Sunday, February 14, 2010

Daring Cooks/Mezze

As you probably all know by now I am a member of the Daring Cook's Club, a fantastic online group dedicated to helping people like me challenge themselves in the kitchen and try new things. In general I love being a member, especially when the challenge excites me. This month's challenge was definitely one that I was excited about from the get-go. 'Mezze' are traditional Middle Eastern dishes that are usually served together tapas-style. What's so fun about this is the amount of flexibility that comes along with making this type of meal, with all the mixing and matching the possibilities are endless. Also, Middle Eastern food might just be one of my favorites, so I can never pass up a chance to make it for myself (although it's my belief that when it comes to Middle Eastern food homemade can never compare to the real deal.)

The 2010 February Daring Bakers 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.

My mezze spread included the required pita and hummus, but then I also made zaatar pitas, lentil-pine nut 'falafels' (I kind of threw these together, so I will post a real recipe another time) and an Israeli salad of sorts (not pictured). Overall I was incredibly pleased with the outcome of this challenge, the only problem I encountered was with the pitas. They were good enough, but due to my lack of a decent oven or pizza stone, they were a little on the chewy side and dried out very quickly. They were still perfectly fine though and considering my bread-making track record, I was pleased. Overall, this month's challenge reminded me why I like to be a member of the Daring Cooks, this is all food I love, but probably would have never taken the time to make had it not been 'required.'

Pita Bread
(yield 16 pitas)
2 tsp. dry active yeast
2.5 c. lukewarm water
5-6 c. AP flour
1 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
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.
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.

Zaatar Pita

2 pitas
3 tbsp. zaatar
2 tbsp. olive oil
1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2) Brush each pita with 1 tbsp. of olive and then sprinkle half of the zaatar on each one.
3) Place in the oven and toast/bake for 3-4 minutes, until the top is bubbling gently.

(adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden)
1 1/2 c. dried chickpeas (soaked in cold water at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours; this is equivalent to 4.5 c. canned chickpeas)
Juice of 2 lemons
2 cloves of garlic
1 large pinch of salt
4 tbsp. tahini paste
4 tbsp. olive oil
sprinkle of cayenne

1) Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.
2) 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.
3) Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
4) Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with cayenne pepper just before serving.