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.
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
- 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.
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.
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)
- Purée the beans in a food processor adding some water as needed until you have a smooth paste.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
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…
- 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
- Soak chickpeas for 24 hours.
- 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.
- Form small balls and put on a lined sheet pan.
- Bake at 325°F, just until they’re firm, about 20 minutes.
Yield: about 35 small falafels.
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
- Mix yogurt, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice.
- Divide in halves, and add cucumber to one half, tomato to the other half.
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).
- 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
- Prepare the couscous as directed on the package.
- Combine the couscous with the parsley, mint, tomatoes, and onion.
- Add the olive oil and lemon juice.
- Season with salt and pepper.
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)
- 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
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- 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.
- Combine all the other ingredients, add the toasted pita bread and serve immediately.
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.