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.”