I have really enjoyed this challenge. I love Middle Eastern food and almost any Mediterranean food in general, therefore I was really excited about the mezze. Michele, this month’s host, says: «if you’re not familiar with mezze, it’s more of a style of eating than a specific recipe or recipes. Mezze is a bunch of small dishes served all at once—sort of like the Middle Eastern version of Spanish Tapas. It can be served as appetizers before a meal, or as the meal itself». So this was really a multiple challenge, because it involved various dishes. The essential part of the challenge involved preparing pita bread and hummus, which I had never prepared before. That’s good for me, I need to be pushed every now and then. D. knows a lot about it…
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.
For my mezze, besides the compulsory pita bread and hummus, I prepared roasted red peppers and falafel, both having starred at my table a number of times previously. I’m really hooked on falafel. And I’m not usually a chickpea lover (I’m in love with chickpea flour though), but the flavoring of falafel really gives me a kick. And they are easy to make, you can prepare a lot and freeze part of them for later use, which is very practical when you have kids… or even unexpected visitors. I was planning to prepare dolmades too, but I couldn’t find the time to scout for grapevine leaves… they’re nowhere to be found in my neighborhood. I’m giving you 3 recipes here, for pita bread, hummus and falafel.
Pita bread, adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
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) (I used 25g fresh baker’s yeast)
- 2.5 cups lukewarm water (21 ounces/591 grams)
- 5-6 cups all-purpose flour (17.5 -21 ounces/497-596 grams) (I used spelt here, half white and half whole, and I had to use 7 cups in total)
- 1 tablespoon table salt (.50 ounces/15 grams)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (.95 ounces/29 ml)
- In a large bread bowl, pour the warm water. Crumble the fresh yeast on 3 cups of flour. Stir in the flour, a cup at a time, and homogenize. Let this sponge rest as long as needed, until double in bulk and bubbly (mine took less than 1 hour, but I think the amount of yeast was more on the excess side). The original directions call for a minimum of 10 minutes, I think that’s too short.
- 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) (I use old floor tiles as a pizza stone…).
- 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 (I needed around 12 minutes for the breads to brown). 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. Wow, my breads puffed up so beautifully!
Hummus, recipe adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Prep Time: Hummus can be made in about 15 minutes once the beans are cooked. You can use dried chickpeas or canned boiled chickpeas, but I prefer to soak them and cook them myself.
- 1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (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) (1.5 ounces/45 grams)
- Additional flavorings (optional) (I simply garnished it with pimentón oil, 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil with half a teaspoon of sweet Spanish pimentón)
- 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. (I preferred to add the lemon juice here and use the water later to adjust the thickness. If you use the cooking water here to adjust the thickness so that you can process it, maybe the mixture will be too liquid after adding the lemon juice… it’s just my idea)
- Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
- Serve on beautiful pottery and drizzle the surface with the flavored oil.
I didn’t use the recipe Michele provided, but the one I usually prepare, from the book Tamasin’s Kitchen Bible, by Tamasin Day-Lewis (ambitious name for a book, don’t you agree? But I quite like it. And yes, she’s Daniel Day-Lewis’s sister)
- 340g chickpeas, soaked overnight
- 2 medium onions
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 green chillies, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 handful flat parsley
- 1 handful fresh coriander
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 600ml olive oil
The challenge’s recipe included some all-purpose flour too. It’s true that the crushed chickpeas mixture can ooze some liquid, but I prefer to drain them a little bit after crushing. Or dry them thoroughly on paper before processing them. And if you don’t want to drain the crushed chickpeas, you can also add some chickpea flour, then you keep the falafel gluten-free. In fact I added some this time, that’s why my little balls have such a light color, they are rolled in chickpea flour.
The preparation is really easy: first grind the cumin and the coriander seeds in a mortar. No need to grind them to a powder. Then put all the ingredients together in a food processor or mixer and grind them to a grainy pulp. Don’t expect it to be smooth. Take walnut-sized pieces with a spoon and form them into balls. I rolled the balls in chickpea flour to absorb some of the moistness.
If you’re not going to eat all the falafel at once, you can freeze them at this point. I use ice cubes trays for this.
Heat the oil and fry the balls in batches; brown them thoroughly and drain on kitchen paper. They’re delicious dipped in tahini sauce, but that was another failure, because my last tahini paste had gone into my hummus… am I badly organized??