Egyptian Pita / Aish Baladi

Aish Baladi, very fresh & still puffed up!

If you ask me about the single most food item I miss from Egypt, it would have to be the bread. Egyptian pita bread, or Aish Baladi, is the cornerstone of Egyptian cuisine. It’s not only a major component of the meal itself, but bread is also widely used as a utensil; hey, I’ll use delicious bread over a fork and knife any day!

What’s so special about Aish might you ask? Well, for one thing, aish baladi is unique to Egypt. Sure, you can get pita all over the Middle East and now worldwide, but Egyptian pita is something else. For one thing, it’s made fresh several times a day all throughout the country. From the farmer’s wife baking it in a traditional clay oven, to your neighborhood  bakery churning it around the clock, there’s no reason to have stale pita in Egypt. The pita itself is unique in that it is 100% whole wheat, a nutritionist’s dream. It’s thick and airy on the inside, and has speckles of cracked-wheat throughout.  Oh what I would do for a feta & tomatoe  sandwich in a pita heated over a gas-flame*.

Egyptian woman baking aish in a traditional clay oven.

You might think that I’m exaggerating abut the wonderful nature of this bread, but readers, I have had aish smuggled into suitcases and flown across the world for me. Well, I’m not sure if smuggled is the right word…it’s not illegal is it? I hope not. I’m sorry customs Canada! 🙂 Anyway, I digress, back to the bread!

Here’s a recipe so you can try it for yourself:

Makes 16 pitas

  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 2.5 cups lukwarm water
  • 5-6 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tabelspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon oil

In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups of flour, one at a time and then stir about one minute to activate the gluten. Let this mixture (called sponge) rest for at least 10 minutes, and up to two hours.

Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and stir in the oil. Mix well. Add more flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn it out onto a slightly floured surface and knead 8-10 minutes until smooth & elastic. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl,  cover and place in a warm place to rise (approximately 1.5 hours).

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide it in half. Divide each half into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece into a circle less than an 1/4 inch thick.

While you allow the circles to rise again (covered), preheat your oven to the highest setting. On a pizza stone (preferred) or baking tray in the middle rack, place as many dough rounds as you can comfortably fit on it (leave a few inches space between each round). Bake for two to three minutes until the bread has puffed up like a balloon.

Enjoy!

P.S. I know 16 pitas seems like a lot, but these freeze very well :).

Did you know: The earliest wheats and the first breads are generally believed  to have originated in the Eastern Mediterranean? And that the earliest traces of grains cooked into flatbreads are in Egypt?

Did you know #2: Bread is also an important political issue in Egypt. It is heavily subsidized by the government and was even at the forefront of the recent revolution, “Bread, Freedom & Social Justice” was a key demand/ chant for protesters.

* That’s how we traditionally heat up the pita to make it all warm and toasty. Makes a mess of the stove because the bran gets everywhere, but it’s so delicious, it’s worth it.

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16 Comments

Filed under Bread

16 responses to “Egyptian Pita / Aish Baladi

  1. Ouda

    You are so making me miss aish baladi right now! Loving the clay oven picture btw 😉

  2. Pingback: Bread and the balance of good and evil « dmdoylebooks

  3. Pingback: Bread and the balance of good and evil « dmdoylebooks

  4. Pingback: Meal 53: Egypt : United Noshes

  5. Sarah

    Thank you for posting this. I am making the sponge now! 🙂 I have tried several recipes and am trying so hard to recreate that wonderful bread I had while visiting Egypt 😀 I even miss the man who came around every morning waking me up yelling it out in the street! Though at the time I wanted to tell him to stick a sock in it hahaha! Anyway, i’ll certainly let you know how it turns out 😉

  6. Tim H

    It’s not a problem to bring aish baladi into the UK…! I am UK citizen living in Cairo, and every time I go home I bring 4 x 5LE bags home with me. It should be OK to bring into Canada also, in fact everywhere except Australia and New Zealand. بالهنا والشفا

  7. Finally, after too many years of not putting up with pita bread as it is made, marketed and sold in the United States, I am going to make my own! Thank you! Did you get the recipe from a baladi baker in Egypt?

    I was an American teenager in Egypt in the sixties who ate aish baladi daily for 6 years to sop up my ful medames or as a sandwich of tamiya, tomatoes, lettuce & tahina. I added onions – basal. The street vendors thought I was a little crazy.

    Relief, at last. Are you an Egyptian who emigrated to Canada? I lived in Maadi on Road 79 and attended Cairo American College.

    Ah’alen wa sah’alen. Cheers, Richard

  8. Really great recipe! But… Do you have to leave it to rise for 1.5 hours or can you do a shorter amount of time? Thanks!

  9. christina sadek

    Hi Alia! I have been using your recipe to make Aish Baladi for my Dad. He is from Cairo and the bread makes him very happy 🙂
    Thank you very much!!
    Christina Sadek
    Montreal

  10. ACTUALLY I LOOKED UP HOW TO MAKE BALADI BREAD ,AND FOUND YOUR RECIPE I AM NOT A BAKER ;BUT I AM GOING TO MAKE THE BREAD ,EXCEPT I DON’T KNOW HOW BAKING SHEET LOOKS LIKE PLEASE TELL ME THANK YOU FOR YOUR RECIPE AND YOUR HELP ..

  11. Thanks for a great recipe. I did some fresh yesterday for some friends. It went great with Hummus. Today it was still fresh and we made sandwiches which reminded us of a wonderful week by the Nile at Luxor with a bread oven in the hotel grounds. Considering we are in cold Manchester UK that’s impressive.

  12. Mohamed Sayed

    You are really clueless about this if you think its made from 100% whole wheat flour. Believe me, I’ve been inside a lot of these bakeries ovens and all I saw was shitload of white flour bags, its made with WHITE FLOUR. The only thing that is from whole wheat is the speckles on the downside of the bread.

    Thats why I refrain from using it even if I’m on a high carb diet. If I’m craving bread which barely happens I go with Rich bake’s whole wheat dry bread slices.

    • Hi Mohamed,

      Thanks for your comment. I realize a lot of places now use white flour and only bran (the speckles you refer to) at the bottom, but you can still get 100% whole wheat, albeit it’s pricier, less and less people want it, and it’s no longer as widespread. That being said, I would still definitely eat the ‘regular white baladi’ over Rich Bake and all those commercial brands because of the preservatives and added chemicals they add for shelf life. I also don’t advocate a diet without carbs at all, but would choose complex carbs over simple carbs when possible.

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