One baking challenge done, it is now time for my foray into the land of daring cooking!
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.
Before reading this challenge, I was completely unfamiliar with what "mezze" was. Turns out, rather than a specific item of food, it is actually a style of eating. Mezze is a Middle Eastern dining style that encompasses a variety of small dishes, rather than one single main dish. What made this a fun challenge was the freedom involved - mezze can be served as a snack, as appetizers, or as a meal in itself. And it also does not have a specific set of required dishes. The only requirements were to make both pita and hummus using the challenge recipes, and then to create a mezze table of our own.
I am going to apologize in advance, because this post will be a little long and a little picture heavy... but this challenge was a lot of fun for me, and involved quite a few fun dishes.
In my history, pita and hummus is often times accompanied by falafel, none of which I had ever made on my own before, so I decided that, in addition to the required pita and hummus, falafel would definitely be on my mezze table. Both the hummus and falafel are chick-pea dishes, so I decided to challenge myself further by doing something else I had never done before - using dried beans. Any time I have used any kind of beans in any kind of recipe, I have always used canned. Not this time - I reconstituted dried garbanzo beans to use in both of these recipes. Not that this is a difficult thing to do, it is merely something that I had never done before.
Chick peas soaked and (half of them) boiled, it was time to make the hummus and falafel. Both recipes call for the chick peas to be mashed to various degrees, and the recommended method for doing this is to use a food processor, which (as I may have mentioned once or twice before...) I don't have. So for the falafel, I used my potato masher and mashed the soaked chick peas with the associated onion, garlic and a variety of spices as smoothly as I can manage by hand. This mixture was then placed into the fridge, to be rolled and baked (rather than the traditional frying...) on the day of the meal.
Since hummus is suppsed to be more of a spread, I decided to use my mini-blender, rather than attempt to mash a smooth paste by hand. In addition to chick peas, hummus is made with garlic, some lemon juice, some salt, and sesame paste, also known as tahini. Which can be difficult to find in some stores. But I found it, and blended and blended and blended until I had a huge bowl full of fresh hummus. Which also went into the fridge, since it only tastes better after being given some time to rest and chill.
The two chick pea dishes prepped and resting, it was time to think about what else would be on my mezze table. I knew I wanted to use fresh vegetables, since that was something I always associate with Middle Eastern fare. I decided on three vegetable dishes.
First, I made a roasted eggplant, grape tomato and onion dish. This is actually something that my in-laws prepare on a semi-regular basis, so I can't specifically call the recipe Middle Eastern, but the taste and spirit of the dish matched my ideas for this challenge, so I used it. So easy to prepare. Diced eggplant, roughly chopped onion, grape tomatoes (pierced, so they won't explode), a splash of olive oil, a sprinkling of garlic sea salt. That's it.
For my next vegetable dish, I thought I would try roasted red peppers. And not from a jar. Oven roasted. I have never roasted my own peppers, so thought this would be a good time to try it. This was actually quite an interesting and straightforward process. All you have to do is coat fresh red peppers with cooking oil and pop the under the broiler, turning them every ten or fifteen minutes to ensure that they are evenly charred on all sides. That's right - charred. In a matter of about half an hour, you go from this:
The blackened skin is peeled off, and the peppers are sliced and stored in olive oil. I can't even describe to you how delicious the kitchen smelled while these were roasting. Definitely worth doing again.
As for my other vegetable dish, I thought I would make a simple Israeli salad - something that I always scooped into my falafel sandwiches! While I have seen it made a few different ways, Israeli salad always consists of tomatos and cucumbers diced into very small pieces. I also included some red pepper in mine, and made a simple dressing with lemon juice, to preserve the fresh flavor of the vegetables.
Most of my dishes prepared, it was time to tackle the other required element of the challenge - making the pita. I was really excited to see how this one would turn out. When the ingredients are first incorporated together, the directions specify to stir the mixture 100 times. While I am not used to bread recipes being quite that specific, this did give little miss some practice with counting, so 100 stirs we stirred. The dough came together so nicely, and rose beautifully. What started as a little ball like this:
Turned into a beautiful, airy, puffy ball like this:
Which, much to little miss's delight, had to be punched down, like this:
The next part was both fun and interesting. The dough was divided and rolled into flat circles, and baked directly on the pizza stone in the oven, where they (for the most part) puffed into beautiful balloons. This was really fun to watch, and I took way more pictures of it than I normally would. The breads cooked up pretty quickly and beautifully, and smelled so good.
The last piece of my mezze table was some grilled chicken. Or, well, it would have been grilled if I had a grill pan. So it was sauteed, in a splash of olive oil with a light seasoning of my favorite, garlic sea salt.
After three full days, all of the componants were prepped, cooked and ready to go. I was now ready to put together my mezze table. What do you think?
At the top is the hummus, and, following clockwise, the Israeli salad, chicken, baked falafel, roasted red pepper, and the eggplant dish.
This was a really different dinner for us, and I will definitely be remaking several of these recipes. The pitas were delicious, and made fantastic pita-chips over the next several days. The hummus was brought to our Super Bowl celebration, and I was told by several family members that it was the best they had ever tasted. I was really pleased with how well these dishes went together, and how much fun this meal was to eat.
Thanks, Michele for a fantastic challenge!
1 week ago