Barbecues and Remembrances

From May 2011…


Dear Readers, my mother passed away very early last Tuesday morning and we bury her this Wednesday.  My emotions are very raw right now, my mind more than a bit scattered, so in lieu of writing too much, I’ll share instead today’s Memorial Day dinner.  I have to say, though, this feels like one odd holiday today, equal parts festive summer kick off and somber remembrance of fallen soldiers and loved ones.

On second thought, maybe this kind of celebration isn’t so odd; maybe this is simply life stripped to its barest elements – equal parts joy and sorrow.

Barbecued Butterflied Leg of Lamb
Goat’s Milk Yogurt Tzatziki
Chilled Vegetable Relish with Goat’s Milk Feta
Homemade “Barbecued” Pita Bread

I stumbled on the Via Lactea goat’s milk dairy stall yesterday while I strolled the Newburyport Farmers’ Market.  Since we had planned a mediterranean flavored barbecued boneless leg of lamb for our Memorial Day dinner, Via Lactea’s Greek-style goat’s milk yoghurt

and marinated feta cheese

captured my imagination.  Once I tasted the offered samples,  I knew what would be the lamb’s accompaniments: a goat’s milk tzatziki and a chopped vegetable relish incorporating the feta.  The lamb and the relish and the sauce, along with mediterranean theme, prompted me to make some homemade pita.  Of course, it’s 85 degrees today, so instead of lighting the oven, I decided I would put the dough rounds on the grill while the lamb rested, and cook it that way.

The grill “baking” was a bit of an experiment.  One batch was okay; the second batch was far superior.  But these were my results.  You feel free to do your own noodling around with methods.  I have included the baking information for both oven and grill.

For the cucumber-less tzatziki, I used about 4 ounces of full fat Greek-style (strained) goat’s milk yoghurt; 1 clove of garlic, crushed; about 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley; two pinches of salt; and the juice of 1/2 lemon.  No real recipe, just felt my way along.

The relish was even more loosey-goosey: some chopped grape tomatoes; chopped red onion; diced English cucumber; some sliced Kalamata olives; a couple of ribs of celery, sliced; and about 4 ounces of the marinated goat’s milk feta, crumbled.  Since the cheese was marinated in olive oil and seasonings (rosemary, lavender, pink peppercorns) I only added a small squeeze of homemade white wine vinaigrette to bind everything together.  This relish was spooned onto market fresh butter lettuce leaves from Arrowhead Farms, and served alongside the sliced lamb.

Homemade Pita

I found this pita recipe in the April 2006 issue of Saveur magazine.  I usually make pita in the kitchen using a 500 degree oven, but who wants that heat today?  The cowboy hardwood coal was still hot after cooking the lamb, so I gave that a whirl.  The first four rounds were made on a grill pan set on top of the grill, with the grill cover on during baking.  These breads got too dark too fast, even after only about a minute and a half per side.  Hardwood coal burns hot and fast, and the pan was too good a conductor of that extreme heat.

The second batch we placed directly on the grill top, no pan, again with the grill covered.  Cooking time, about a minute and a half per side.  Perfection.

Baking the loaves in the oven on a cooler day also yields pita perfection.

Serve with lamb or hummus.  Or use as a sandwich wrap for your favorite fillings.

One batch makes 16 rounds, but I find that 8 rounds is a good amount for us.  Divide the dough in half before baking if you’d like fewer loaves, too, and put the other half in the freezer.  You can use second half for pizza (yes pizza!) or more pita at a letter date after thawing.  This time around, I added rosemary to the dough, hardly necessary or traditional.

But rosemary is the herb of remembrance.  Fitting, I think, for the day.

Saveur calls this bread by its Arabic name, Khubz ‘aadi.  The name translates to “ordinary bread.”  Hardly.  Homemade pita is extraordinary bread.

  • 1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups warm water, divided
  • 6 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped rosemary (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 tsp. salt

Put yeast, sugar, and 1/2 cup warm water into a large bowl.  Stir to dissolve and let mixture sit until frothy, about 10-20 minutes.  Add 2 more cups of warm water and 1 cup of the flour (and rosemary if desired).  Stir to combine.  Add 2 more cups of flour, one cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.  Set mixture aside to rest for 10 minutes.

Add 2 Tbsp. of the oil and the salt and stir well to combine.  Gradually add remaining 3 cups of flour, mixing well with your hands until dough holds together as a ball.  Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.  (Dough may also be placed in a stand mixer and kneaded on your mixer’s pre-set kneading speed for 8 minutes.)

Grease a large bowl with the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil.  Roll kneaded dough around in the bowl to coat, then cover bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours (less time on a hot day).

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.  Punch down risen dough and knead for a minute or two until smooth.  Divide dough into 16 equal pieces (or reserve half for the freezer and cut the remainder into 8 pieces, as described above).

Cover balls with plastic wrap.  Working with one ball at a time, roll each into a 7-inch disk (I stretch the dough a bit before rolling).  Transfer disks onto clean floured kitchen towel and cover with another towel.  These don’t have to be, and won’t be, perfect circles.

Repeat process with remaining balls, laying them about 1-inch apart on the towels.  Let rest for 20-30 minutes.

Bake breads 2-3 at a time on a baking stone or sheet pan until lightly golden and puffed, turning once during baking, about 3 minutes per side.  (Alternately, follow method described above for grilling the bread outdoors.)

Wrap hot pitas in a clean towel to keep them warm, soft, and pliable.

Cut into wedges or tear at the table.

©2011  Jane A. Ward