Middle Eastern Mezze (February Daring Cooks)

This month’s challenge has a lot going on. So let’s not waste any time and just get started.

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.

I did the pitas by the book. They turned out delicious and ballooned perfectly.

On to the hummus. I went for soaking dried chickpeas overnight. I seasoned with tahini, roasted garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. I made the mistake of dumping out the bean cooking liquid. So as a liquid to moisten the hummus I used chicken stock. It turned out so good. Warm and right out of the food processor, this was bar none the best ever hummus I have ever tasted. I was contemplating adding other flavors like sundried tomatoes or roasted peppers but this really hit the spot as is. For the photos I did finish with some hot paprika, olive oil, and cilantro.

The next challenge recipe was for falafel. I know what really good falafel tastes like. There is a great little restaurant called Falafel King that I grab lunch from at least once or twice a month. They inspired me to try making it myself once before but that was a failure. My best advice, DO NOT USED CANNED CHICKPEAS. Again I went with the challenge recipe but added oven toasted cumin seed and dried red chiles that were buzzed in the coffee grinder. Everything then gets buzzed up in the food processor.

Notice the texture. Do not turn this into a paste. The larger chunks of chickpea will add to the crunchiness when fried.

Of all the recipes in this challenge, I am  especially proud of how these turned out. They even smelled like what I have been buying at Falafel King. Try pan roasting your cumin for these because that is the first aroma and taste you get when eating them.

My next challenge recipe was for preserved lemons. An ingredient that can add that little extra that puts a good dish into the great category. I should have probably posted this first because it was started 3 weeks ago. I was lucky enough to find some amazingly fresh organic meyer lemons. Meyer lemons have thinner skin and were perfect for a quick curing process needed in this case.

I split the lemons into quarters but not cutting all the way through. Salt was added between the quarters and then the reassembled lemons were squished into a quart mason jar. I also layered in more salt, coriander seeds, a cinnamon stick, some bay leaves, and several peppercorns. This was all covered with fresh squeezed lemon juice and left to cure. Three weeks later I had these.

Are you following all of this? Now for some recipes I decided on for myself. Super quick yet oh so delicious, olive tapenade. I grabbed some black and burgundy olives at the olive bar in my local Safeway. Those were buzzed up in the food processor with some garlic, kosher salt, pepper, and a few drizzles of olive oil. That is three ingredients (not counting s&p).


 When I first started on Myspace, I ended up with a couple of friends in Macedonia. They liked the food blogs and I pulled a few traditional recipes out of them. Ajvar is one of those recipes I have always had in the back of my mind but never tried out. Well this was the perfect opportunity. It is basically roasted red peppers, roasted eggplant, garlic, and spices. I used salt, pepper, and a bit of hot paprika. One of the keys to getting an authentic flavor is to fire roast the peppers and eggplant. While I didn’t fire up the charcoal, I did add some hickory chunks to the propane grill. It adds just enough smokiness to really set off the final relish. When the peppers and eggplant are charred, sweat them in the fridge, peel, and then buzz up with the garlic and spices.

After making the pita, I saved 4 or so portions of dough with an idea in mind. Recently on No Reservations, Tony traveled to Turkey and ate something called lahmacun. It was basically a street or cafe food similar to pizza. Many are done with some sort of ground meat. I had another recipe in mind. My obsession with pizza has led me to seek out America’s master pizzaiolas and their recipes. Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco came up with a truly unique pie made with parmesan, red onion, rosemary, and pistachios. It seemed very fitting for the challenge and easily adapted to the lahmacun idea. I drizzled the small pies with olive oil.

I also finished with just a small squeeze of lemon juice. This simple combination of ingredients is truly unique. The upskirt on the crust came out really well. Nice leopard spotting.

As good as everything has tasted up to this point, you may have noticed a lack of dead animals. I was also looking for a place to use those preserved lemons. Grilled meats are often included in mezze. I decided on grilled chicken wings marinated in chopped preserved lemon, roasted garlic, hot paprika, olive oil, salt, and pepper. I put these in the fridge overnight.

I used a whole preserved lemon and it really does add a unique lemon flavor.

After grilling I started thinking about another lemon chicken recipe I had cooked before. It is a rather famous one from the Rao’s restaurant cookbook. At the end their chicken is finished with lemon juice and parsley. So that is how I served these wings.

I think this is my new “go to” grilled chicken recipe. The preserved lemon is a deeper lemon flavor. Very round on the tongue, unlike the fresh juice. Mixed with the spicy paprika and garlic it really becomes something special. If you only try one recipe from this post, try this one.

Lastly I whipped up a cucumber and mint raita. It is just plain yogurt, minced and patted dry cucumber, mint, hot chile powder, and a bit of lemon juice. Something cooling to go with the falafel.

Over the last few days I actually served a mezze meal twice. Once for dinner and another time for lunch. Winter in Alaska doesn’t provide much natural light for shooting food photos. So you have to have things ready during the day to get any good shots. Here was the second mezze minus the rosa lahmacun.

Eating like this is really unique. For the guest it is easy and casual. For the cook, not so much. In a restaurant environment, no problem, for the home cook that is also trying to entertain and put out hot fresh food, it is a little tougher. All in all though, I learned lots completing this challenge.

Now I am looking forward to at least a couple days worth of falafel sandwiches for lunch. I make them with some hummus, several falafel, a bit of the raita, some of the avjar and to finish, dill pickle slices. This is almost exactly how Falafel King serves theirs and they are out of this world. Thank you again Michele for such a wonderful Daring Cooks challenge.

To check out the other Daring Cooks take on this challenge, cut and paste the blog checking lines into google . “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.”

~ by climbhighak on February 13, 2010.

36 Responses to “Middle Eastern Mezze (February Daring Cooks)”

  1. As always – yum, yum yum!!! So many thing to choose from! I could sit behind your table anyday and just clear those plates – completely :] Great job!
    Cheers from The Green Isle – Anula 🙂

  2. Well done and every single dish looks scrumptious.

  3. Wow. Everything looks scrumptious. THe colours are stunning. I love all of the parts you made for the mezze =D.

  4. stunning pictures of delicious looking food. adore your version.

  5. Fantastic job with this challenge! Your post is making me drool!! And after a month of eating mezze nearly non-stop, these recipes make me want to go in again. The Avjar looks so good! And the grilled chicken – goes so well with preserved lemon. Mmmm falafel.. all so-o-o-o good…

  6. You have prepared a wonderful feast! Love your hummus and falafels the most…. very tempting!

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

  7. Everything is great! Can’t wait to try the ajvar. I agree w/ the preserved lemons, it does give a dish an added flavor. With the addition of some spices into the preserved lemons, i wonder if you can taste the cinnamon and the other spices to what ever dish you added the preserved lemons into. Beautiful shots as usual!

    • I think that maybe cinnamon is the only spice added to the preserved lemons with enough strength to carry through. It just took a little of the sharpness away from the lemon. You almost notice it more as a smell than really in the taste.

  8. I love all of the bright colors in your food, and really like the idea of lahmacun – I love pizza in anyway, and the thought of including pistachios just sounds delightful 🙂

  9. Robert! First of all, your photos are stunning. I love the lighting–perfect for food photography! All of your food looks amazing and I’m happy that everything turned out so well for you. I really like that you keep your falafels a little chunky and I think I’m going to start doing that as well. Your lemons and pita look perfect. Thanks so much for your participation!

    • The lighting is just natural light from my kitchen window. I did have to re-cook and shoot this mid-day because anything after 3pm and I would be forced to use a flash.

      With the falafel, the really smoothed out ones seem to ‘bready’ to me. When you leave them a little chunky it seems more like a meatball.

  10. Your hummus is really sexy!

  11. This was a great challenge. I was transported back to when we were in greece and Turkey in the fall. This was our common nethod of eating dinner.

    I agree on the hummus – it is so easy to make that I won’t be buying it in he store again.

  12. I made a roasted eggplant and poblano pepper dip, really like the deep red of yours. Delicious table.

  13. Wonderful picture of the hummus!!!!

  14. Everything looks just amazing, as well as the most beautiful pics. And you are the only one besides me so far that I have seen try the lemon preserves!

    • I think Pia/Taga-Luto did her own as well. Actually she may have had some done already. I ended up using her recipe and the worked out amazing.

      Now I am on the lookout for more recipes that use them.

  15. I love it…………everything looks sunny and delicious. Love the Pitas. And the lahmacun. and the tapenade and that sunny macedonian sauce. Well done

  16. It all looks so delicious! I so love falafel. Isnt it great when you find a recipe that takes the place of the favorite restaurant item.

  17. Yum! How do I get to your house and what time is dinner? The menu sounds good. It’s 10:30 at night, and I’m thinking about what I’m going to cook for dinner tomorrow night. Thanks for the inspiration!

  18. Robert..one of the best mezze’s hands down. Everything..and I mean EVERYTHING looks spectacular. Phenomenal photos too. I don’t know how much longer I can last without natural light, so my main requirment in looking for a new place is bright, sunny rooms. OK, I’m drooling..I need to x out lol

    • All right, quit blowing sunshine up my butt. (and thank you)

      Having natural light is always the best option in my opinion. It just takes too many big lights to duplicate the same effect. Best of luck on the hunt for big South facing windows.

  19. Beautiful display! I am looking forward to being able to start up again as a Daring Cook in March… have been so busy with the job have had little to no time. What type of olive oil did you use on the hummus … that pool of olive oil on top looks great. Debbie

    • I think the 3 days between posting last months challenge and finding out next months, are the longest 3 days of the month.

      Nothing special on the oil. It is an organic Extra Virgin that I buy at Safeway.

  20. I wish I could taste your chicken… no, taste is the wrong word, DEVOUR!

    • That chicken did turn out pretty. Don’t forget, I am still wading through the snow to get to the grill. I think it would have tasted even better over a charcoal grill.

  21. Wow, your pics are AMAZING!! I’ve missed the deadline on the challenge … hope to get to it this weekend.

  22. Wonderful job!! This was a greta challenge!!

  23. Robert your photographs are superb and your final mezze is so delicious!!! And your hummus is excellent love the oil on top of it. Stupendous result on this challenge. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia. Sorry about commenting so late I thought I had already.

  24. You need to post the paprika chicken recipe.

    “If you only try one recipe from this post, try this one.”

    WHERE?! You only posted ONE recipe out of all of this! You got a blog so you could say “try this recipe… if you can find it somewhere else.” What is wrong with you?!

    • Recipes are overrated. The only time I really follow a recipe is for baking because those are actually more like exact formulas. I am not standing around in the kitchen with measuring spoons documenting every item.

      I provided all of the ingredients and spices used just above the photos of the chicken. The ingredient list with the photos provided are plenty enough for a cook to pull off the same dish. Besides, wouldn’t you rather make it to your own taste?

      • Obviously recipes are best as just a guideline/inspiration to be customized. I’m not really going to measure out a tablespoon garlic or whatever; someone who can’t cook without a recipe can’t cook period. That’s not the point right now.

        “Recipes are overrated. … I am not standing around in the kitchen with measuring spoons documenting every item.” Then why are you trying to have a food blog?! I’m completely serious, what did you think you would be doing? Telling people you made hummus by mixing chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and lemon? Yeah I could tell you that just from the wikipedia article, you’re not helpful.

        Look, you’ve obviously never seen a food blog before. Why don’t you look at some first. They have a separate post for each dish so you don’t have to wade around in an all black crappy format with scrolling issues, instructions, and helpful tips. If you don’t want to have a food blog… just share your photos on facebook (away from foodgawker/tastespotting).

  25. Ok Suzie Marie, first of all I have seen many food blogs. In fact, I have been writing and photographing my own food blog since 2005. During that time my style and philosophy has changed many times. When I think something deserves a recipe, I may include it, or not if I don’t want to. Basically, I get to make those decisions because this site is an expression of MY cooking/opinions/travels/and commentary.

    If the layout and content of MY blog is so offensive to your taste, then go read somewhere else. Obviously you saw something that caught your attention and has continued to bring you back over and over. So enjoy what you like and pay no mind to the things you don’t.

    As for your instructions on how I should have blogged each item (with specific detatiled recipes) separately, well that would actually defeat the purpose of the Daring Cooks Challenge for this month. You see the challenge was for a mezze, not just one dish. Hence all the items are included in one post.

    Thanks again for making your opinions available for all to see.

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