Sunday, February 14, 2010

February Daring Cooks Challenge: Mezze

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.

Mezze is a very comforting style of eating, sharing dishes with the entire table. Snowmageddon nearly derailed my plans to share this meal with a group of friends, but in the end, merely delayed it. Because of the delay, everything (except the pita) was made in advance and kept very well in the fridge overnight. The pita were cooked as our guests were arriving and the kebabs were mixed in advance, but grilled last minute (yes, grilled in the aftermath of the blizzard).
The essential recipes to this challenge were homemade pita and hummus and we were free to round out our menu with other recipes of our choosing. I chose to make a cucumber-mint yogurt dip, muhammara, kefta kebabs and a fava bean salad. I rounded out the meal with olives, almonds, falafel from a mix (not great) and veggies for dipping. And dessert could be nothing other than the excellent baklava from a local middle eastern bakery. The result was a delightful snowy afternoon with good friends and delicious food.

The pita recipe was easier than I imagined and all of my breads puffed nicely. I think it was quite warm in my kitchen, because it was a very quick rising dough and I came into the kitchen to find dough spilling over the edges of the bowl. I quickly got it under control, but it had more than doubled in less than 45 minutes. Even so, the bread was quick to roll out and easy to cook. I set my oven to its maximum heat of 550F and used baking sheets to cook them on. I was able to cook 3 pita at a time on my sheets. I also tried cooking one directly on the rack because it was the last one left and didn't quite fit on the sheet, so I drew on my grilled pizza experience and plopped it directly on the lower rack of the oven. It cooked quite nicely, though a little quicker than the others and it was slightly wavy from the rack lines. The bread came out tender and almost fluffy in texture, perfect for dipping. This was quite fun to cook in front of people, it was my new party trick to make bread balloons - no one guessed that the pita would make the pocket on its own!

The hummus recipe we were given was slightly different from what I've been used to making in that it contained no oil. I was initially excited by the calorie savings, but realized after pureeing the beans that I would definitely need the oil to get the texture I was after. My only complaint with the recipe is that it is aggressively lemony. I would cut the lemon back to the just one.

My favorite dish of the meal was the fava bean salad. I'd tried a variation on this recipe previously after trying a different fava bean dish made by a Syrian chef and then impulse buying a bag of frozen beans. Fava beans are a lot of work and fresh beans are difficult to find. Frozen beans are somewhat easier, but the quality suffers a little and you still have to skin them. Canned fava beans are an entirely different creature and should not be used in this recipe. The cheese was chosen quite haphazardly. My husband tried this cheese at the store and immediately was smitten and brought it home for me to do something with. It was fortuitous that I had the fava beans in mind at the time. I made a few additional tweaks in the herbs I used this time and really fell in love with this combination, but it is a very versatile recipe that can use all kinds of herbs and many varieties of cheese.

Pita Bread
Recipe adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

2 teaspoons regular dry yeast
2.5 cups lukewarm water
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon table salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups flour, a cup at a time, and then stir 1 minute 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 and knead on medium speed for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Transfer dough to another oiled 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 4 to 5 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.

Recipe adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2-2.5 lemons, juiced
Salt to taste
4 tablespoons tahini
1 head garlic, roasted at 450 for 45 minutes
olive oil to thin as necessary

Puree the beans in a food processor with the lemon, garlic, salt and tahini, adding the oil as needed until you have a smooth paste. Garnish with additional oil and ground sumac.

Turkish Cucumber, Mint and Yogurt Dip
Adapted from Olive Trees and Honey by Gil Marks

1 large English cucumber, seeded and grated
1 small onion, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups plain Greek yogurt
Aleppo pepper flakes
3 T chopped mint
2 T chopped flat leaf parsley
2 T olive oil

Place cucumber and onion in a colander and salt. Allow to sit for an hour to drain. Press out excess moisture.
Mix yogurt, garlic, pepper and herbs. Add cucumber, onion and oil and mix well. Chill before serving.

Adapted from Olive Trees and Honey by Gil Marks

2 jars roasted red peppers, drained and seeded
1 1/2 cups toasted and chopped walnuts
1/2 bread crumbs
1/2 cup olive oil
3 T pomegranate molasses
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cloves garlic
Aleppo pepper flakes to taste
1/2 t ground cumin
1 t sugar
1 1/2 t kosher salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. Chill overnight and bring to room temperature before serving.

Fava Bean and Cheese Salad
Adapted loosely from Trattoria by Patricia Wells

2 packages frozen fava beans (or 2 pounds if you can find fresh), boiled and shelled
Extra virgin olive oil (I used the oil from the cheese)
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 T chopped flat leaf parsley
1 T chopped mint
salt and Aleppo pepper flakes to taste
8 oz marinated goat and sheep milk cheese (Meredith Dairy)

Boil the fava beans, then peel the inner shell. This is a lengthy process, but so worth it, the inner beans are tender and delicate. Toss with lemon juice, herbs and spices. Add cheese and oil and fold gently to combine. Taste and season as desired.

Kefta Kebabs
Adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

2 lbs lean ground beef
2 onions, grated
3 T chopped flat leaf parsley
1 T chopped cilantro
2 T chopped mint
1/4 t ground cumin
1/4 t ground coriander
1/4 t ground ginger
1/4 t cinnamon
salt and pepper

Mix ground beef well with all other ingredients. Chill for at least an hour. Form into kebabs on metal skewers. Grill on high heat for 8 minutes, turning once.


  1. Great mezze. We really enjoyed this challenge.

    I didn't find that the hummus was too lemony though - I wonder if it was because we just measured out the lemon juice rather than squeezed three lemons?

  2. Oh my, the dough spilling all over - I had a similar mess in my fridge once. I was sooooo annoyed!!! Anyway, nice platter. Good job on the challenge. I enjoyed it a lot, too!

  3. Did you serve your fava bean salad with a glass of Chianti? LOL Sorry..just had to. That said, your Mezze looks the kefta kebabs, and having some ground beef on hand, wish I had used it for that! Beautiful job all around!