A guide to making tzaziki and pita bread at home
What is tzaziki?
Tzaziki is a traditional yogurt based dip eaten in Greece and many surrounding countries. It is most often served at the begging of a meal with pita or other breads, and it is also used as a condiment or sauce for certain foods.
In America, tzaziki is often referred to as white sauce, and it can be sometimes found served on sandwiches such as gyros, shawarma, and falafels, especially at street carts and short order restaurants.
Here is a list of what you will need to make a basic tzaziki sauce:
- a 32 oz container of plain yogurt (standard or greek style)
- 1 medium to large cucumber
- 2 to 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 small to medium lemon
- fresh or dried dill herb
- sea salt (optional)
- olive oil (optional)
Most tzaziki is made with strained yogurt, which in America can be purchased as Greek yogurt. You can make tzaziki with regular yogurt; it will be much runnier, but it still tastes good. Another option would be to strain standard yogurt using layers of cheesecloth to reduce moisture content, though this may require using a little extra yogurt.
To prepare ingredients, first cut cucumber in half or quarters longways and scoop or cut out the liquidy and seedy center. This prevents the tzaziki from being too watery.
Cut cucumber and dill into several pieces so that they are easier to blend.
Put cucumber, dill, 2 to 3 peeled garlic cloves, and juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon into a blender, and blend all ingredients together.
Pour yogurt into a large bowl, and stir in blended ingredients, adding a couple of pinches of salt and about 1 tablespoon of olive oil (salt and oil optional).
That's it! Tzaziki is ready to serve with pita bread or to be used as a sauce.
A couple of notes on tzaziki
Some cultures use mint instead of dill in their tzaziki. Also, lemon is probably not always an added ingredient, since some of the countries that eat tzaziki likely are unable to grow this fruit.
If you let tzaziki sit for awhile, the ingredients will marinate together and the flavor will improve. This is not manditory. You can serve the tzaziki as soon as it is made with good results.
If you don't have access to fresh dill, you can try using a couple of pinches of dried dill. Fresh fennel leaves may even be a possible substitute for dill for a different flavor with similar effect.
How to make pita bread:
Making pita bread is an art that can take much practice to perfect. Home made pita may not always puff out or separate in the middle unless you get it just right. Even if your pita doesn't puff, it is still quite enjoyable to eat hot out of the oven. It takes several hours to prepare the dough, so you need to plan ahead.
Here's a list of what you will need to make pita bread
- 2.5 cups of whole wheat flour (use half or all white flour if preferred)
- 1 1/3 cup water
- 3.5 to 4 oz bread yeast (1/2 of a standard yeast packet)
- 1 teaspoon salt
Step 1: making the dough
Dissolve yeast into 1 1/3 cup of water that is just above body temperature.
Pour yeast and water mixture into a large bowl, and stir in 2.5 cups of flour using a wooden spoon. It may help to rotate the bowl and use the spoon to repeatedly fold the dough over itself. If dough is still very sticky when mixed, add a pinch or two of flour at a time, and mix until you have a workable dough.
Kneading the dough
Move dough to a well floured flat surface. Sprinkle some flour on top, and begin to knead the dough.
To do this, use the base of the palm of one or both hands to knead by pushing the dough down and away, causing the dough to slide and stretch open. Fold the dough over, turn and repeat.
If dough sticks to hands, you can sprinkle more flour on top between kneading.
Continue to knead for a good 5 or so minutes. The dough will become firm when it is well kneaded.
Letting the dough rise
When done kneading, form the dough into a flattened ball or round shape.
Thinly coat a medium to large bowl with olive oil (to prevent sticking), and place dough in bowl. Cover with a towel, and let the dough rise for approximately 45 minutes. It should expand significantly in size.
Once the dough has risen, use one or both hands to punch the dough down to release pockets of trapped air released by the frementation process. This allows the yeast to breathe again and to continue multiplying. Cover, and set aside again for roughly 45 minutes or until it has risen again.
Once risen, transfer dough onto floured surface and kneed one or two more times. Form into a ball or log shape, and cut into about 6 or 7 pieces.
Preparing the dough to bake
Turn oven on to 400 degrees. If you have a cook or bake stone, you can let it warm up with the oven.
Separate each cut piece of dough into a round flattened ball as much as possible, and lay out he pieces on a lightly floured surface with enough space between them to prevent them from sticking to each other. Cover with a towel, and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes to rise.
This is where making pita bread gets tricky. The next step is to roll out the pita bread. This is best done with a rolling pin, but you can use your fingers to flatten and slightly stretch the pita.
Place one of your dough pieces on a lightly floured surface. Gently roll with a rolling pin, being careful not to pinch or crush any edges while flattening the dough. You want to evenly flatten the entire dough, focusing more on the center portions more than the edges. Turn the dough between rolling, and continue to roll out the dough until it is about the thickness of a thin pancake.
Set aside if cooking on a bake stone. Otherwise, you can grease or put a piece of parchment paper on a baking or cookie sheet, and add your flattened piece of dough.
Roll or press and stretch out more pieces of dough until you have enough to fill up your bake stone or cookie sheet. Carefully put flattened pieces on bake stone, or insert full cookie sheet into the oven. Try not to pinch the dough at all when transferring it into the oven if possible.
If any pieces of dough remain, flatten them out and set aside on another cookie sheet or on a floured surface to be baked after the batch in the oven is done.
If all goes well, your pita bread will puff out. Many times only half of your pita will puff up, and often it only rises a little without puffing.
Let bake until the pita is crispy, up to about 10 minutes. If you made the pita extra thick, it may have to cook a bit longer for the inside of the pita to be completely cooked. If unsure, take a piece out of the oven and cut of a small portion. Inspect and taste to see if it is cooked enough.
Once cooked, remove all pieces from the oven. Put in any remaining pieces and bake until done.
Notes on pita bread making:
Though I am no expert on pita bread making, I have concluded that getting your pita to puff has something to do with how evenly you roll it, how thick you roll it, how carefully you handle it after it is rolled, and how long you let it sit before it is baked.
I once read that the trick to puffing pita is to flip over the pita onto your baking surface just prior to baking, being sure not to pinch any of the edges when turning over the flattened dough. This means that you let your pita sit for awhile after rolling, and then place it onto your cooking surface with the top side facing down. Whether this meant onto a baking stone or a cookie sheet, I don't know, and whether it makes any difference is also not known.
I must admit that I have never baked pita bread on a cookie sheet, but I have baked foccachia style bread. I assume just some oil on the sheet is enough. If you use parchment paper on your sheet, you may or may not need to add a tiny bit of oil to the paper. Experiment with a small piece to be sure.
If you discover any methods to help puff the pita bread when baking, please leave a comment below. I hope your pita bread comes out wonderfully delicious!
A story about tzaziki:
I once stayed in Atlanta for several days on business. I had trouble finding a nice place to eat in the neighborhood I was working, but eventually discovered a very small restaurant run by a nice Greek man.
He mainly served gyro sandwiches, but I decided to order some hummus. He didn't have any ready. Then I saw that he had tzaziki, and I proceeded to order a couple of orders of french fries with tzaziki. The french fries had dried oregano on top (a nice addition), and were delicious eaten with the tzaziki. I ended up eating that for lunch three days in a row. It was an interesting experience, so I thought I'd share.
A couple more tzaziki uses:
If you decide to make a runnier version of tzaziki, it might be interesting to try it as a salad dressing. Just make a simple salad and drizzle the tzaziki on top.
Also, try using tzaziki as a spread on sandwiches. It might be a little messier, but it could be a nice change of pace for those who want some variety.