Chef Reem Assil’s Arab Bread

published Apr 1, 2022
Arab Bread Recipe

This recipe for homemade pita bread, also known as Khobz Arabi, can be made in bulk and stored in the freezer, so so you can have fresh bread everyday.

Serves8

Makes10 (8-inch) breads

Prep35 minutes

Cook20 minutes

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Arab bread
Credit: Photo: Nader Khouri | Food + Prop stylist: Jillian Knox

It’s amazing to think that pita bread (or, as we call it, khobz arabi) became popular as an American food within my lifetime. While I was growing up, it was a rarity to find it unless we made our way to the Arab markets. My mom used to carve out some special room in the freezer to store the stacks we needed for our weekend breakfast mezze or for gatherings of guests. For those, she would flip the flat rounds back and forth over the open flame of our stove, filling the kitchen with the smell of fresh toasty bread.

Over time, I’ve tasted Arab breads in every imaginable size and thickness. This recipe makes ten 8-inch breads with just enough heft to give them a nice chew, although slightly thicker than the Lebanese pita we had growing up. If you like a “chubbier” pita, feel free to roll out to 6 inches instead. If you want a thinner pita, divide the dough into 12 pieces.

No matter how many times I make this recipe, I never tire of the sight of my bread rising into a beautiful bubble as it cooks. If the dough is strong and the heat is high, it will hold a lovely crust without deflating. To this day, I try to bake a symmetrical pocket evenly thick on both crusts. No matter the width, these beautiful breads go perfectly with just about any recipe in this book and form the base for an infinite combination of toppings.

This recipe is easy to make and freezes well if you have any leftovers — which would never happen in my household. My 3-year-old son leaves no pita unconquered. Leftovers can also be repurposed for Fattet Lahme wa Hummus or Salatet Fattoush.

Credit: Photo: Nader Khouri | Food + Prop Stylist: Jillian Knox

Khobz or Pita?

We call the flat round bread that is known as pita in the West, khobz arabi (Arab bread) or pita. It is unclear how the word pita caught on in the English language, but we know it is borrowed from the Greek word for bread. This word, pisomi, traces back to the ancient Greek word for “fermented pastry,” which then made its way into Latin as picta (ever wonder why pizza sounds so similar?).

Bread itself has prehistoric roots in the Fertile Crescent, the boomerang-shaped region spanning from Syria to Iran that is known for its irrigation techniques and agriculture. Going all the way back to the Neolithic period, when people first learned to domesticate crops like wheat and barley, bread-making marked our transition from hunter gatherers to makers and cultivators. The first known records for bread-making originate in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). Travelers and conquerors passing through the region brought the bread they had encountered and its methods back to their own cultures. That is the reason why Turkish, Greek, and Arab breads are so similar. Whether you call these breads khobz or pita, it’s good to know the origin.

Arab Bread Recipe

This recipe for homemade pita bread, also known as Khobz Arabi, can be made in bulk and stored in the freezer, so so you can have fresh bread everyday.

Prep time 35 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Makes 10 (8-inch) breads

Serves 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Divide the prepared risen dough into 10 pieces (about 140 grams each). Shape the pieces into rounds, cover with a clean kitchen towel (or brush the dough with a bit of oil and cover gently with plastic wrap), and let rest for 20 minutes. (Alternatively, If you are not baking right away, you can also shape and set aside in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours until you are ready to bake.)

  2. Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven and place a baking stone on the rack if you have one. Heat the oven to 500°F for at least 45 minutes. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven to heat while you roll out the dough.

  3. Place the dough rounds on a lightly floured work surface, sprinkle them with flour, and pat each round into a 4-inch disk. Working your way around the rim of each disk, use your thumb and index finger to pinch the edges and stretch out the dough. (If the dough is resistant, allow the round to rest, covered with plastic wrap or a dish towel, for another 5 to 10 minutes.) Once you have pinched around the whole circle, sprinkle with a light dusting of flour. Continue the process for the remaining disks.

  4. Using a rolling pin, roll out each round, up and then down once, shift a quarter turn and repeat the process, dusting with flour as needed, until you have an 8-inch disk. Continue the process for the remaining disks. Let the disks rest for another 5 minutes. If space is limited, stagger your disks on top of each other, dusted with an ample amount of flour, or just roll out a few at a time.

  5. Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven, flip over, and sprinkle with a thin layer of flour. Place 2 dough rounds on the baking sheet. Return to the oven and bake until the pita rises into a bubble and you see pleasing spots of brown, 3 to 4 minutes. (If you have a baking stone and a pizza peel, use the peel to transfer the dough rounds directly onto the baking stone for baking instead.)

  6. Transfer the pitas to a wire rack in a single layer so they keep their shape. Repeat baking the remaining pitas on the same hot baking sheet. Enjoy this bread with all of your favorite mezze dishes.

Recipe Notes

Storage: The cooled pita can be stored in a resealable bag at room temperature for 2 days or frozen for up to 6 months. To serve pita from frozen, throw them in the oven at 450°F for about 5 minutes.

Reprinted with permission from Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora by Reem Assil, copyright © 2022. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

‘AJEENAH ∙ عجينه Basic Yeasted Dough Recipe

The perfect recipe to use when you're making Arab bread.

Makes 1 loaf

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 cups

    bread flour, plus more for kneading

  • 2 1/2 cups

    warm water (about 100°F), divided

  • 1 tablespoon

    active dry yeast

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    granulated sugar

  • 1 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 cup

    extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl

  • Semolina flour, for dusting

Instructions

  1. Place 5 1/2 cups bread flour in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl. Add 2 1/4 cups of the warm water and stir to combine. With the paddle attachment on low speed or using a sturdy spoon, mix until it resembles a thick batter. Set aside for 20 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, place the remaining 1/4 cup water, 1 tablespoon active dry yeast, and 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated in a small bowl and stir to combine. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. At this point, the yeast mix should give off a sweet fragrance and show a bubbly bloom.

  3. Add the yeast mixture, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, and 1 tablespoon kosher salt to the bread flour dough.

To mix by hand:

  1. Squeeze the dough between your thumb and fingers with one hand while holding the bowl with the other hand, until it forms a rough and shaggy ball. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until the dough is smooth, springs back when dimpled, and stretches like a windowpane. This usually takes up to 10 minutes of kneading.

To mix in a stand mixer:

  1. Use the dough hook to mix the dough on low speed until everything comes together, scraping the bowl if needed. Turn up the speed to medium and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, 8 to 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, springs back when dimpled, and stretches like a windowpane.

  1. Form the dough into a ball. Coat a large bowl with oil and transfer the dough into the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp dish towel and let it rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. If you are not planning to use the dough right away, refrigerate until doubled in size, up to 12 hours.

Recipe Notes

Reprinted with permission from Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora by Reem Assil, copyright © 2022. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.