The 2010 February Daring Cook’s 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.
Mezze (aka meze) is a selection of small plates typical of Middle Eastern cuisine…an assortment of appetizers, so to speak. Warm pitas and hummus are classic mezze items, and making these was the mandatory part of the challenge. A mezze also usually includes fresh salads and dips with bold and often spicy flavors.
I stayed pretty traditional and served my pitas and hummus with homemade preserved lemons, a bowl of olives, a tomato and cucumber salad enhanced with fresh mint, and leftovers of this chickpea salad with fiery harissa.
Note that I made my pitas with spelt flour and I didn’t knead the dough as much the recipe suggests. Also, I refrigerated it for a few days before making the pitas (these are techniques I learned from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking). Other than that, I stuck to the challenge recipes as given.
Pita Bread Recipe
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 dry yeast
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
5-6 cups all-purpose flour (I used spelt flour)
1 Tb. salt
2 Tb. 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 450°F.
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.
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. If you’re using dried beans you need to soak them overnight and then cook them the next day which takes about 90 minutes.
1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (or substitute well drained canned chickpeas and omit the cooking)
2-2 1/2 lemons, juiced
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
a big pinch of salt
4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.
Purée 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.
Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
I enjoy every Daring Cooks’ challenge, but I really appreciated the simple and delicious food of this mezze…Thanks to Michele for this wonderful idea!