Pita bread flavored with za’atar

za'atar flavored pita bread

za’atar flavored pita bread

I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night, and for some reason my mind wandered back to the time I met Seamus Heaney. I was twenty years old, a student at Oxford. He was reading our poems, and giving us advice. He said my poems reminded him of Basho, which was a very kind thing of him to say. (I used to write poems! I wanted to be a poet! I had sensibilities! I was moved by things most people didn’t even notice! We can all laugh about it now, but at the time it was terrible.) I don’t write poetry very often any more, but I still read it from time to time, and I spent the better part of this morning reading the poems of Seamus Heaney. I’ve decided that he could be another of our Ordinary Poet Laureates. Consider this quote about him, “And his is the gift of saying something extraordinary while, line by line, conveying a sense that this is something an ordinary person might actually say.” His subject matter, too, is frequently ordinary people going about their daily activities. Like Robert Burns and William Carlos Williams he recognizes the grace and worth of each person, and of the work that they do. His poems seemed washed in the affectionate, melancholic light of memory, so that everything he touches quietly glows. We all cast mythical shadows in his poems, we’re all the gods and goddesses of our own creation. However humble our labors may seem, they become honorable in his words. And while he’s generously making our work worthy, he’s constantly questioning and reestablishing the value of his own work – the value of poetry and of art. “Heaney wants to think of poetry not only as something that intervenes in the world, redressing or correcting imbalances, but also as something that must be redressed—re-established, celebrated as itself.” Here’s a poem named for Heaney’s childhood home that describes the work of a woman in the kitchen, it’s a poem filled with love and grace and light, and with the poignance of passing time.


1. Sunlight

There was a sunlit absence.
The helmeted pump in the yard
heated its iron,
water honeyed

in the slung bucket
and the sun stood
like a griddle cooling
against the wall

of each long afternoon.
So, her hands scuffled
over the bakeboard,
the reddening stove

sent its plaque of heat
against her where she stood
in a floury apron
by the window.

Now she dusts the board
with a goose’s wing,
now sits, broad-lapped,
with whitened nails

and measling shins:
here is a space
again, the scone rising
to the tick of two clocks.

And here is love
like a tinsmith’s scoop
sunk past its gleam
in the meal-bin.

I like making pita bread. It’s so simple and pleasurable, and so fun to eat when it’s done. I’ve always liked za’atar bread – middle-eastern flatbread crusted with za’atar spices, so I decided to bake some of them right into the dough of this pita bread. I used a red za’atar spice mix, and added thyme, but za’atar comes in many blends, so you could adjust it to suit your taste. These little breads were soft and puffy inside, so you could pull them apart and fill them with delicious things. The next day we toasted them, and they were lovely and crispy.

Here’s Heaney reading Mossbawn Sunlight

1 t yeast
1 t sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 cup warm water

2 1/2 cups flour
1 t salt
1 t thyme
1/4 t each sumac, coriander and cumin
1/2 t each sesame seeds and fennel seeds
1/3 cup olive oil
warm water (start with 1/2 cup and work your way up)

In a medium-sized bowl combine the yeast, sugar, half cup of flour and one cup of water. Stir to combine. Leave in a warm place for at least half an hour to get bubbly.

In a large bowl combine the flour, salt, and spices. Make a well in the center and add the olive oil and the yeast mixture, plus about half a cup of warm water. Mix with a spoon until you can’t any more, and then mix with your hands. You might need to add a little more water to for a soft, kneadable dough. Knead for about seven minutes, until it’s soft and elastic. Lightly oil a large clean bowl, put the dough in, turn it all around so the whole thing is coated with oil, and leave to rise in a warm place for about two hours. Punch/fold it down and leave for another 45 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450, and put two baking sheets in to warm up. Divide the dough into six even portions. Roll each to be about 1/4 inch thick. When the oven is hot, carefully put two rounds of dough on each baking sheet (if they fit). They should mostly puff up. Cook until they’ve got brown spots, about five to seven minutes, flip and cook the other side for about a minute, then take out of the oven and leave to cool till all the breads are done.


3 thoughts on “Pita bread flavored with za’atar

  1. Pingback: PIstachio chocolate chip cake | Out of the Ordinary

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