Jan 102012

Middle Eastern and Greek food is, hands down, my favorite date night cuisine. Oh sure, I like Chinese and Italian too, but I LOVE “flaming cheese,” a good Greek salad, pitas and tzatziki, stuffed grape leaves, chicken shawarma, yellow rice….


Sadly, here in the Midwest, good Middle Eastern food is hard to find. There is only one Greek restaurant near us, and aside from Petra Falafel in the mall, I can’t think of any Middle Eastern restaurants. For my birthday, my husband took us on a quest to find one, because he knew it was what I really wanted. We found three listings in the yellow pages – one was out of business, one had very bad online reviews, and the other was closed.

I decided that I needed to try making some of my favorite dishes at home, and I was surprised to learn how easy it could be. Last night, I successfully made Chicken Shawarma, with saffron yellow rice.

Chicken Shawarma is just a sandwich made with a pita, garlic mayonnaise, and cubed, cooked chicken seasoned with garam masala (a spice blend often called “The Magic Spice”). I actually prefer tzatziki (cucumber yogurt sauce) instead of the garlic mayo, so that’s how I made ours.  The yellow rice is Mahatma brand – I haven’t figured out how to duplicate that at home yet!

Here’s how I made garam masala seasoning. I’m sure it’s not perfectly authentic, but it was quick and easy, and it tasted great!

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Mix all ingredients together, and store in an airtight container.

I’ve tried several tzatziki recipes, and after a lot of experimenting and adjusting, I finally came up with one that we love.

8 ounces plain yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon dried dill
2 cloves minced garlic
1/3 cup finely chopped cucumber, seeds removed

Mix all ingredients thoroughly, and chill before serving.

And pita bread…it seems like it would be complicated, right? It’s bread with a pocket, and how do you achieve that? Yesterday, I tried a recipe with whole wheat flour, and it tasted great, but no pocket. It was more like flatbread. So today I tried another recipe, and SUCCESS!

I made the dough in my bread machine, using this recipe:

1 1/8 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

When the dough cycle completed, I divided the dough into 8 equal pieces, rolled them into smooth balls, and then rolled each ball out into a 6-inch circle.

I covered them with clean towels, and let them rest for 30 minutes until they were slightly puffy. I put them on baking racks, and preheated the oven to 500 degrees. I put the baking racks directly on top of my oven racks,

and baked the pitas for about 6 minutes, until they started to puff and turn golden brown.

When they were done, I immediately put them in a brown paper bag, and sealed it, so they could soften up.

The finished product:

Now, what to put in them? I’m thinking gyro burgers with lots of feta. YUM! (Never mind – The kids ate more than half of them with leftover hummus, so I didn’t have enough for dinner! I’ll have to make a double batch today. 🙂