Monday, February 15, 2010

Daring Cooks: Mezze (February 2010)

The 2010 February Daring Bakers 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.

From Michele: “The challenge is to prepare a Mezze (pronounced “mez”) Table including, but not limited to, homemade Pita bread and Hummus. If you’re not familiar with mezze, it’s more of a style of eating than a specific recipe or recipes. Mezze is a bunch of small dishes served all at once—sort of like the Middle Eastern version of Spanish Tapas. It can be served as appetizers before a meal, or as the meal itself.

A simple mezze meal could be something like pita bread, hummus, olives, roasted almonds, and some feta cheese. If you want to be more elaborate you can add salads, other dips, cooked beans, roasted meat or fish, a variety of flatbreads, and on and on. The presentation is important as you want your mezze table to be just as appealing to the eye as it is to the stomach. I know that eating this way isn’t second nature to most people, but it can be a fun way to share a meal with those close to you.”

I was excited about this challenge because I have eaten mezze style before at Lebanese restaurants. The smaller portions and variety can be a fun way to try new things. I decided that beyond the required pita bread and hummus for the challenge I would add my absolute favorite olives (more on these later) and tabouli.

I had made hummus before so I knew this was going to be the easy part! The ingredients are typically on hand with the exception of tahini. Tahini is a sesame paste and can be replaced with peanut butter but I chose to purchase some at the store to make a more authentic hummus.

I whirled the (canned and drained) chickpeas in the food processor then added the other ingredients. It smelled so good.

Once I was done with the hummus I decided to make the tabouli. Instead of doing it from scratch, since I wasn’t sure I would like it and the ingredients could be a bit pricey, I bought a box mix. The instructions were very easy…pretty much just add water, olive oil and fresh tomatoes, then chill. Easy…done.

I moved on to the pita bread. As you may have read before, breads or yeasts and I have a love hate relationship. I love to attempt, but hate that I always am afraid they won’t turn out. So with some fear I got started. At the first “rest” I was still was not feeling very confident.

After I started to add more flour, I think I gave up stirring a bit too soon. As I was kneading I had to keep adding flour so that it wouldn’t stick to the counter. This didn’t seem to make too big of a difference other than I was COVERED in flour and bread dough! A messy process for sure!

Once it was in the bowl for the “rest and rise” phase, I was feeling a bit better (the smell of a yeast dough rising is amazing), but still worried it wouldn’t rise. But, it did! It was still very sticky once I went to divide and conquer the dough for the individual breads. I didn’t get any pictures of this process because again my hands were covered in flour and dough. They rolled out much like the dumplings I had made before…very springy dough.

The first batch went into the oven and I think that the oven was not hot enough yet. They turned out alright, but did not puff or balloon up as expected. I waited to put the next batch in until I knew the oven was at the required temperature and they puffed up beautifully!

All in all this challenge, though messy, was not that difficult for me but I was still glad to do it. Making your own pita bread could come in quite handy on weeks like we had last week when the snow storms create panic and the bread and eggs are gone from the grocery store. Most people that would attempt to make their own breads would likely have all the ingredients on hand or could easy purchase them during a snow panic. The hummus is high in protein and fairly good for you…it is easy to share with others as well. Just make sure that if you are sharing with a loved one you both eat it if you plan on kissing….it does pack a decent garlic punch!

Now, more about the olives in the glamour shot below. These olives are the best I have ever had. They simply have a flavor that others do not compete with. They are Mama Leone’s Double Stuffed Rockets. They are a green olive stuffed with jalapeƱo and garlic. They have a great balance of heat. I do not find them to be too hot unless you eat several quickly…but the cure for that is a swig of milk. If you would like to try these olives, they can be purchased online from Leonard Mountain. The folks that run this company are top-notch and wonderful people. I have no trouble endorsing them or their products (for free! unasked even!). Their other olives and breads are great too. Give them a try.

The Recipes:
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.

Enjoy with Love,


  1. Yes, the oven has to be REALLY hot for the pita bread. I preheat it for like 30 minutes or so at the highest temperature my oven can manage (which would be 270°C/ 500°F. I also enjoyed the challenge a lot, but usually use a different recipe for the pita bread which works way better for me! Good job on the challenge!

  2. I actually preheated my oven for an hout to make sure it was sizzling hot. Your pitas look marvelous, as does your hummus and step by step photos. Great job!!