A Mezze Feast
The official line: 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.
When the challenge was thrown down to create a mezze (an assortment of small plates), my mind raced off in a million directions, thrilled with the possibilities. Homemade pita bread and hummus from dried garbanzo beans were at the top of the list. Fresh pita is impossible to find in town and with my recent foray into bread baking for once the thought of working with dough didn’t scare me silly. A bag of dried garbanzo beans had been sitting slouched down in my pantry for over a year and begged to be used. Also, Mr. B and I managed to squeeze in a big-city run just before the mezze, where I stocked up on peppadew peppers, artichoke hearts, balsamic marinated cippolini onions, and the makings for dolmas and muhammara. The ingredients were pulled together, a sleepy snowy Saturday in February was selected, and we set out to create a mezze feast.
The pita bread came together beautifully. A simple dough, of water, olive oil, and flour, it happily bubbled and rose into a large bowl of dough. Once rolled out and tossed into the hot oven the pita rounds puffed up like blowfish. It took several rounds of cooking to work through all of the dough but the reward of warm fresh pita was well worth the effort. I can’t wait to make this recipe again.
Once soaked and cooked the garbanzo beans were whizzed in a food processor along with tahini, garlic, and lemon, creating a nutty thick dip. I had always wondered at the difference between hummus made with canned chickpeas versus dried chickpeas, hearing from many online that there was no discernible difference. When I tasted a spoonful of the hummus made with dried chickpeas, however, the improved texture of the hummus blew me away. It had the fluffy but smooth texture of the hummus from our favorite Lebanese restaurant- something I had never been able to recreate at home.
You have already heard about the dolmas, and the Greek salad, which added the necessary protein and vegetables to make this into a somewhat balanced meal. The delicious and addictive muhammara recipe is from Lebanese food blogger extraordinaire Olive Fig Grape. Together with the pita and hummus it all created a veritable feast.
Mr. B got into the spirit of the meal, lighting a fire in the fireplace, and pulling out a bottle of Kozlovic Malvazija wine. Our first encounter with a Croatian wine and the malvazijian grape, the Kozlovic had a beautiful golden honey color and a bright acidic aroma. If you are used to a fruit spectrum of flavor in white wines, the absence of fruit in this wine may surprise you. The Kozlovic paired quite well with the savory mezze dishes, providing a smooth and slightly bitter counterpoint to the richly flavored food.
Sitting by a fire, drinking wine and nibbling on a mezze feast is a wonderful way to spend a cold Saturday in February.
Pita Bread (Printable Recipe)
Adapted from Flatbreads and Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Makes Approximately 16 pitas
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 table salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1. 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.
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).
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 about 1/4 inch thick (do not roll much thinner than 1/4 inch or the pita will become hard). 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. 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.
Hummus (Printable Recipe)
Adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Makes Approximately 3 cups
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)
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.
3. Add the lemon juice, garlic, salt, and tahini, mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
4. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle paprika on top, and drizzle olive oil around the edge of the bowl.