Pita puts a pop into summer meals

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Perfect for picnic season, Israeli pita has become a staple in the American kitchen. At one time this versatile favorite was only obtainable in upscale gourmet shops or Middle Eastern groceries. Now, not only is it sold everywhere, but it comes in a variety of flavors and sizes.

In Israel it is typically served warm accompanied by hummus and tehina or filled with falafel and salad. A twist on tradition and a little creativity turns ordinary food into exotic fare when stuffed into a warm pita along with all the familiar relishes.

The pocket that is created while it bakes makes this bread a perfect edible container and makes any feast a portable one. If you’re ambitious, the food processor makes quick work of making pita from scratch. Heat pita breads by wrapping a stack of them in foil, and warming them for 10 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. (A microwave makes them kind of limp.)

Pita | Makes 12 pockets

2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 package yeast
1/4 tsp. sugar
3/4 cup warm water
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Stir in sugar. With machine running, pour yeast mixture into flour mixture. Process just until the dough comes together.
Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead about about 5 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead to remove the air bubbles. Roll into a log and divide dough evenly into 12 pieces. Pat each piece of dough into a ball, them use a rolling pin to flatten into discs about 1/4-inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. Place discs on a lightly greased baking sheet, flatten slightly and let rise, uncovered, until barely doubled in thickness, about 30-45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place oven rack in lowest position. Bake the pita bread, one pan at a time, until puffed and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and cool breads on a wire rack.

Black Bean, Red Pepper and Chicken Salad Pockets | Makes 16 pockets

2 cups cooked black beans
2 red peppers, roasted, peeled and cut into strips
2 cups diced grilled or roasted chicken
2 cups diced Roma (plum) tomatoes (about 3-4)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 small red onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 head iceberg lettuce, cored and shredded
8 6-inch pita breads, cut in half for filling
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 cup corn or canola oil
In a small bowl, whisk all dressing ingredients together. In a large bowl, combine beans, peppers, chicken, tomatoes, cilantro and onion. Toss with dressing and add salt and pepper.
Line each pita half with lettuce. Fill with chicken mixture.

Gorgonzola and Greens Wrap | Makes 16 pockets

4 oz. Gorgonzola cheese, at room temperature
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. mixed salad greens, torn into bite-size pieces
2 apples, cored and diced
8 6-inch pita breads, cut in half
In a small bowl, blend cheese with olive oil until smooth. In a large bowl, combine greens and apples. Spread inside of pita with cheese mixture and then fill with greens mixture. Place on grill or heated skillet and cook each side about 2 minutes.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].