Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sourdough "Pita" Bread, or Khubiz Arabi


Bread is the staff of life in the Middle East.  Though we eat rice abundantly, rice is actually the new kid on the block, relatively speaking.  Our ancient fathers ate bread as their main sustenance and nourishment.  Give us this day our daily bread, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray.

Bread is the vehicle for all other foods - we scoop up vegetables, salads, meats, cheeses, eggs - everything can be folded into a piece of bread.  Bread is also the utensil, the way our food is carried to our mouths.  There is ceremony - how to tear off a piece, how much to tear off at a time, where to dip in the common bowl, how to hold the bread so that it doesn't drip.  And yet bread is so common place that it is rarely remarked upon, rarely experimented with, it is simply there every morning when you wake up, and at every table that you sit down to. 

Why Sourdough

This was one of many instances of Weston A. Price's findings and my cultural food traditions fitting perfectly together.  Price discovered that traditional societies never ate grains without special preparations - soaking, fermenting or sprouting.  These three methods in grain perparation have now been shown to increase the digestibility of grains, as they largely remove phytic acids that would otherwise bind with the nutrients in the food, blocking absorption in the gut. 

Sourdough is a form of grain fermenation.  Sourdough is a Lactobacillius culture that exists side by side with wild yeast.  When a dough is formed by mixing water and flour, naturally occuring enzymes break down the starch into a form of sugar, which then feeds the wild yeast spores that all flour naturally contains.  In true sourdough breads, this biological leavening agent is the only one used, which allows the bread to ferment when the starter is kneaded into dough. 

My teta, my grandmother never used yeast to bake. How could she - commercial yeast was not available. Instead, when she made her family's daily bread she would use a small ball of reserved dough from her previous batch to leaven her new batch of bread. Before baking the new bread, she she would throw a small ball of the prepared dough into her sack of flour to ferment. If she wasn't able to make bread regularly enough and her reserved ball of dough was not longer active, she would simple knock on a neighbor's door and borrow a little of theirs.

A ball of dough, full of leavening, moistened and then thrown into a sack of flour . . . that sounds to me like what we call a sourdough starter.  So it seems that traditional Arabic bread was actually sourdough bread.


Why "Pita" 

Here in the West, we often call these flat rounds of bread "pita" or "pocket bread."  "Pita" is a Greek word and a foreign word to the Arab world.  In Palestine, we just call it bread, khubiz.  Sometimes we call it Arabic bread, khubiz Arabi, simply to distinguish it from Western style loaves. 

So, we call it khubiz Arabi as a way to celebrate our culture, to claim the food that we eat most as our own. 


Khubiz Arabi

Yeild:  8-10 loaves
2 cups whole wheat flour - I prefer white whole wheat for a softer texture
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup sourdough starter, freshly fed and bubbly
3/4 - 1 cup water or whole milk, for a softer dough
Mix together flour and salt. 
Add in sourdough starter, honey, and salt and begin to stir, adding in water a little bit at a time.  The amount of liquid will depend on the hydration level of your starter.  Knead until soft and elastic. 
Place in a greased bowl, turning dough to coat and allow to rise until double in volume. 
Alternatively, you can use the dough setting on your bread maker, and check to make sure that the dough forms well, adding water or flour as needed. 

To form loaves

Heat a cast iron griddle over medium heat. 
Punch down dough and divide into pieces the size of a lime.  Roll each piece into a very thin circle, really, as thin as you can.  Flour is your friend - use a well-floured surface and keep your rolling pin coated in flour.   If they resist formation, let them rest a second time for 5-10 minutes.  Don't worry if they are not perfect - this take a little practice.  But the thinner you roll out the loaves, the more likely they are to form pockets, so do take the time to roll them out as much as you can. 
Place the loaves on a well-floured surface so that they do not stick and cover with damp towels. 

Allow to rest 5-10 minutes.  They will not actually rise.  I find that by the time you have rolled out a few of them, you can throw a few onto your griddle.

Very gingerly, pick up a loaf and place it on the griddle.  Any pressure on the loaf will prevent it from puffing up and forming a pocket.  After a few minutes, steam will build up inside of the loaf and the loaf will puff and form a pocket.  It is a beautiful thing! Flip and wait another minute or two.  Each loaf should take 3-5 minutes to cook. 

Even if it doesn't puff, the bread is still absolutely delicious. 

Try not to eat them all immediately. 
 This post is shared at  Real Food Wednesday, and Fight Back Friday


  1. Wow, I never knew that Arabic bread was originally from sourdough and not yeast. Amazing.

  2. My wife makes the very best whole wheat sour dough fajitas. I am glad Food Renegade site sen me here.

  3. Yum. Does she make sourdough tortillas?

  4. These look amazing! Can't wait to try them out!

  5. jessica! (it's katy- your freshman roommate!)it has been fun reading your blog! :) how do you get a sourdough starter? and how do you make kombucha?

    1. Katy!!! How fun that you are reading my blog, friend!

      Okay, so the easiest way to get a sourdough starter is just to ask for some from a friend (that's what I did). I think you can even check out craigslist and ask for a free sample. If not, you can order one from an internet source (like King Arthur Flour - that is where my friend got hers, so that is what I have). I bet you can even buy some from a local bakery that makes authentic sourdough. Finally, you can make your own wild sourdough culture by leaving out flour mixed with water on your counter and feeding it periodically. Hopefully, you will create a happy little nest for some wild yeast to colonize and voila - you have sourdough starter. You can find sources online if you just google wild sourdough starter.

      Kombucha is the same sort of thing. You need to get your hands on a SCOBY - acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Again, since these reproduce, you can get one from a friend (which I did), or you can buy one online, or you can even grow one from a bottle of raw kombucha (which is what my friend did). Once you have a SCOBY, you can either use the continuous brew system (what I am using) or a single brew system. Here's a great resource on kombucha:

      There's a lot of information out there . . . hope that this helps, though. Thanks for stopping by, Katy!

  6. Thanks so much for the info! Your blog is fun to read. :)

  7. Tried these, but the dough never rose and they never poofed. (My sourdough starter was old...) And yet they still tasted great! I used them with one of my favorite recipes: slow cooker gyro meat.

    Is there a Palestinian version of meatloaf?

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi Melanie - did the dough rise the first time around? If it didn't, then yes, you should feed your sourdough starter. I find that my bread puffs up if I roll them out very thinly. I love slow-cooker meals, so I will have to check that recipe out. I'm working on a shawarma recipe that is pretty similar.

      And yes, there IS a Palestinian version of meatloaf. It's called kefta, and you can find it here:

      Thanks for the question!

  8. I had recently taken my neglected sourdough out of the refrigerator and fed it for a couple of days when I came across this recipe. I finished making these last night at about 9:00 and this morning there were 2 left. We loved them!

    I can't wait to try some of your other recipes.

    Thank you so much.

    1. I'm so glad that you liked them! I sometimes make a double batch, because they are also really popular in my house! I should probably mention that this bread really is best eaten the same day and extra loaves should be frozen after a day or so, and just defrosted as needed. Otherwise, they can dry out quickly. So maybe it's for the best that you only have two left!

      So glad that you stopped by. I hope that you enjoy these recipes. Thanks for the comment!

  9. Replies
    1. Oh yes, you can. Just preheat your oven to 425F, and then place two or three loaves ate a time on a baking stone or a baking sheet. They will take about five minutes in the oven, and you do not need to flip them. The texture will be drier and less chewey if you bake them, but they're still very good. Be sure to cover them with a towel immediately afterwards to keep them soft, and freeze whatever isn't eaten that day.

  10. I Love your recipe, I always make my own pita with sprouted spelt flour (and yeast, yikes!) I used to save a ball of dough as a starter, but it wasn't very pliable. I travel so much these days that I don't do it, but soon I'll learn to make traditional khubz saj....Lebanese mountain bread!

    1. Mmm, that sounds good. I'd love to hear about that bread!

  11. Jessica, mine never puff up! What can I do differently to make sure they do?

    1. I'm sorry to hear that, Valerie! I just made a batch today and every single loaf puffed, but that is unusual. Here are a couple of tips: First make sure that your dough is a fairly wet dough. You may need to add more water than the recipe indicates, because quantities depends a great deal upon atmospheric conditions. If it is too sticky to roll out, just add enough flour to the board and your rolling pin to get it to roll out. Second, roll the loafs very thin, almost as thin as a tortilla. Third, if you are doing sourdough, make sure that your starter is very active, and even then you might try adding a little extra yeast. It won't interfere with the fermenting process and it might help you get the puff. Good luck and let me know how it turns out!

  12. looks great i will be doing it

  13. Love your blog, thanks for putting this out there!!!

  14. Thank you bint Rhoda! I love to learn about traditional healthy foods that have been passed down for generations. I have wanted to learn about how a piece of dough can leaven flour every since I read about it in Matthew 13 and Luke 13. Please tell me all you know about this! Thank you for sharing your very well done recipe with beautiful photos.

  15. Hello!
    I love using a sourdough starter too for whole wheat pita. To get consistent puffing,I use a 2 step stove top process. 1st side-Cook the raw pita until bubbles form. 2nd side- cook for 12-15 more seconds. Transfer this pita from the griddle to a just red hot electric coil with a stainless steel flat rack over it. Let it puff and turn over to toast it. Don't let it burn!! I have about 80% water to flour ratio.
    This blog is so good to read!! My husband and I are Chinese/Japanese and we make hummus,pita and dolma. Two years ago we were in Israel and traveling in the land of our Lord Jesus. One day we will meet you.

  16. I've made this recipe twice now- once (whole wheat) baking it in the oven (400 F or so), and once (spelt) on the stovetop- both times were delicious! Thank you so much for sharing this delicious and easy recipe! BTW, it was about 4 hours to rise, at least with my sourdough starter (I am guessing it might be different for others').

    1. So glad that you are enjoying this recipe! Rise time depends on how active your starter is and how warm you keep your house. Enjoy!

  17. Thank you so much for this Jessica! I just made it and it turned out beautifully, my partner was so impressed! Definitely something I'll be making often! :)

  18. This looks like a wonderful recipe, I'm going to try it this weekend! My sourdough starter is Parisian, though, so it eats white flour not whole wheat. Is it possible to substitute white flour for whole wheat in your recipe?


Trying this recipe? A question or a comment? I'd love to hear from you!