Saturday, February 13, 2010

Feb 2010 Daring Cooks' Pita bread & Hummus

Feb 2010 Daring Cooks' Mezze Challenge

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

This month's challenge was to prepare a Mezze platter with two mandatory items – pita bread and hummus. This is the type of challenge I like – lots of creativity allowed with a couple of delicious standard recipes.

Here is a link to a TALKING web site you can hear how English (USA and UK) speakers say the word mezze. Just click on the word on the left-hand side list. The website pronounces it as 'mez-zay' but that doesn't mean it isn't 'mez' in the original language the word came from!

Pita or pocket bread is easy to make and forms a wonderful puffy pocket which can be filled with any sort of wonderful titbit you have on hand. Hummus is a chickpea dip that is ubiquitous in Middle Eastern mezzes.

The recipes that Michele chose were simple and simply scrumptious, she also provided a whole raft of other mezze recipes that could be added if you wish. See here for the recipes.See here for a PDF of the challenge.

Pita Bread Balloons
I can get my oven to over 315C/600F I preheated for 50 mins at the higgest setting and didn't use a water pan as I usually do and they baked in less than 1 min. I didn't squash them flat when they were still hot so they stayed in that shape when cooled but were very soft on the inside. The steam created in the bread was amazing I had to use very long tongs to take the pita bread off the baking stone. The steam escaped from the bread for about 2 mins after I took them out of the oven you could hear it singing from the small holes created in the crust. It was so strange looking at the flat unbaked dough became a huge light ballon of baked bread.

I have 16 pita balloons now waiting to been eaten LOL LOL. They are the size of footballs hehehe.

The dough resists rolling out and wants to shrink back just keep at it and it will roll out. The reveal recipe is very good, I think I will make pita bread using it from now on and I did stir 100 times!!!! Also I accidently did two provings instead of the one in the recipe, I make a lot of bread and always prove twice and the habit is hard to break.

I think when I do these again I've have to bake them for only 30 secs instead of the 1 min I did for these ballons.

Pita Bread Balloons


Final Pita Bread
The flat pita bread on the right is baked at the suggested temperature


Ingredients - I used butter beans (I couldn't find any chickpeas in cans at the local shops! I have some dried beans soaking at the moment) and peanut butter with ½ teaspoon of sesame oil to kill the taste of the peanut butter I added the lemon juice then I added extra sumac, a lot of mint, chillies, garlic chives (I do not like the taste of raw garlic so I use chives which adds a mild garlic flavour and onion flavour to the dip at the same time), a little salt and some olive oil to enrich the hummus. The addition of sesame oil really makes the final dip taste exactly like normal hummus. I didn't like the taste of the peanut butter in the dip. Also I'm surprised that sumac wasn't mentioned it is one of the most important spices in making mezze dishes. It tastes a little like lemon. I only used 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice I think the reveal recipe has much too much lemon juice.

Sumac one of the major spices used in Middle Eastern Cooking

Final hummus
The slightly pink colour is due to the addition of sumac
It tasted wonderful the butter beans really added a depth of flavour to the final dish and a superior texture than if I had used chickpeas, while the sesame oil really helped it taste like I used tahini instead of peanut butter. And importantly peanut butter and sesame oil are so much cheaper than tahini which is very expensive in Australia and I couldn't find it anyway! So these substitutions might be worth thinking about if you cannot get these ingredients or don't like chickpeas/peanut butter/raw garlic etc. Also I hate buying an expensive ingredient (in this case tahini) and only use a small amount of it and then I find that I have to throw it out a year later since I haven't use any of it after the challenge. I use peanut butter and sesame oil all the time.

Mezze #1
I decided to do a number of skewers since it would be much easier to place the ingredients into the pita bread. I had the following skewers (see below) - roasted cherry tomatoes with sliced baked black olives; roasted egg plant; roasted capsicums (bell peppers); marinated (Middle Eastern herbs and spices) chicken; sumac kangaroo; raw tomato and cucumber; roasted tomatoes & egg plant; and lastly fresh figs.


I did three dips, butter bean hummus, beetroot hummus, and cucumber/yoghurt/garlic (tzatziki)

I made tabouli salad I used cous cous instead of the cracked wheat. When you cook the cous cous (or cracked wheat) place the stalks of the parsley and mint into the cooking water that way you'll get a better tasting salad. The cous cous is slightly pink I added sumac to the salad.

Final mezze platter I made some more pita using wholewheat flour I cut them with scissors to get very straight edges.

It is so nice to have fresh and cooked titbits on the same platter this is a very simple and quick mezze and great for a big lunch or a light dinner. Yum Yum is how to describe this feast. The fresh figs were especially nice with the other treats.

Boxed Falafel versus Fresh Falafel
I thought it would good to do a comparison between the taste of boxed falafel mix ($2.70) versus falafel made from fresh ingredients (80cents). They made the same amount of patties.

Box of falafel and the ingredients for fresh falafel.
The box contained fava meal, bulgur meal, chickpea meal, selected herds and spices, sesame seeds, baking soda, salt and powered garlic. For the fresh falafel I used the optional recipe given in the challenge. (Optional Recipe: Falafels - Recipe from Joan Nathan and The changes I did to the challenge recipe were to add 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds and sumac and I used besan (chickpea) flour instead of the AP flour and I toasted the cumin before grinding it to a powder.

Process for making the fresh falafel – time taken to make the mixture about 15 mins. Simply process the uncooked chickpeas then process herbs and spices mix together then add flour/soda and form patties. The final mixture looks like it couldn't hold together but surprisely it does, so just follow the recipe I didn't have to add any extra flour or liquid. This is the crucial part of the recipe, you have to pick up some of the 'dough' and see if it will form into a ball and hold its form. If it's too wet, it will be squishy – add a little more flour. If it's too dry, it will crumble – add just a little water or lemon juice. I didn't find it necessary to refrigerate I used the patties immediately. The smell is amazing while you are making the mixture! I wish most recipes where so simple, easy and quick to make and the recipe works to a 'Tee' I should mention I used soaked chickpeas that were in the fridge (in a container with no water) overnight maybe this helped dry them so making the whole process so effortless. The many reviewers of this popular recipe suggested to fry the onions first just a few mins as the raw onion can be be too strong for some people but I didn't have any problems and I really don't like the taste of raw onions in foods.

Process for making the boxed falafel – time taken to make the mixture about 30 mins. Simply measure equal volumes of box-mixture and water combine let soak for ½ hour then form patties. (Instructions on the box.)

Comparison of boxed mix (left side) and fresh falafels (right)
I made both kinds of patties (boxed and fresh) the same size I used a measuring spoon as the form for the patties, as can be seen the fresh falafels expanded a lot when deep-fried but the boxed mix didn't increase in size at all.

The final verdict
There are only three words to describe this challenge falafel recipe - exquisite, delectable and scrumptious!!! The fresh falafels were much quicker and so much lighter, moister and tastier than the package mixture which was salty and heavy in texture in comparison. Falafels from shops can be very dry and too crunchy these were perfect. The fresh falafels were very tasty and reminded me of hot summer days on the farm! This is one time where the fresh recipe was much faster than the boxed version.

Fresh Falafels

Falafels with a difference
I decided to do some special falafels I used the falafel-mixture as a coating for some titbits then I deep-fried as usual.

Quail Egg Falafes

Hot Spanish Salami Falafels

Kangaroo Falafels

The three falafels

Mezze #2
Scotched Quail Eggs (using lamb/mint/sumac with Middle Eastern spices/fresh breadcrumbs as the Scotch coating)
Muhammara Dip (walnut tapenade with pomegranate syrup yum yum)
Preserved Lemon Citrus Chicken Wings with Parsley Gremolata (I couldn't found the Chervil as the original version used)
Mahshi Warak Enab (Stuffed Vine Leaves)
Butter bean hummus
Beetroot hummus
Cucumber/yoghurt/garlic dip
Pita wholemeal

I had another mezze today (an early Australia Day BBQ), I made Muhammara which is so delicious and so simple -- walnut and pomegranate go so well together. I made Scotched Quail Eggs using a lamb/mint/sumsac sausage coating this was excellent I'm doing these again tomorrow. I got some one-year-old preserved lemons (from my Lebanese neighbour!) so I made preserved lemon citrus chicken wings, the preserved lemons sure have a very very distinctive flavour but are nice in small amounts in foods remember to finely chop them. When the recipe says one lemon they mean one very very small lemon use less than more. I made an overnight marinade of the sauce in the recipe and cooked them on the stove and the parsley gremolata was perfect with these chicken pieces. They were very Middle Eastern tasting so great and refreshing. The preserved lemons taste horrible so bitter and salty but really give foods an exquisite lemon flavour. The Mahshi Warak Enab (Rice stuffed vine leaves) are simple but time consuming to make about 1.5 hrs all up and have a very strong pleasant taste, and are best the next day. I put them into a container and topped it up with olive oil so they will last for a week or so.

Clock wise from top left hand corner - 1 year old preserved lemons, Muhammara Dip, Scotched Quail Eggs, Preserved Lemon Citrus Chicken Wings with Parsley Gremolata.

Preserved Lemon Citrus Chicken Wings with Parsley Gremolata

Mezze #2

The taste of the preserved lemons straight from the jar is at first a strong citric acid (the acid naturally found in lemons) taste then acectic acid (vinegar) comes through very strongly these combine together to give a clean chemical taste of 'sour', a moment later a very salty taste of 'sour' then finally an incredible strong lemon flavour, the aftertaste is a lingering salty soured lemon grating taste sensation that stays too long on the tongue -- these various gustatory perceptions assault and present to the palate a discordant flavour symphony that is severe, harsh and very jarring to the olfactory senses. When washed and chopped finely (and cooked in foods) the citric/acectic/chemical salty sour tastes vanish leaving a vibrant flavour profile with zingy lively lemon highnotes and mellow salty lownotes and a lovely cultured afternote of aged salted lemons that melts away gently. Reduce the amount of salt by at least half if using preserved lemons in your normal lemon flavoured recipes that use the zest and/or juice of lemons. (This is the best I can do since flavours/tastes are very hard to describe.)


Monkeyshines in the Kitchen said...

Once again, Audax, you have outdone yourself! Congratulations on your creative interpretation of this month's challenge! The skewers look terrific and the 'scotch eggs' (and scotch kangaroo? :-) are such a wonderful idea. And those pita footballs make us smile too...

TaGa_Luto said...

Audax!! You are so creative. Once again your challenge is great. I love that you always think outside the box w/c is one of the many reasons why i look forward to your take on each challenges. I totally agree, i use to make my falafel using the box. I didn't know that it's easy to make it from scratch altho' time consuming. I'm so making more muhammara and some pom arils on top..thanks for the idea!

Unknown said...

My goodness, that's a Middle Eastern feast! Good job with the pitas, and everything else!

shelley c. said...

Awesomely done, Aud. You are an inspiration to us all!

Dharm said...

Great job on the challenge Audax! Glad you like my stories!! Always look forward to your interpretation of the challenge and as usual, your results are outstanding

Jenn said...

As always great job and awesome creativity! I love all of the different creative things you did with the falafel, especially with the quail egg and the kangaroo meat - I should have made falafel this time!

Anonymous said...

Wow, you are so creative! I am so impressed with you oven that you can get it to over 315°C. What kind of oven it it? Mine goes to 270°C. Your pita bread is so impressive. What exactly is sumac? I was searching 3 different stores for it, but couldn't find it? Would it be in the spice aisle? The skewers look really nice, too. I've never tasted kangaroo - there is an Australian restaurant here in Berlin/ Germany: will have to try that next time we'll go there. I also made tabbouleh with couscous instead of bulgur and thought it tasted GREAT. Your comparison of box falafel and falafels from scratch was very interesting to read. Wow, and mezze #2 is just outstanding. You have outdone yourself! Congrats!

Winnie said...

Such GORGEOUS puffy pitas! Everything looks amazing. I did not get around to the falafels but I plan to make those soon- yours look fantastic.

Anna said...

Falafel a la scotch eggs... genius! You alwasy have great (though maybe sometimes quite unusual ideas ;) ). Everything looks delicious and what a BIG choice!!!
Cheers from... SUNNY - but cold Ireland. Anula.

Unknown said...

Love your pitas! They ballooned perfectly! Also those kebabs look so yummy I wish I would have made some!

Wic said...

as always I am awed by your version. it looks delicious.
I just love when you do a Australian version.

Lauren said...

There is never much more to say than wow. Audax, how do you come up with these things? You're amazing!

Simones Kitchen said...

Impressive as alwayd Audax! I love the look of your pita and I can't believe you baked them in one minute!! Now my oven doesn't go so high which explains why they stayed a lot flatter then your I did have to bake them for almost 15 minutes to get any sort of puffing but they still tasted good! Love all the variations and I will be trying out some of your falafel varieties!

Begoña said...

I think that you work too much, but I love all!!!!! It looks worderfull!!! You are a big cooker!!
Un saludo, Begoña

Amy Lucille said...

Aduax what a beautiful spread you put out! I love the hard cook eggs in the Falafes; looks so yummy!

mub said...

Gosh, I always am amazed at how you grab these challenges and run with them!

It was cool to see the boxed vs. fresh comparison of the falafels. And your pitas?! Quite simply awesome =D

NKP said...

Wild! You always do the most amazing job on the challenge. Any of those chicken wings left? =P Yum!

Lo said...

Gorgeous spread! So much color, and so many delicious flavors. I always love the creativity you bring to the challenges -- so it's so much fun to see what you've done.

I must admit I'm jealous of the color you got on your pita breads. Must be that high temp oven you've got! I thought of trying ours out on the grill, which might have given interesting results -- but it got too dark for us to attempt it.

Thanks for sharing the falafel comparison -- really a good illustration of how it's so worth the effort to make foods from scratch!

Velva said...

Your meze platter looks wonderful. You really created a very flavorful and healthy meal. Thanks for sharing.

Faery said...

Oh Audax you made me hungry, it is about midnight here and feel like I want to take all these from the screen, the pictures are great, todo se ve muy sabroso :9

Kris Ngoei said...

Your Mezze feast has the most variety I have seen so far in DB. And so envy of how puffing your pita bread is.

If I put 75% effort in taking up this challenge, yours at least 200%. Truly committed!

Sawadee from Bangkok,

Barbara Bakes said...

Your mezze is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate! Another great challenge for you!

LittleRed said...

Great challenge as always! I will definitely try a higher oven temp next time I make pitas. Thanks:)

Bunnee said...

As usual, you outdid not only yourself, but everyone else! I wish I had your energy and commitment - so many tasty-looking treats. I hope you had lots of friends to share this great feast.

Michele said...


Thank you so much for your participation! You really make the challenges fun since your enthusiasm is just infectious. I really appreciate that you make so many versions of the challenge--you're an inspiration.

Your food looks delcious and your pita is just perfect!

Rosemary & Garlic said...

I'm still in awe over your pita balloons. Delicious mezze.
Anne Marie

Mardi Michels said...

OMG - you totally outdid yourself! I just made falafel, hummus, raita and pita and was cleaning my kitchen for hours! I am impressed that you can get your oven that hot!

The Maiden Metallurgist said...

Your Mezze looks great! Thanks for getting in touch!

Gracie said...

WOW! Everything looks great and YUMMY! Thank you for sharing EVERYTHING!!!

Valérie said...

Wow, eggs in falafels! I never would have thoughr of that! Your mezze table looks like a real feast, and your pita balloons are spectacular! Bravo!

Madam Chow said...

It looks like a delicious spread! I thought the falafel were delicious, too.

Kitchen Butterfly said...

Love, love, love the different falafels...and the pita ballons....what a dream!

Simona Carini said...

Thanks for the temperature test. I am afraid I cannot get my oven to such a high temperature. In my case, the strange thing is that, within the same batch, one pita puffed up and the other didn't. Anyway, your banquet looks amazing.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree concerning the challenge falafel recipe. Your early posts on the falafel were very encouraging. Excellent post as always.

Halfandhalfs said...

Wow. Your pita balloons are IMPRESSIVE! Well done Audax, as always.

Heather Mulholland said...

Thank you for the wonderful comment, I hope you had as much fun making the mezze platter as I did. Your figs look scrumptious!

Mausi said...

Everything looks so good. I love Middle Eastern food. I have decided that this year I am going to try making Middle Eastern food at home myself. I am so excited! Thanks for sharing your experience!

Angelica said...

great job on the challenge audax! Thankyou for always being the 1st one to post, i always look forward to seeing your creations and getting tips from you, i have avoided many kitchen disasters because of it!

Lisa said...

Aud, Aud, Aud (not, you are so the king of these challenges. I cannot believe all the dishes you made and all of them loom straight out of a magazine. You also have the best ballooning pitas in this challenge! We all saw yours and made that our goal :D You rock *hugs*

Tummywise said...

Great job! Ohh, to be a guest at your table...

Thanks for leaving the tip on adding sesame oil to the peanut butter hummus. I never would have thought of it. Will try next time if i, again, cannot find tahini.

fimere said...

joliment présentés et très savoureux
bonne journée

Jenny said...

Freakin' awesome, Audax! Now I'm completely hungry and need some lunch!

Wild Boar said...

Wow! Such a wide spread of delicious food! Well done. i love how your pita turned out.

Unknown said...

The mezze look so delicious and you did so many lovely varieties. You must have had some wonderful meals this past month. I'm about to go into the kitchen to make some pitas. YUM!

Miriam said...

Audax, you always go so much beyond the mandatory line! Loved your mezze!

AJ said...

Beautiful Audax!! Love the beautiful feast.

Eat4Fun said...

Your pitas puffed wonderfully! Also, the different mezze (The fresh figs looked delicious.) The falafel comparison was very nice experiment. Great job!

Cocina Savant said...

What a spectacular meal. The falafels and wings are incredible. I will have to try my hand at falafel. Thanks for stopping by our blog.

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