Yogurt Pita and Baked Chicken Shawarma
There’s a spot for sour dairy in my refrigerator. Not the accidental soured dairy that’s been left too long, forgotten behind the orange juice. I’m talking about the intentional soured diary that has claimed its space on the lower door shelf of fridge. It’s a spot of honor really, next to other highly reached-for items like ketchup, hot sauce, and white wine.
I have this hazy memory of a Frasier episode wherein Frasier reprimands Nigel (? is that even his name or was that the dog?) for storing milk on the refrigerator door. That spot, as I’d learn, was not as cold as the rest of the refrigerator and a ludicrous place to keep milk at its peak. Seems I live in defiance of that 90’s sitcom and place my already tart dairy right on the door and… listen, maybe I made all this Frasier nonsense up, but it’s a memory all the same.
More often than not I have a family-sized tub of Greek Yogurt in that prime fridge spot. It’s malleable enough to be a quick breakfast with a handful of granola and drizzle of honey, a dip if a few spices find their way into the mix, and an impromptu rich buttermilk-y substitute when mixed with whole milk for scones. Mostly I’ll just stand in the kitchen and scoop it out of the container with cucumber slices if we’re being honest and keeping track.
And today, because Molly Yeh said it was a good idea, we’re making homemade pita with yogurt and lemme tell ya it’s spot on as far as good ideas go.
This recipe is from Molly’s lovely Short Stack book on YOGURT! It’s such a sweet book – small but mighty with some stellar recipes.
We’re combining her pillowy pitas with my favorite chicken shawarma with roasty, toasty onions and spices from the NYT.
Let’s make Molly’s pita! If you’re looking to dip your toes into bread-making (NOT LITERALLY), this recipe is a sweet place to start. The yogurt and olive oil make this an easy dough to work with. It’s like the dough is rooting for you – and I’m pretty sure it is.
• bread flour
• active dry yeast + warm water + a sprinkling of sugar // all to activate and feed the yeast.
• salt and sugar to flavor and balance the dough.
• olive oil and whole milk Greek yogurt (good and thick!) to add an amiable fat.
We start by activating the yeast in warm water (just warmer than body temperature). A teaspoon of sugar will feed the yeast, creating all those fluffy gas bubbles you see here. It’s alive, those bubbles are proof.
Into a big ol’ mixing bowl we’ll add just under four cups of bread flour.
Bread flour has a higher gluten content than all-purpose flour. It makes for a more sturdy dough. Now… could you make these pita with all-purpose flour? Well – yes. But if you have bread flour from another baking adventure, now is as good a time as any to use it!
See also: the difference between baking flours. It’s helpful.
To the flour we’ll add kosher salt and a tablespoon of sugar to balance and bring flavor.
To our dry ingredients we’ll add our wet ingredients starting with the now fluffy yeast mixture.
A few tablespoons of olive oil comes next.
And whole-milk yogurt! Tart and creamy, adding a rich moisture to this dough.
I like to lightly spatula everything together into a shaggy dough before getting the dough hook in the mix. It’s like a head start. The dough will mix on medium speed for about 7 minutes, pulling away from the sides of the bowl and breading a lightly sticky and cohesive dough. If you feel like the dough is too wet and clings to the side and bottom of the bowl, add a bit more flour.
I pulled the dough from the mixer, poured a bit of olive oil into the bowl and returned the dough to rise. The olive oil will keep it from sticking.
While the dough rises for an hour and a half – we’ll make the baked chicken shawarma.
I’ve linked to this chicken recipe in one of my Sunday posts a few weeks back. It’s a simple sheet pan, chicken-thigh situation that you might breeze on by but I’m here to tell you to stop, drop, and roll- this chicken is SO GOOD.
Here’s the thing – good chicken is good chicken often because it’s been marinated. I usually marinade the chicken before I even get the pita dough working.
The marinade is what you might expect: acid + oil + spices – and it WERKS.
Lemon and olive oil to penetrate and tenderize the chicken. Plus this red rainbow of spices featuring, turmeric, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes. We’ll add fresh garlic too!
The original NYT recipe calls for a reasonable amount (1) red onion, quarter and roasted along with the marinated chicken.
As suggested by my friend Nicole, who served me this chicken as a freezer leftover and I lost my miiiind, the more onion the better. They roast down into spicy onion candy and if those three words don’t appeal to you then… well, I’m just confused.
My point here is, use more than one onion. Use three, quartered with the root intact so the pieces roast together.
The chicken is roasted in the oven until charred around the edges and cooked through. It’s super simple, no flipping or fussing and 30 to 40 minutes later – chicken is DONE!
Except, there’s this glorious extra step that is more rule than option. Wait for the chicken to cool slightly, chop into big bite-sized pieces, and pan sear on the stovetop until EEEEXTRA crispy. And now you’re in business.
And back to the pita.
We need a vessel for our chicken.
The pita dough will rise triumphantly. It’s a people-pleaser, you can just tell.
The dough is divided into twelve “I totally eyed it” pieces and rolled out to 1/2-inch thick circles.
They’ll rest for about 15 minutes on a parchment lined baking sheet while the oven preheats to screamin’ hot.
The pita cook quickly. Enough time for a one two song dance break – about 5 to 7 minutes and when you open the oven, these little gems will each be puffed to max capacity.
Remove from the pan and place in a towel to cool with a bit of their own steam.
Once they’re cool enough to handle, they’re still puffed and pillowy soft.
You’ll feel like a super hero and that’s no exaggeration.
Some added freshness to our roasted chicken sandwiches: sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, fresh parsley, a yogurt dip that has cucumber and parsley in it, and za’atar and sumac. If there’s something you like that I missed… maybe spinach or peppers – throw em in here. There are no wrong moves.
We’ll cut along the seam of the pita, revealing its pocket.
If your instinct is to fill it with chicken – go for it.
Add some roasted onion, cucumber, and tomato, too!
And a dollop of that tart yogurt sauce we whipped up.
An unstoppable combination of spiced chicken, sweet onion, fresh veggies, and warm soft bread. It’s also really good nosh-y. Gather round and assemble.
My only suggestion, make double the chicken – it’s that good and it freezes well for your future self.
Photos with my friend Jon Melendez.