There are certain things about Halifax, Nova Scotia I love and miss. Generally, being in Boston has broadened my horizons, if not spoiled me. No longer am I satisfied with anything from Wal-mart, Sears, or Kent Building Supplies. No, I want Target, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, and Lowes. No longer could I even imagine shopping for furniture at – gasp – Leon’s. And Kitchen supplies, well, nothing, and I mean nothing compares to Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma. True, Boston has made shopping a wonderful, opportunistic, and debt-inducing experience – but what Boston doesn’t have is Donairs.
Oh, Donairs – they’re amazing. They’re soft, warm sauce-soaked pitas filled with spicy shaved meat, sweet garlicy sauce, onions and tomatoes. Inspired by the Lebanese, these are what every true Haligonian craves after a night on Barrington street, an afternoon playing Wii, an evening at home with a 6-pack. They’re messy, but they’re oh-so-worth-it! If you’re like me, they’re incomplete without a side of Farmer’s Chocolate Milk. Yum
Now, Donairs can’t be found anywhere else. When I moved to British Columbia back in the early 90’s I thought I found them at a little shop in Esquimalt on the island of Victoria, only they called them gyros. They looked the same. The loaf-like meat spun on the same electric roasting rotisserie contraption King of Donair displayed proudly on their main counter. The sauce looked thick and creamy. I ordered, and sunk my teeth into something that tasted of dill and sour cream. NOT what my taste buds wanted. Of course I’m talking about Tatziki – NOT donair sauce.
I found myself without them again when I decided to stay in Boston with the bear, raise boxers, attend law school, and escape reality in a well known place we now refer to as SoJo’s (my kitchen). I try to get them every time I go home to visit, which hadn’t happened in over 2 years. That’s right, 2 years without a donair. Not a happy camper. So, I had to do something. Well, in true SoJo fashion, the sous chefs suggested I make my own. So, Jo did. Now, they’re not King of Donair, but they ain’t gyros. either. They’re close, real close. And, more importantly, they’re delicious – even if the Chocolate Milk isn’t from Farmer’s, but Hood or Garelick, now.
The first part of a donair is the pita. The warm, white, fluffy, sticky, yummy bread pocket that wraps around all that spicy meat and sticky sauce. The base. The donair’s home. Only, you don’t use the pocket part of the pita, you use the whole damned pita. How gluttonous and lovely. When I decided to make donairs at home, we had no pitas. We had no pitas and I had no gas in the Jeep. We had no pitas, I had no gas in the Jeep, and I had no motivation to get up, get gas, and get pitas. So, Jo made pitas. Now, you can skip this step and pick up a handy-dandy bag of pita bread – there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing. But you know me – lazy. Shut up.
3 cups plus a scant 1/4 flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cups water, room temperature
Combine all the ingredients.
Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix on low speed just until all the flour is moistened, about 20 seconds.
Change to the dough hook, increase the speed to medium, and knead for 10 minutes. (The dough should clean the bowl, be very soft and smooth, and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary to get the right consistency.)
Place the dough into a large bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil.
Press the dough down and lightly spray or oil the top of it.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 3 days).
Preheat the oven to 500°F.
Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone, cast-iron skillet, or baking sheet on it before preheating.
Cut the dough into 8. Work with one piece at a time, cover the rest with a damp cloth.
On a lightly floured surface and with floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk.
Cover the dough disks with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.
Roll each disk into a circle a approximately 1/4 inch thick.
Allow the disks to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes before baking.
Sprinkle the dough with water from your finger tips, almost flicking them with water.
Place a rolled disk of dough directly on the baking stone or in a skillet or on a baking sheet, and bake for 3 minutes.
The pita should be completely puffed but not beginning to brown.
The dough will not puff well if it is not moist enough.
When you remove the puffed pita from the oven they will fall.
I realize that when one looks at the lengthy-ness of the directions that these may seem daunting and though they do take time (kneading and rising) they’re not complicated at all. I’m not sure I’ll ever buy pita bread again – and that’s saying something.