Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Flowers & Falafel for Valentine's Day

Food from the Middle-East is delicious, nutritious, and above all full of variety for both a vegetarian and a vegan diet. It is a cuisine that I have enjoyed and shared for many years now. In London, I would head out every so often to one of the many Maroush restaurants, Ranoush, Beruit Express, or the local falafel sandwich shop for my weekly fix of falafel, olives, pickled vegetables, vine leaves, salads, hummus, and fresh baked pita! Now I regularly prepare a variety of middle-east style foods at home.

So when Michele proposed a Mezze meal for February, I was delighted. Michele kindly provided us (the Daring Cooks!) with 5 lovely recipes!! I chose to make the pita, falafel, hummus from her selection. And I added olives and seasoned cheese, a walnut-yogurt dip, and as it was Valentine's Day a dessert that I adore - Basbousa (An Egyptian Syrup Cake)!!

The mandatory recipes for this challenge were the Pita Bread and Hummus. The variations permitted included:
  1. The pita bread recipe uses all purpose flour – if you cannot digest wheat flour, you may tweak the recipe to use alternative flours.
  2. You can flavor the hummus however you’d like, for example, you can use olives, sun dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, etc. but stay with the recipe given. You cannot use your favourite hummus recipe or any other recipe.
  3. You can use however many optional recipes for mezze that you’d like – you can make all of them, or none of them.
  4. You can tweak any of the OPTIONAL RECIPES however you’d like to fit your tastes, or needs. There are many vegetarian and meat/fish recipes in the links provided below.

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 
2.5 cups lukewarm water 
5-6 cups all-purpose flour (I used Chappati flour)
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.
I made half this recipe. The breads baked well-enough in the oven, but they did a lot better on a really hot iron griddle. The taste was superb when warm and also when cold.

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 canned chickpeas, well-drained 
2-2.5 lemons, juiced
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
a big pinch of salt
4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
2 tbsp sweet red peppers, chopped

  1. Split the chickpeas equally into 2 bowls. Split all remaining ingredients equally, except the parslye and sweet red pepper.
  2. Puree the chickpeas with parsely in a food processor until you have a smooth paste. Remove into a serving bowl. 
  3. Clean the food processor and repeat for bowl with the red pepper. Remove into a separate serving bowl.
  4. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
I make Hummus very often as I use it as a dip, sandwich spread, etc. For the Challenge I chose my two favourite seasonings for Hummus - parsley and sweet red pepper.

Recipe from Joan Nathan and Epicurious.com
Prep Time: Overnight for dry beans and 1 hour to make Falafels

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight OR use well canned drained chickpeas
1 large onion
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped OR use a couple pinches of dried parsley
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped OR use a couple pinches of dried cilantro
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon dried hot red cayenne peppers
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
tasteless oil for deep frying (vegetable, canola, peanut, soybean)

  1. Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, and then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, drained.
  2. Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cumin. Process until blended but not pureed. If you don’t have a food processor, then feel free to mash this up as smooth as possible by hand.
  3. Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour, and pulse. You want to add enough bulgur or flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.
  4. Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts.
  5. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees (190C) in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
  6. Drain on paper towels.
The falafels came out very well - I did fry them though next time I intend to bake them.

Just the pita, falafel, hummus, with some fresh salad make an excellent meal!! The Olives & Cheese, Walnut-Yogurt Dip, and Basbousa made it a feast!! The posts on the Dip and Basbousa follow:)

Post Script: The 2010 February Daring Bakers 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.

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  1. Kya baat hai janab... flowers are gorgeous and food is yummy!

  2. Great post and choice of recipes!

  3. Beautiful flowers and gorgeous meal, what fun. Glad you enjoyed it all! :))

  4. Oooh! I've always wanted to try Babousa! I hope it's easy to make, so I can give it a whirl this month. :D

    Your falafel look great! The only difference you'll have in baking is they won't be as crunchy all the way around. (and less fat, naturally)

  5. Looks delicious. I bake my falafel but yours look tasty.

  6. Uke, Asha, Rosemary & Garlic:
    Thanks for visiting!!

    I have posted the Basbousa recipe! Enjoy:)


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