This month’s Daring Cook’s Challenge was mezze! Never heard of it? Me either, until recently. Mezze refers more to a style of eating, not a particular food. It’s kind of like tapas, only with a more Mediterranean flavor – lots of small dishes that can be combined in a variety of ways. You can go Greek, Turkish, Moroccan, Egyptian, or any combination you can think of. And since authenticity is not really that important for our purposes (you don’t get a prize for the most authentic dinner at home), there are really no rules!
Mezze is great for cocktail parties, pool parties, or any kind of casual gathering. See, most of these dishes can be made ahead, so instead of spending the whole party in the kitchen, you actually get to socialize with the guests. To make it even easier, you can structure your mezze to include only cold dishes – that way you can make it all ahead of time, and just pull it out of the fridge when the guests arrive! Because it involves everyone clustered around a beautifully laid table, picking from communal plates, it fosters a sense of closeness, and conversation tends to flow quite nicely from there. Of course, alcohol does that too.
My particular mezze table included:
-grilled chicken and shrimp
Again, you can use whatever dishes you’d like (not like, french fries and cotton candy, but you get my point). In fact, it’s a great way to experiment and try foods you’ve never had before – if it turns out you don’t like it, someone will, and they will sing your praises for days. Look around, do some research, and come up will some cool stuff to try. Broaden your horizons. Try new things. Insert cliché here.
Homemade pits beats the pants off the stale, dried-out store-bought versions!
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.
The hummus recipe is a good one, too. Although, I did make one small change – Mr. Gorilla does not like peanut butter or tahini (I know!), so I got all cheeky and used apple butter. It was actually very good! Suprising, yes! The apple cinnamon and garlic flavors actually work well together, and it didnt give me gas like hummus usually does. All this time I thought it was the chickpeas doing that, turns out to be the tahini. Go figure!
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
I’ve already posted the recipe for my sulu yemek here. It’s such a delightful dish, and again, fully customizable. Use whatever you have lying around. I know you like that as much as I do. And it comes out so juicy and tender and fragrant! It will change the opinion of the toughest anti-vegetable person out there, I promise!
The marinated cucumbers are so easy, and so very refreshing! Just peel, quarter, and slice a large cucumber, and marinate in olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and black pepper for about an hour. To serve, just dump it all into a bowl – liquid and all! Kids tend to like this too.
The chicken and shrimp I just marinated in Mojo seasoning (see? no rules!) for a couple of hours and grilled until done.
To toast the walnuts, you just spread them on a baking sheet and toast at 425 for about 10 minutes or so. Keep and eye on them though, and stir them often! You don’t want them to burn. Then they taste awful, and dinner is ruined. All because you burnt the walnuts.
For the feta, just crumble it into a dish straight out of the package, no other prep needed. Sure, you could drizzle it with some honey and throw in some calamata (that’s very awkward to type. try it. calamata) olives, and sprinkle it with black pepper, but I did not do that, and this is MY food blog!
Now we’ve come to the tzatziki segment of the show. Everyone thinks their tzatziki recipe is superior to everyone else’s. The tzatziki controversy is second only to the great falafel debate, which is why I did not make falafel. I like to stay out of politics. I will give you the tzatziki recipe I used because I was quite satisfied with it, and that’s the best I can do.
Combine 8 ounces Greek yogurt (drained overnight) with 3 cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon dill, 1/2 cucumber (peeled, seeded, diced), 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and about 1 teaspoon olive oil in a blender or food processor, and process until creamy. If your yogurt doesn’t seem very thick, you can knock the lemon juice down to 1/2 teaspoon, and don’t add the olive oil at all unless you need to thin it out at the end. DO NOT use Yoplait, or Dannon, or those kinds of bastardized yogurts for this. You want true Greek yogurt. Fage is nice, and pretty common in stores.
Fage is also very good with honey drizzled on it. But now my mouth is watering.
That’s all there is to it! I know, it seems like a lot of work, but there’s nothing that says you have to have this many dishes. Use what you have! Experiment! And make your table pretty and engaging. I used my belly dancing veil and coin belt as table dressing. But everyone was concentrating on the food…
Thanks for the challenge, Michelle! Everyone, stop by Veggie Num Nums to say hi to Michelle. YOU GO NOW!