Sunday, February 14, 2010

Daring Cooks' Mezze Table (Pita, Hummus, Falafels)

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.

I'm gonna make this a super quick update since I seem to have forgotten that not only is today valentines day and CNY, it's also the posting date! So here I am writing a super last minute iPhone (not mine, btw) update... in Prague! Yep, we made a weekend trip here after my horrific pediatrics final on Saturday. Enjoyed some good food and company then we'll be heading home tomorrow :(

So this months challenge was to make our own mezze table. Mezze is a Middle Eastern style of eating consisting of multiple small dishes. I was kind of worried at first since it looked like a challenge that would take at least 2 days to prepare, but even with finals lurking around the corner I managed to squeeze in a day (a whole day) to complete it. My favorite plate was the Pita bread. WOW, they came out better than the ones store-bought! I followed the recipe to the "T" (even with the 100 stirs) and they puffed up beaaauuutifully in exactly 3 minutes on the highest rack of my oven. All of them could be cut in half and used as pita pockets. I later stuffed mine with some veggies, falafels, topped with cucumber raita, it was DELICIOUS. I LOVE YOU, Michele, for sharing such a great recipe with us. This is definitely going in my recipe box. And i love the fact that they can be baked in 3 minutes! It makes up for the long dough-rising time which i always hate to wait on :) Ok, I'm falling asleep and this tiny screen is starting to hurt my eyes. Hope everyone had a lovely valentines and cny!

Mezze Table

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
  • 2.5 cups lukewarm water
  • 5-6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  1. In a large bread bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve [picture 1]. 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 [picture 2, 3].
  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 [picture 4]. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic [picture 5]. 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 [picture 6].
  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).
  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 [picture 7]. Roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter and less than 1/4 inch thick [picture 8]. 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 [picture 9]. 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.
Pita Bread

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. 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)
  • 2-2.5 lemons, juiced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • a big pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste) OR use peanut butter or any other nut butter—feel free to experiment)
  • Additional flavorings (optional) I would use about 1/3 cup or a few ounces to start, and add more to taste
  1. Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender [picture 1]. 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 [picture 2, 3].
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well [picture 4]. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
Cucumber Raita
Recipe adapted from The Indian Grocery Store Demystified by Linda Bladholm
Prep time: Approximately 15 minutes
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled and most of the seeds removed
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds OR use a small pinch of dried cumin—to taste
  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt (473ml)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • fresh coriander or mint, chopped, a couple pinches or more to taste
  • Cayenne pepper or paprika, just a pinch to use as a garnish (optional)
  1. Peel cucumber, de-seed, and dice. Blot off moisture with paper towels.
  2. Toast cumin seeds for a few seconds in a small, heavy frying pan over high heat.
  3. In a bowl, stir yogurt until it is smooth.
  4. Mix it with the cumin, garlic and coriander or mint leaves (I used some grated radish instead).
  5. Stir in the cucumber and sprinkle with cayenne or paprika, and chill before serving.
Cucumber Raita

Recipe from Joan Nathan and
Prep Time: Overnight for dry beans and 1 hour to make Falafels
  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight OR use well canned drained chickpeas
  • 1/2 large onion (roughly chopped, about 1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped OR use a couple pinches of dried parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped OR use a couple pinches of dried cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried hot red peppers (cayenne)
  • 4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour (you may need a bit extra)
  • Tasteless oil for frying (vegetable, canola, peanut, soybean, etc.), you will need enough so that the oil is three inches deep in whatever pan you are using for frying
  1. Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, and then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, drained.
  2. Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cumin. Process until blended but not pureed. If you don’t have a food processor, then feel free to mash this up as smooth as possible by hand [picture 1].
  3. Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour, and pulse [picture 2]. You want to add enough bulgur or flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.
  4. Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts.
  5. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees (190C) in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown [picture 3].
  6. Drain on paper towels [picture 4].


  1. Congratulations on your great looking mezze! I always like looking at the step by step pictures on your challenges :)

  2. Happy Valentine's Day, and Prosperous New Year!! Your mezze is a wonderful feast! Everything looks delicious. Many details come together perfectly....

    Your pita bread puffed so well. Good job! Hope you enjoy your holiday!!!

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

  3. Oooh, Prague! I went there once, and had a lovely time! I hope you're enjoying your trip!

    Your mezze table looks wonderful, you pulled off every dish perfectly! Glad you liked the pita so much, I agree that it was a good recipe!

    Happy New Year!

  4. I've always wanted to go to Prague--how exciting!

    Thank you so much for cooking along with me this month. Your food is gorgeous and I love how excited you are about the pita--too cute!

    You take very lovely photos!

  5. Hope you had a great time in Prague - such a lovely city. and yummy beer :-)

    your mezze also look super yummy - love the falafels.

    Have a fantastic year of the Dragon!

  6. What a great spread! Your falafels look super yummy, too. I'm still debating if I want to try deep frying. I want that color!!

  7. Your photos are so amazing! And I'm so envious that all your pitas puffed. Maybe next time mine will too. Cilantro makes everything better... Thank you for the comment.

  8. Everything looks delicious! Your pitas look perfect!

  9. Yum this definitely looks like a meal I'd like to get invited to! Heh, especially after all that overload of chinese food from CNY, this is definitely a nice change! :) Happy Valentine's day btw! Hope JLO did sth good!

  10. I always love looking at your numbered step by step clear..making each step look so easy!

    Having said that..your mezze is out of this world. Your falafel looks so crsipy, crunchy on the outside and your pitas puffed Audax's! Amazing mezze spread all around :)

  11. doh! That's happy year of the TIGER. I knew that.. My sister in law was talking dragon and it messed me up!!

  12. Posting day was a definite triple play - DC Challenge, Valentien's Day and CNY... so much to do with so little blog space. :-) Your pitas turned out fantastic! Congratulations on a great job especially during exams.