I was quiet excited by this months Daring cooks challenge chosen by Michele from Veggie Num Nums. The challenge was to prepare a mezze table. The compulasary element was to make homemade pita breads and hummus. The rest of the mezze was left completly open to us to get creative.
I’ve not cooked very much Middle Eastern food as yet but hummus and baked falafels have been things I have thought about attempting. Only a few days before the challenge I talked about making preserved lemons after reading an article about them. Obviously homemade bread is a regular feature in my house but I had not made my own pittas but again it was on my never ending list of recipes to try.
Middle Eastern flavours include olives, lemons, feta cheese, cumin, chickpeas, yoghurt, beetroot, garlic, aubergines, tahini, paprika, lentils and mint. After a bit of research (and a very well timed mezze section on Market Kitchen) I decided to make a beetroot dip, baked falafels, feta cheese, olives and kebabs to go with the pita breads and hummus.
The pita breads were easier to make than I imagined and puffed up beautifully. They tasted delicious too. They were slightly thicker than shop bought ones which I found worked well. The hummus was also simple to make. You can find the recipes for these compulsary elements at the end of the post.
First up these baked sweet potato falafels from Allegra McEverdy seemed the perfect choice for me. Falafels are usually deep fried but since I mostly try to cook healthier options baked was the perfect solution. Sweet potatoes are also one of the most nutritious vegetables around. They are a great source of vitamins A, B6 and C, fibre, magnesium, copper, potassium and iron. The recipe can be found here on 101 cookbooks a fantastic healthy eating blog (most recipes based on natural, whole foods and ingredients) I have only recently discovered. The resulting falafels have great flavours and are delicious hot or cold, dipped in hummus or in a pita sandwich.
The kebab recipe comes from here another new find for me. This blog is full of straight forward recipes for mediterian food that all look delicious. The kebabs were delicious in the pita breads with some of the tomato paste from the same recipe and much healthier than the take away versions.
The beetroot dip recipe was one I saw on Market Kitchen and can be found on there website here. The flavours worked well together and I preferred this to the hummus for dipping pita bread in. Finally I marrinades some cubes of feta cheese and some black olives in some extra virgin olive oil and tried oregano.
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 (may use a combination of 50% whole wheat and 50% all-purpose, or a combination of alternative flours for gluten free pita) (17.5 -21 ounces/497-596 grams)
1 tablespoon table salt (.50 ounces/15 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (.95 ounces/29 ml)
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 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 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 – 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) (10 ounces/301 grams)
2-2.5 lemons, juiced (3 ounces/89ml)
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) (1.5 ounces/45 grams)
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. 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 rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.