I have a walking, talking, breathing, giggling and generally never-standing-still litmus test living under my roof. She goes by the name of Kira, though I have been known to call her (affectionately…clearly) terrorista, or terrorist, because she is like an explosive bomb of energy whenever she runs into a room.
Unlike my older, food connoisseur daughter Alexia, Kira would be happy eating macaroni & cheese, breaded chicken cutlets and fresh strawberries ad infinitum…or ad nauseam, if you ask me. So while she’s a good sport and tries everything I make, she doesn’t like things she tries as often as she likes them. It is what it is…
So when I make something and Kira likes it, I know everyone else is sure to love it. I know that dinner is going to go smoothly and that smiles and laughter will abound around the table. I know jars of peanut butter and jelly will not be opened and that I will not have to wipe bread crumbs from the cutting board and clean beads of jelly off the floor. Life will be good.
The first time I made this remarkable-tasting flat bread, I handed a piece to Kira first. I probably held my breath. I tend to do that when my girls are tasting my concoctions for the first time. After a torturous moment or so, her initial thumbs up was followed by a wide, poppy seed-flecked grin. I smiled back. Life, and dinner, was going to be good.
And it was, especially with the tzatziki and lamb burgers that accompanied it.
Now, when I make this version of Lebanese flat bread, Kira is the one that jumps the highest with excitement. And, we have to count each piece of pita bread to the last crumb to make sure everybody is getting their fair share.
It’s especially good accompanied by tzatziki. I find that the fresh, garlic-inspired tanginess of the yogurt coupled with the warming quality of the flatbread’s spices creates an unforgettable and most satisfying experience. It’s also both chewy and crispy at the same time, which is kind of cool, and is at its best when eaten just grilled and still slightly warm.
I’ve recently learned that the topping I’m using on the pita bread is a variation on the more traditional Lebanese ‘runny paste concoction,’ for lack of a better word, called za’atar. I guess the word condiment comes to mind, come to think of it. It’s unadulterated version can be made from a variety of herbs and spices such as fresh thyme and oregano, lemony sumac, and toasted sesame seeds and is then blended with olive oil. (I gather that za’atar is the Lebanese version of American chili or Italian ragu…every family has its own spin on it.)
Never having heard of sumac, I did what any garden-variety clueless person would do. I trolled the internet.
Interestingly enough, the shrubby tree that produces this spice grows wild, predictably, in the Middle East and, surprisingly, parts of Italy. Who knew? It’s known predominantly for lending its rather tart, lemony, astringent quality to za’atar, though it is also sprinkled onto steaks, vegetables, legumes and rice – in other words, everything and anything – to add a little pizzaz. I have since made a mental note to pick some up the next time I go to the fantabulous Dekalb Farmers Market in Decatur, Georgia. (Don’t judge the market by its web site.) They sell just about everything comestible there and if you live anywhere within driving distance of this magical place, I highly recommend it.
Without sumac on hand, I took a leap and decided to swap it out for poppy seeds. Okay. It was a small leap. Perhaps even American Girl Doll-sized. That’s because I did recall a recipe I had seen years ago in a cookbook that has since fallen apart (cheap binding and over use). It had this very enticing looking picture of grilled pitas with some sort of spice blend on it. And I remember it especially because at that time, this was years ago, poppy seeds were rather foreign to me as well. Don’t forget…I grew up in an Italian household and we tended to reach for oregano and red pepper flakes in our cupboard and not poppy seeds!
And I am happy to report that the now disintegrated cookbook offered genius counsel . The concoction of equal parts toasted sesame seeds, poppy seeds and finely chopped thyme is bewitching…in both aroma and especially taste.
I used really good-quality pita bread I purchased at the Dekalb market, though I’ve used regular store-bought pita bread to make this dish and it tasted absolutely delicious as well. Should you decide you want to make the pita bread from scratch, let me refer you to a recipe I found in this absolutely lovely website I discovered titled Rose Water & Orange Blossoms, which specializes in Lebanese food. Other really helpful, informative information comes, predictably, from The Kitchn and David Lebowitz. Check them out if you have a chance. They always offer such great information.
making lebanese flatbread
Heat up an indoor (set it on medium-high heat) or an outdoor grill.
Heat a 10-inch skillet on medium heat and add the 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds. Cook them, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes or as long as it takes to turn them golden. Set aside to cool. Below is the difference in color, with the ones on the right definitely looking more enticing!
Carefully cut 4 to 6 pita breads
in half to create two disks.
Carefully tear each disk in half.
Add 3 tablespoons of poppy seeds and the cooled sesame seeds in a mortar and crush them gently with a pestle to release their oils and flavor.
Add 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh thyme leaves and again gently crush the mixture again with the pestle.
Stir in 2/3 cup of olive oil.
With a spoon, spread the mixture lightly over the cut side of the pita bread and grill until they are nice and golden and crispy.
You will see the oil gently bubbling on the pita.
Once cooked, place them on a platter and sprinkle them with some sea salt. Makes 4 to 6 servings.