas will keep in an airtight bag for several days and can be eaten as they are or warmed in an oven. Baked pitas can also be frozen with wax paper between the layers for up to three months.
- Storing the Dough: Once it has risen, the pita dough can be kept refrigerated until it is needed. You can also bake one or two pitas at a time, saving the rest of the dough in the fridge. The dough will keep refrigerated for about 5 days.
- Pitas That Won't Puff: Sometimes you get pitas that won't puff, no big deal. The problem is usually that the skillet isn't hot enough. Be sure the skillet is thoroughly hot before cooking. Even if the pitas don't puff, they still taste splendid.