The Daring Cooks’ Challenges 02/10: Mezze

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.

This was my first challenge with the Daring Cooks – and what a challenge this was! Mezze is a selection of small dishes or appetizers in Middle Eastern cuisine. I’ve never heard of tabbouleh or fattoush before. I have heard of hummus and falafel before, but have never had any. I’ve had tzatziki before, but no raita. So, this was going to be a really interesting challenge for me. The only thing I was kind of familiar with was the pita bread. Thanks to my participation in the BBA Challenge I’ve made pita bread before. Anyway, but this challenge requested following Michele’s recipe for pita bread, so that’s what I did.

I didn’t want to serve pita bread and hummus only, so I got 2 of my current favorite cookbooks (Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” and “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”) and went recipe hunting. I found recipes for falafels, fattoush (Lebanese bread salad), tabbouleh and raita in there and decided to follow these recipes. This is what it looked like in my kitchen: there is definitely NOT enough room for 2 books and the challenge paper, so I was continuously rotating them, depending on what I was making at the moment.

Pita Bread

Michele’s recipe (adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid):

  • 2 tsp regular dry yeast
  • 2.5 cups lukewarm water
  • 5-6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tblsp table salt
  • 2 tblsp olive oil

Directions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

My comments:

I had to use WAY more flour, all in all I used about 9 cups instead of 5-6. With less than 1/4 inch thick, my rolled-out dough pieces weren’t 8-9 inches in diameter, but approximately 7 inches. Most of the 16 breads puffed up really nicely, and those that didn’t were still delicious. I do prefer the BBA recipe, though.

Hummus

Michele’s recipe (adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden):

  • 1.5 cups well drained canned chickpeas
  • 2-2.5 lemons, juiced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 4 tblsp tahini
  • additional flavorings (optional)

Directions:

  1. Purée the beans in a food processor adding some water as needed until you have a smooth paste.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

My comments:

At first, I wanted to make the tahini myself by following this recipe because I wasn’t sure I would find it at our grocery store. But they had it and it wasn’t really expensive, so I just went with the store-bought kind. I used canned chickpeas, and added paprika as flavoring. The hubby loved the hummus, I thought it was ok. I totally think this is an acquired taste so next time I make it I might like it more. I might play around with some other flavors then…

Sesame Falafel

Recipe (adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman; you can also find the basic falafel recipe here):

  • 1 3/4 cup dried chickpeas
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tblsp ground cumin
  • Scant tsp cayenne, or to taste
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 2 tblsp tahini
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tblsp lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Soak chickpeas for 24 hours.
  2. Drain chickpeas well (reserve soaking water) and purée them. Add remaining ingredients. Add water if necessary, but no more than 1 or 2 tablespoons. Add salt, pepper, cayenne and lemon juice to taste.
  3. Form small balls and put on a lined sheet pan.
  4. Bake at 325°F, just until they’re firm, about 20 minutes.

Yield: about 35 small falafels.

My comments:

Mark Bittman does NOT bake the falafels, but deep-fries them. I altered the recipe to my needs, though. I had never eaten falafels before and thought they were extremely tasty, especially when dipped into raita. I REALLY liked the sesame flavor!

Cucumber Raita & Tomato Raita

Recipe (adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman):

  • 2 cups yogurt
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup of diced tomato
  • 1 cup of diced cucumber

Directions:

  1. Mix yogurt, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice.
  2. Divide in halves, and add cucumber to one half, tomato to the other half.

My comments:

I always make yogurt myself and strain it as I like the Greek-style texture more than the thin yogurt. So I used strained yogurt for the raita. I didn’t seed or peel the cucumber or the tomato, and don’t really understand why other people do it. The raita was DIVINE! Unfortunately, you can’t eat it during the week because you would put all your co-workers off due to the garlic smell ;o).

Tabbouleh

Recipe (adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman; you can also find the recipe here):

  • 1/2 cup couscous
  • 2 cups minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 cup minced fresh mint leaves
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tblsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Prepare the couscous as directed on the package.
  2. Combine the couscous with the parsley, mint, tomatoes, and onion.
  3. Add the olive oil and lemon juice.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.

My comments:

Mark Bittman uses bulgur. I didn’t have any on hand, so I took couscous instead, and thought it tasted GREAT. I’ll make this salad again and again. This is my new favorite salad!

Fattoush (Lebanese Bread Salad)

Recipe (adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman; you can also find the recipe here):

  • 4 (6 inch) pita breads
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • medium cucumber, roughly chopped
  • yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
  • extra-virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut the pitas into 8 wedges each, place them on a baking sheet and toast them for approximately 15 minutes, turning once, until they are crisp and golden.
  3. Combine all the other ingredients, add the toasted pita bread and serve immediately.

My comments:

This salad was interesting, but nothing really special. We often have this kind of vegetable salad – not with toasted pita bread, though😉.

Many, many thanks to Michele for this truly wonderful challenge. I really enjoyed preparing all these things.

38 responses to “The Daring Cooks’ Challenges 02/10: Mezze

  1. Congrats on your first challenge! You did a great job making so many things, and your pitas look beautiful! Haha I love the picture of the stacked books, that’s how I feel in my tiny kitchen as well!

  2. Wow, I am so incredibly impressed! First, that you are participating in so many challenges simultaneously! Second, that you created such a beautiful spread! It all looks just wonderful! I’ve never made raita or tabbouleh; I will have to try these recipes. I am a die-hard hummus fan, though. Try blending in some roasted red peppers . . . yum!!

    • Really, you HAVE to make tabbouleh. And use couscous instead of bulgur. I’m totally hooked now!!!! Could eat it every other day! Do you know muhammara? It’s a roasted pepper-walnut spread – I just made it yesterday: it’s soooo yummy, too. Maybe I’ll write a post about it soon (if I find the time with all my simultaneous challenges ;-)).

      • I’m the same way! I’d had it a couple times before, but now that I know how easy it is to make, we’ve had it twice a week since doing the challenge!!😀😀

  3. Everything looks so good and great to hear that you liked so many of the recipes. You did two types of raitas Cucumber & Tomato, and your falafels are extra special. Your research in the cook books really paid off. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  4. My oven is a Metter Cuisinière it is very old but is wonderful it really gets very hot. I think the real secret is to preheat the oven for 40 mins or so and use a baking stone. Most people only wait until the temperature is just at the correct temperature (about 10-15 mins) which means that the baking stone and the walls and racks are all at a low temperature.

    Sumac is a standard Middle Eastern herb and is used in lot of dishes especially salad and meats, it tastes a little like lemon (citrus) you can find it in the spice/herb aisle it is dark red with a purple sheen here is a link to wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumac

    Kangaroo meat tastes like rare roast beef and takes a fraction of a minute to cook (very fast cooking). Also like you I used couscous in my tabbouleh and it was wondrous. Thanks for the compliment. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  5. Awesome job! This was my first DCC, too. Everything you made looks so good! I may just try that tabouleh!

  6. Wow. Great job with all the mezze accompaniments. I didn’t have time to make falafels, etc., but yours look fantastic, and I’m inspired to make them soon.

  7. The whole spread looks devine! I have to say that while I make falafel every few months at home (from a mix, but now that I know Bittman’s recipe is good, I’ll just use that) I never ever fry them. My last experiment with deep frying was so terrifying that I’m determined to never do it again. Well, that and they taste great baked and are actually good for us that way.

    Now, its not saying that a fried falafel isn’t amazing, but I’ll just save that for my trips to Falafel King.

    Keep up the good work.

    – D

  8. Love how your pitas turned out! I wish I had made the falafels, so glad to hear they taste so good🙂

  9. Oh my! Everything looks amazing =D. I love all of the parts you made. Well done!

  10. Your meze look wonderful – I just love falafel. And they are definitely better when they’re not fried! Love the colorful raitas you created.

  11. it looks amazing and delicious. love the picture of the books.
    congratulation on your first challenge.

  12. your mezze looks amazing, it makes me want to head back to my fridge and start nibbling leftovers!

  13. You did an amazing job on the challenge! Delish!!

  14. I bake my falafel as well. I love to make a batch and take them to work. Great job with your first challenge

  15. Beautiful looking mezze🙂 Great job!

  16. Your photo labeling makes it so easy to identify all your mezze. Great work and enjoy tonight your additional pita and muhammara!

    I think I’ll try the other pita recipe you mentioned next time. It’s interesting that you needed so much extra flour for the provided recipe. I couldn’t work it all into my dough. It got dry fast!

  17. Also, sesame falafel sounds killer.

  18. Wonderful! You added so many different recipes, it’s impressive! I was going to make fatoush, but forgot about it. And I wish I’d thought of tabouleh, it’s so refreshing and tasty!

  19. I love Michael Bittman too! Your Mezze looks amazing! Yum. I want to eat it all. The colors are so bright and fresh. Great choice of recipes. I love it that you make your own yogurt! Awesome!
    For the raita- try roasting your garlic with olive oil (it’s in the Bittman Veg Everything Book). It really cuts down on the after taste (smell) of the garlic.
    Thanks for the comment on my post! Good luck with your pitas tonight! 🙂

  20. Mmmmm falafelllllll – think I’ll add some sesame seeds to mine next time! Well done, your Mezze looks amezzing!! I really have to stop saying saying that. It was my first DCC too and really enjoyed it – I’m especially looking forward to the next one because I’ll have moved house and have a bigger kitchen – I totally empathise with the book stacking!

  21. Your food is just gorgeous and I love the colorful raita! Thank you so much for cooking along with me this month. You did such a fantastic job. The photo of the books is exactly how my kitchen counter looks most days. Cookbooks have taken over…

  22. I love all your photos. Especially your opening mezze shot and the stacked cookbooks. All your mezze selections looks delicious. My copy of Bittman’s How to Cook Everything is battered and bruised. I love The Bread Bakers Apprentice too and wish I had your energy to cook the book.

  23. I’m interested in your version of tzatziki, too…

    It’s funny that you went diving for cookbooks, too! I stacked mine like that while I was doing my second mezze, but then I just tossed it all aside and used the challenge recipes! hahaha! ;D

    This all looks really wonderful, and I’m glad you learned some exciting things. I feel very happy about all I learned this month, too.🙂

  24. Welcome! Your mezze spread is beautiful. I’ve got to try the falafel with sesame seeds. Your tomato raita is in my to do list. I like fatoush, if you have the chance give this a try with sumac, it does give a big difference.
    I like the cookbook shots. I collect cookbooks but i don’t have any Middle Eastern cookbook. I did my research at Barnes and Nobles during my days off.

  25. Ciao ! What a wonderful array of deliciousness !! I wanted to patecipate to the colombian tour as well but run out of time and ended up on the last evening for the DC challenge !! Your choice is fantastic !!

  26. Your mezze look delicious! And I like your presentation and the way your blog is organized!

  27. Gorgeous pita! Congrats on your first challenge and thanks for the comment on my blog!

  28. Fabulous job on the mezze-so many beautiful and flavorful dishes. Congratulations.

  29. While studying for this challenge I almost broke down and bought one of Bittman’s books. His recipes do always seem to work.

    You did a wonderful job on the mezze and I am especially interested in the sesame falafel. Was contemplating adding chopped up pistachios to mine.

  30. I have to agree with Robert…Bittman’s recipes do work well, plus, he’s fun to watch/read. That said, your mezze is outrageously amazing! Love the sesame falafel and you really do have to try Muhamara! YUM!

    • Yes, I like Bittman’s recipe a lot, too. Also, I DID try muhammara in the meantime. I made it 3 days ago and had it for lunch with homemade pita every day. It IS great. My new favorite spread!

  31. Wow! Sesame falafel sounds too tasty. I gotta put that on my to make list.🙂

  32. Congrats and you did such a wonderful job! yum yum..

  33. Terrific job on the Mezze Challenge! Looks like we had the same problem with the pita recipe being light on the flour. Wonderful job!

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