Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Daring Cooks Sit Down to a Family-Style Mezze Spread

Happy Valentine's Day to all the lovers out there!  I'm waking up this morning with a slight champagne headache, after hosting our 2nd Annual Valentine's Aphrodisiac Tasting Party last night.  What an incredible evening of food, drinks, friends, and laughs!

However, the subject of this post is a memorable evening we shared a few weeks ago, with this month's  Daring Cooks' 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 and Naomi Dugid.

We were to prepare a Spread of Mezze, to include homemade Pita bread and Hummus. We were encouraged to add additional small plates of food, such as salads, dips, cooked beans, roasted meat or fish, and flatbreads.  Mezze is an array 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 include pita bread, hummus, olives, roasted almonds, and feta cheese. The presentation is important, as the mezze table should be just as appealing to the eye as it is to the palate.

Michele provided recipes for pita bread and hummus, and optional recipes for raita, a cucumber-yogurt dip, preserved lemons, which are a staple in Morocco, and falafels.

Some basic flavors found in Middle Eastern cooking include olives, lemons, chickpeas, fava beans, feta cheese, yogurt, eggplant, mint, cilantro, cloves, cumin, olive oil, beets, garlic, lentils, paprika, and tahini.

I commenced my Mezze with the preparation of hummus and pita.

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 using dried beans, 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
  • Big pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste), or use peanut butter or any other nut butter(1.5 ounces/45 grams)
  • Additional flavorings (optional) - Use use about 1/3 cup or a few ounces to start, and add more to taste (I used canned artichoke hearts)

Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.  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.   Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

A drizzle of nice olive oil, a few whole garbanzo beans, freshly ground pepper, and a spring of thyme,  enhances the presentation.

Pita Bread
Recipe adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors:  A Baker's Atlas 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.  (I used my mixer with the dough hook attachment, on low.  I also used 1.5 cups whole wheat flour and 1.5 cups all-purpose flour for this step).

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 (I used 3 cups all-purpose flour). 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.

Our Mezze Table
In addition to my Pita and Artichoke Hummus, our Mezze Table included Muhammara, Lamb Meatballs in a red curry-coconut sauce, assorted olives, Feta, crackers, and chopped salad.

Muhammara is delicious Middle Eastern dip made with roasted red peppers, walnuts, breadcrumbs, pomegranate molasses, and a few other ingredients. I made a few adaptations to Kevin's recipe (Closet Cooking), by essentially doubling the recipe, using an entire jar of roasted red peppers, and substituting pecans.  Pomegranate molasses is one of my new, favorite ingredients! 

After nibbling and sipping on semi-sweet Pomegranate wine from Armenia, and a wonderful Malbec, we satisfied our dessert cravings with Rice Pudding, garnished with rum-raisins and a dusting of cinnamon.

Rice Pudding
Courtesy of Emeril Lagasse

1 quart whole milk
1 1/2 cups Valencia or Arborio rice (10 onces)
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream of half-and-half (I used half and half)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Optional:  Golden raisins soaked in dark rum

In a large nonstick saucepan, combine the milk with the rice, butter, lemon zest and salt and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender and the milk is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Add the half and half and sugar and bring to a simmer.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the hot rice. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan in a thin stream, whisking constantly to prevent scrambling. Bring to a boil and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until creamy and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Pour the rice pudding into a large heatproof dish and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until chilled, about 4 hours. Serve the rice pudding in bowls, dusted with cinnamon.  For an adult version, spoon some rum raisins over the top.

We shared our Mezze on a Sunday evening with with friends.  and it was marvelous way to end a beautiful weekend.

Although not officially part of the challenge, many of the Daring Cooks made Muhammara as an accompaniment.  I enjoy hummus, but am so pleased to have found this new dip.

Thank you, Michele, for a phenomenal challenge!

Be sure to stop by The Daring Kitchen and Daring Cooks' blogroll to peruse the vast array of Mezze spreads enjoyed this past month.


Jenn said...

Pomegranate wine sounds delicious! And loving the rice pudding, that's one of our favorite types of desserts! MMm great job!

Wic said...

it all looks and sounds delicious. amazing work on this months challenge. love the pictures.

Jo said...

Grerat job on your challenge and your mezze platter looks so delicious.

Jojo said...

This looks SOO delicious! Well done - when can we expect dinner?? :-)

Candice said...

Oooh, rice pudding, what a great way to end the meal. Yum!

mub said...

What gorgeous pictures! I love how the sunshine is coming in from the side =)

Anonymous said...

The muhammara looks delicious, as does the rest of your mezze platter. Well done!

The Bite Me Kitchen said...

WOW! Everything looks SO good!!!! I've been caught up doing a million things and have missed so many DB/DC challenges now :( Ack! Love love love how the rice pudding looks!

Michele said...

Thank you so much for making mezze with me this month. Your food is fantastic and I love your photos. Rice pudding is the perfect dessert for a mezze and it looks yummy.

Pomegranate molasses is my new favorite thing too!

Lisa Michelle said...

Denise..I'm blown away. LOVE the artichoke not only looks dleish..but beautiful too, and the lamb meatballs in red curry sauce..looks and sounds divine, even though I don't like lamb. i would eat those! BTW, 'ain't' Muhamara great? LOL

Monkeyshines in the Kitchen said...

It all looks fantastic! Love the spicy lamb meatballs - we will definitely be having another go at mezze. It''s so fun to share and try all the little bites.

Annarasa said...

Beautiful hummus!!