The 2010 February Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid.
Mezze (pronounced "mez" or "mez-ay" - I simply pronounce it "delicious") is the Middle Eastern version of Spanish tapas. My mezze ended up rather Syrian in flavor, due to making the e-acquaintance (i.e., I read his blog) of Tony Tahhan, who does not lack in deliciousness himself, if you know what I mean. I adapted his recipes for kebab, spinach fatayer, garlic sauce, baklava, and fattoush. The challenge recipes were hummus and pita. I rounded things out with falafel, an option challenge recipe, and olives from Holy Land.
Pita Bread – Recipe adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
This was some delicious pita bread, and kept for a couple of days after cooking. I found that rolling out the dough thickly made for a better poof. I wish the bread had more color, but I set off the smoke alarm three times as it was, and I'm not sure my oven could've handled more heat.
Prep time: 20 minutes to make, 90 minutes to rise and about 45 minutes to cook
2 teaspoons regular dry yeast (.43 ounces/12.1 grams)
2.5 cups lukewarm water (21 ounces/591 grams)
5-6 cups all-purpose flour (may use a combination of 50% whole wheat and 50% all-purpose, or a combination of alternative flours for gluten free pita) (17.5 -21 ounces/497-596 grams)
1 tablespoon table salt (.50 ounces/15 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (.95 ounces/29 ml)
- In a large bread bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups flour, a cup at a time, and then stir 100 times, about 1 minute, in the same direction to activate the gluten. Let this sponge rest for at least 10 minutes, or as long as 2 hours.
- Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and stir in the olive oil. Mix well. Add more flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Rinse out the bowl, dry, and lightly oil. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until at least doubled in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours.
- Place a pizza stone, or two small baking sheets, on the bottom rack of your oven, leaving a 1-inch gap all around between the stone or sheets and the oven walls to allow heat to circulate. Preheat the oven to 450F (230C).
- Gently punch down the dough. Divide the dough in half, and then set half aside, covered, while you work with the rest. Divide the other half into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece with lightly floured hands. Roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter and less than 1/4 inch thick. Keep the rolled-out breads covered until ready to bake, but do not stack.
- Place 2 breads, or more if your oven is large enough, on the stone or baking sheets, and bake for 2 to 3 minutes, or until each bread has gone into a full balloon. If for some reason your bread doesn't puff up, don't worry it should still taste delicious. Wrap the baked breads together in a large kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft while you bake the remaining rolled-out breads. Then repeat with the rest of the dough.
Hummus – Recipe adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Behold! Hummus that doesn't suck! This is the first time I made edible hummus. If we ate more hummus in my family, I'd make it all the time. I'm sure to make it again because I had the totally brilliant idea of cooking a whole two pounds of chickpeas for this challenge, which means I have a metric ton of them in my freezer now.
Prep Time: Hummus can be made in about 15 minutes once the beans are cooked. If you’re using dried beans you need to soak them overnight and then cook them the next day which takes about 90 minutes.
1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (or substitute well drained canned chickpeas and omit the cooking) (10 ounces/301 grams)
2-2.5 lemons, juiced (3 ounces/89ml)
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
a big pinch of salt
4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste) OR use peanut butter or any other nut butter—feel free to experiment) (1.5 ounces/45 grams)
additional flavorings (optional) I would use about 1/3 cup or a few ounces to start, and add more to taste
- Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.
- Puree the beans in a food processor (or you can use a potato masher) adding the cooking water as needed until you have a smooth paste.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
Falafels - Recipe from Joan Nathan and Epicurious.com
These are fantastic. Boy, do I wish I had a food processor, though. I had to use my blender and it was not an easy task. My cookie dough scoop made them the perfect size.
Prep Time: Overnight for dry beans and 1 hour to make Falafels
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight OR use well canned drained chickpeas (7 ounces/100 grams)
1/2 large onion (roughly chopped, about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped OR use a couple pinches of dried parsley (.2 ounces/5 grams)
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped OR use a couple pinches of dried cilantro (.2 ounces/5 grams)
1 teaspoon table salt (.1 ounce/5 grams)
1 teaspoon dried hot red peppers (cayenne) (.1 ounce/2 grams)
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon cumin (.1 ounce/2 grams)
1 teaspoon baking powder (.13 ounces/4 grams)
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour (1 ounce/24 grams) (you may need a bit extra)
tasteless oil for frying (vegetable, canola, peanut, soybean, etc.), you will need enough so that the oil is three inches deep in whatever pan you are using for frying
- Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, and then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, drained.
- Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cumin. Process until blended but not pureed. If you don’t have a food processor, then feel free to mash this up as smooth as possible by hand.
- Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour, and pulse. You want to add enough bulgur or flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.
- Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts.
- Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees (190C) in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
- Drain on paper towels.
Note: These can also be baked on a nonstick pad (silpat or the like) at 325F (160C), just until they’re firm, about 20 minutes.
The garlic sauce was so delicious and so potent. I tried to double the recipe so used about 10 cloves of garlic, but I was only able to incorporate about 3/4 cup of oil into the egg whites anyway. Let's just say that there weren't any vampires around here the night we dined on this. My daughter loved the fatayer. My dough ended up a lot thicker and I had a lot less filling than Tony's do, so should I make them again, more rolling will be in order.
I wish I would have been able to grill the kebab, but 25 minutes at 425 did the trick. The more allspice the better with these; I didn't have nearly enough.
I had to fudge the baklava because I forgot to buy orange blossom water, which, of course, was one of the main reasons I made the trek to Holy Land. Instead, I added about 1/4 cup of honey to the syrup. It could've used a bit more baking for color, but after two and a half hours in the oven, I wanted to go to sleep, so I gave up on that. More syrup would've been nice, too, maybe just by a half cup.
As far as fattoush goes, this version was basically romaine, radish, cucumber, red bell pepper, and the dressing. It was very refreshing and crisp, and the sumac brings instant Middle Eastern flavor.
All in all, a pretty yummy challenge, wouldn't you say?