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Daring Cooks' challenge February: Mezze

>> Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pita bread 1

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)

Pita bread 2

  1. 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.
  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) (I use old floor tiles as a pizza stone...).
  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 (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!

Pita bread 3

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)

Hummus 2

  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. (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)
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
  4. Serve on beautiful pottery and drizzle the surface with the flavored oil.

Hummus 1


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
  • Salt
  • 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.

Falafel 2

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.

Falafel 1

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??

Mezze 1

28 comentarios:

penny aka jeroxie February 14, 2010 at 1:51 AM  

Lovely!! You pita risen so perfectly. I have a few flat ones....

All Our Fingers in the Pie February 14, 2010 at 1:55 AM  

Looks great. I like your idea to use smoked paprika with the olive oil to garnish the hummus. My pita was a dismal failure but I made them into wonderful pita chips. It isn't Sunday here yet!

Kano February 14, 2010 at 11:23 AM  


I did a quick search today to see the result of the Pita and mezze challenge.

I will have to say, your pita bread is by far the best I've seen. They look axactly what a pita bread should look.

Really impressive!

Anonymous February 14, 2010 at 11:31 AM  

The hummus with the pimentón oil looks incredibly yummy!!!! I'll have to bookmark it so I can make it, too! And your falafels look great, too. I made falafels for the first time for this challenge, and now I am hooked to them!

Jenn February 14, 2010 at 11:36 AM  

Great job! I can't believe how your pitas stayed puffed up like that, just gorgeous! Great tip about freezing the falafel too....ha I use ice cube trays for everything!

Junglefrog February 14, 2010 at 12:30 PM  

Your pita looks absolutely perfect!! Beautifully blown up and I think the idea to freeze the leftover falafel balls in a icecube tray is just brilliant! I got to remember that for next time. Although we didn't actually have any leftovers I will for sure make more next time!

Audax February 14, 2010 at 1:16 PM  

WOWOWOW that pita looks fabulous and the hummus is extra special well done and I love the falafels. Your photographs are so clear and professional. The best looking pira bread so far. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

Divina Pe February 14, 2010 at 1:53 PM  

They are just beautiful. Your pita bread is awesome. They are nicely risen. I have to make these soon.

Jo February 14, 2010 at 2:49 PM  

Your pita bread looks absolutely delicious. Great job on your challenge and the pictures are fantastic.

Trix February 14, 2010 at 3:07 PM  

Oooh, I covet those puffy pitas. Really great. Freezing the falafel in ice cube trays is a stroke of genius! The spread looks mouthwatering, just the sort of thing I love.

Rochelle February 14, 2010 at 3:54 PM  

Your pitas came out perfect! I'm jealous :D

Anula February 14, 2010 at 4:09 PM  

Your pita bread tourned out great! Love your falafel :) Great job and nice photos.
Cheers. Anula

shelley c. February 14, 2010 at 5:39 PM  

Your pitas look spectacular! And love the idea of using the ice cube trays to freeze the falafels! I'll have to remember that one!
Great job on the challenge!

Wic February 14, 2010 at 6:32 PM  

your bread is so pretty I am jealous.

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite February 15, 2010 at 2:39 AM  

Wasn't this a fun challenge? I love your idea of freezing the falafel in ice cube trays - genius!

bake in paris February 15, 2010 at 12:18 PM  

Lovely pita bread, puffing so well... and enjoy the photos so much as if I were in your kitchen having mezze.... delightful

Sawadee from Bangkok,

Bellini Valli February 15, 2010 at 5:09 PM  

If I didn't already know that all these delicious foods would be enjoyed and gone already I would be over toute suite:D

Michele February 16, 2010 at 9:42 AM  

Your pita looks delicious and your photos are stunning! Thank you so much for cooking along with me this month. Your made such a lovely meal and I'm really glad that you enjoyed the challenge.

Gar February 16, 2010 at 4:41 PM  

i adore pita and hummus! I get so disappointed when I have mediocre hummus. Yours look great!

Tiffanee February 16, 2010 at 7:25 PM  

Your pitas look so delicious. YUM!! I am going to have to try this out.

GirlCook February 16, 2010 at 8:11 PM  

Perfect pitas and spelt flour, thank you for sharing, all of these recipes are wonderful!

powderate February 17, 2010 at 1:12 AM  

I think the pita bread exceptional, puffed up good and the other dishes you want to take a piece of pita and dive in.

I am intending to accept this challenge as I recently was approved to be a daring cook. What fun. I find the results are all so great and unique.

Lee Ann xx

Margie February 17, 2010 at 4:04 AM  

Gorgeous pita and stunning photos! I admire your obvious flair with alternate flours. You've inspired me to go beyond wheat.

FamilySpice February 17, 2010 at 4:45 PM  

Beautiful pita! Mine didn't puff at all, but the kids still ate up the bread. Great job!

tasteofbeirut February 18, 2010 at 5:33 AM  

I am so proud of you! Beautiful work my dear! Congratulations you far exceeded the challenge!

Anonymous February 20, 2010 at 6:22 PM  

It looks like you had as much fun as I did with this challenge! I wish my pics had come out as gorgeous as yours. I had tried to make falafel about a year ago and I must have picked a really bad recipe because they ended up inedible. I will save this recipe and force myself to try again. Great job on the challenge!

What A Dish! February 24, 2010 at 10:16 AM  

What a gorgeous meal!! I want to make all of it. :)

Miriam February 27, 2010 at 1:42 PM  

Bother, I'm lagging behind in my answering your comments, thanks everyone!!


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