Pan Arabe Is The Simple Tortilla You Can Make At Home, No Press Required

For an easy street food with big flavors, a taco requires some surprisingly subtle steps to make it really great. There are the spices used to cook the meat, the perfect sauce, the acid kick of added slaw, and, of course, the tortilla itself. Whether they're made from corn or wheat flour, the tortilla's texture transforms the taco experience. But if you don't live in Mexico where tortillerías are on practically every corner, and you try to make fresh tortillas yourself, you quickly discover that to make them right you need a tortilla press. That's quite a commitment of money and space for those who aren't sure just how often they'll be making tortillas from scratch.

Which is why we were so happy to hear about "pan árabe," which requires no tortilla press because it's rolled by hand and cooked on the stove in a skillet. It literally means "Arab bread" and it's the kind of tortilla used for "tacos árabes" — a type of taco that originated in the Puebla area of Mexico. This dish was created by the Tabe and Galeana families, immigrants from Iraq who moved to Mexico after the First World War. They brought their expertise with shawarma and pita bread and created a fusion-style food that blends spit-fired meat redolent with Middle Eastern spices and a thin yeasted flatbread — served in the style of a taco. 

Fladbread made for fusion

By adapting the techniques and flavors they were familiar with to what they found available locally, the inventors of tacos árabes sandwiched their fragrant, spicy meat in a hybrid sort of bread: half pita, half tortilla. Basically, they're the original fusion tacos; long before there were So-Cal Korean tacos, there were tacos árabes.

While pan árabe originated with a very specific type of tacos, there is no reason you shouldn't try it out with other fillings as well. Essentially, you're creating a slightly different type of flat bread (of which tortillas are the world's most popular). It's a no-knead yeasted bread that fries up in a pan. The yeast element makes pan árabe unusual among its class, and, along with a very long rise, it gives the tortillas both a unique texture and a bit of sourdough tang. 

After combining yeast, water, and flour, knead briefly until smooth. Let the dough rise — 12 hours minimum, though 36 is best if you want to create that fermented zestiness — and you're literally ready to roll. The dough gets separated into small balls and then flattened and fried up on a hot skillet until blistered and charred in spots. If you're looking to level up your Taco Tuesday plan, pan árabe is one great place to start. If you don't have time to make the real deal, try subbing in thin pita bread topped with all your favorite taco ingredients.