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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 Dugi.

A mezze is an Eastern Mediterranean/Middle Eastern spread of small dishes. When we were reading up on what a mezze involves, it became apparent that there are about a zillion different ways to create a mezze spread. Greg Malouf, in Turquoise, has declared that a mezze always includes a salad and some pita to scoop it up with. Wikipedia says that it should be served with an aniseed liqueur. No one can agree on how it is spelt, or how it is pronounced. We have come to the conclusion that there is not really one ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of doing it, as long as you stick to creating dishes from the vague geographical region. That said, it makes sense to put together a nice range of complimentary dishes.

The feast

The requirement for this challenge was to make hummus (which is pretty easy for us, since Saskia is “the Queen of dips“) and pita bread. We decided to go all out and make a huge, all vegetarian, Middle Eastern feast. We hosted a dinner for 10 people. On the menu was: the required hummus and pita bread; baba ghanoush; labne balls with za’atar and dukkah; dolmades; falafels; cauliflower salad; heirloom tomato salad; vegetarian tagine; and, to finish, a watermelon and rose-water sorbet, which was served with fresh berries and halva. Behold our feast!

Hummus, baba ghanoush, dolmades and turkish bread

Labne balls with za'atar & dukkah

Pita bread

Falafel

Heirloom tomato salad

Roast cauliflower salad

Vegetarian tagine

Birds nests, kadaif, turkish delight and baklava

Watermelon sorbet, halva, summer berries with vanilla syrup

Set out below are the recipes and instructions for making the hummus and pita bread. The other recipes (except the dolmades and pastries, which we bought) will be on the blog in the coming days! (Edit: click here for falafelcauliflower salad, vegetable tagine, labne balls, heirloom tomato salad and watermelon sorbet with halva and summer berries)

This was a great challenge and a very fun evening with our vegetarian friends!

Hummus

The challenge recipe was based on a recipe by Claudia Roden. This was fortunate, because our favourite hummus recipe (in Stephanie’s) is also based on Roden’s recipe. So, luckily, we did not have to stray too far from that which we know and love. The only difference from our usual recipe was the inclusion of tahini paste.

We made the hummus according to the Daring Baker instructions. However, we used a few extra chickpeas because just some hummus is never enough!

The Daring Baker recipe ingredients are:

1.5 cups of drained canned or soaked overnight chickpeas
2 lemons, juiced
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 pinch of salt
4 tablespoons tahini
optional flavourings (we used ground cumin, smoked paprika, ground black pepper, and EV olive oil. (We considered using sumac, but decided against it.))

The magic ingredients...

To make, simply cook the chickpeas until tender, and drain (if using dried). Then, just blend all the ingredients in a food processor. If the mixture is too dry, add more water or olive oil. Then, adjust seasonings to taste. I prefer plenty of lemon juice.

To be honest, I still prefer my hummus without tahini paste. But I guess it’s just a personal thing. It still tasted excellent.

Pita bread

We decided to make two batches of pita, one from spelt flour so Emily could eat it and one from regular flour (to ensure success!).

The first step was to make a ‘sponge’ by sprinkling dry yeast over warm water, then adding 3 cups of flour, stirring to incorporate:

'Sponge': Top is regular flour, bottom is spelt flour

We rested this mixture for about an hour, then added olive oil and more flour and kneaded it until it was smooth and elastic. This was easy thanks to the beloved KitchenAid:

Top is regular flour, bottom is spelt. Spelt is certainly looking 'elastic'!

We then returned these to their bowls, covered and left in a warm spot to double in size, this took about 1.5 hours. Here is the dough while it is proving:

Top is regular, bottom is spelt

We popped our pizza stone in the oven to heat up, while we worked the dough. This involved punching down the dough, dividing it into pieces and flattening the pieces with your hands. Mr M found his dough scraper to be very helpful at this point!

Mr M working the dough

The next step is to roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches/ 20 cm in diameter and less than 1/4 inch or 6mm thick. We baked the breads one by one on the pizza stone for about 3-4 minutes – this took quite a long time!

The end result:

Top is regular flour, bottom is spelt

Emily really enjoyed the pita bread – particularly as she cannot ordinarily eat it. That said, it was quite involved to make pita from scratch and we don’t think we would do it again. Other aspects of the feast were as labour intensive but well worth the effort.

Recipe

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 regular dry yeast (.43 ounces/12.1 grams)
2.5 cups lukewarm water (21 ounces/591 grams)
5-6 cups all-purpose flour  (17.5 -21 ounces/497-596 grams) – note, we used a combination of 50% whole wheat and 50% all-purpose. We also needed to add extra flour for the mix to come together, probably an additional cup.
1 tablespoon table salt (.50 ounces/15 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (.95 ounces/29 ml)

Note: for the spelt pita bread, we used the same ratio of dry ingredients but reduced the wet ingredients by about 20%.

Directions:

  • 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.
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10 Responses to “The Daring Kitchen: Cook’s February Challenge – Mezze”

  1. Dharm says:

    That is awesome! It looks like such a superb feast. Well done on the challenge. It was certainly a lot of fun!

  2. The baked cauliflower looks so good! This was such a great challenge, yours looks great!

  3. Your beautiful teapot looks wondrous. And your platter photograph is so delicious. And your amazing spread of dishes is outstanding. I particularly like the Labne balls with za’atar & dukkah they look extra special. And your tagine is amazing this is a fabulous posting. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  4. jo says:

    Great job on your challenge and everything looks delicious.

  5. Anula says:

    When I saw your desserts options I had a memory of my holidays in Crete straight away in front of me… Your mezze looks great!!! I love your plating.
    Cheers. Anula.

  6. monkeyshines says:

    Wow, what a feast! Well done on the challenge recipes, and I particularly love your roasted cauliflower salad, labne balls and that delicious-looking watermelon sorbet…

  7. wic says:

    amazing your feast looks delicious. great work on this months challenge

  8. Lauren says:

    Just wow! So many varieties, and two types of pita? Everything looks wonderful =D.

  9. climbhighak says:

    Everything looks outstanding. This is the kind of vegetarian meal I would actually be excited to enjoy. That watermelon sorbet sounds delicious.

  10. Michele says:

    I am so impressed with your meal! Cooking for 10 is no small feat. Everything looks delicious and is so beautifully presented. Great job!

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