This month's challenge had a little Middle Eastern flavor. The challenge was a Mezze, which is essentially "appetizers". The only requirement was that you had to make pita bread and hummus from scratch. Other than that, you could add on any veggies or meat that you wished, trying to keep with the theme.
So I decided that in addition to the pita bread and hummus, I was gonna make a little salad and chicken:
Makes 8 pitas
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon sugar or honey
1 packet yeast (or, if from bulk, 2 teaspoons yeast)
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups water, roughly at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil, vegetable oil, butter, or shortening
1/2 cup canned garbanzo beans, drained
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 clove garlic, halved
3/4 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 pinch paprika
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh parsley
(Toasted Bread and Salad)
2 or 3 tomatoes, cubed
1 small cucumber, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and chopped
1 medium green pepper, seeded, deribbed, and diced
5 scallions, chopped
1/2 small lettuce, shredded
2 Tbs. finely chopped parsley
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh mint or 1 tsp. dried mint
1 pita bread (or 2-3 slices of bread), toasted and cut into cubes
A dressing made from equal amounts of olive oil and lemon juice and seasoned with salt and black pepper. (Make plenty of dressing and store whatever you do not use in the fridge.)
(Broiled Chicken with Oil, Lemon and Garlic Sauce)
1 small chicken, quartered
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 T. fruity olive oil
1 T. chopped parsley
So first I needed to get my bread rising. I've never really made bread before, and haven't worked with yeast. I mean, I've made beer bread (no yeast involved), and at Christmas I made dog biscuits (which actually may have included yeast). Otherwise I've never made bread.
So the first thing that I did was activate the yeast (I used Active Dry yeast instead of Rapid Rise. That may be one of my problems. I may have not "activated" it properly).
So I added the yeast to warm water, and then a little sugar and let it sit and get foamy and "grow"...
Meanwhile I mixed together the dry ingredients and the olive oil.
Once the yeast was ready, I poured it into the dry ingredients (having reduced the amount of water by the amount added to the yeast), and mixed everything together.
The ingredients began to glom together and make a sticky ball.
The problem was, it seemed too sticky. I couldn't really knead it, as it would stick to my hands and to my butcher block. So I wound up adding flour. And more flour. And more flour. And as I added flour, I thought to myself, "Watch. All this flour will wind up making it too dense and it won't become light and airy and create the air pockets like it's supposed to." But I couldn't work with it when it was as sticky as it was. Perhaps it was a dab more oil that it needed?
So I kneaded it and it formed a ball. I rubbed a little olive oil around in a large bowl, added the dough ball, and rolled it around in the oil to cover it.
Then I covered the bowl with a damp towel and let it sit for about 1 1/2 hours to rise...
While the dough sat, I started on the salad. I chopped all of the veggies, and I minced up the parsley.
I found how great my herb chopper works. Very nice! So I mixed all of that together...
Then I made the dressing of equal parts fresh lemon juice and olive oil...
Then cut up some toasted pita bread and put that on top of the salad (yes, I bought pita bread, even though I was making pita. What can I say. I needed pita for my salad!), and then drizzled all of it with the seasoned dressing. I put that into the frig to sit.
Then I mixed together the lemon, olive oil, chopped parsley and garlic for the chicken marinade in a ziploc bag and added the seasoned chicken to the bag and let it marinate in the frig.
After an hour and a half, it was time to work with the dough again. As I feared, it hadn't risen as much as I expected, but I couldn't wait any longer. It was getting late, and it had already set for 1 1/2 hours. So I cut the dough into 8 pieces and formed dough balls. Man this reminded me of my teenage years working at Little Caesars! It all came right back to me!
The dough balls were left to sit for about 20 minutes with a damp towel over them while the oven heated to 400 degrees.
Once ready, each dough ball was rolled out onto a floured surface and then put on a cookie sheet.
They were baked for about 5-7 minutes, but they just wouldn't brown at all, and wouldn't get crispy. Only a couple of them even puffed to any degree. But I digress.
Then I set the oven to broil, and put the chicken on a broiler pan and broiled it for about 12 minutes or so. I had the oven set to low broil for most of the time, and basted the chicken every 3 minutes with the reserved marinade. Then after about 10 minutes I cranked the heat to high on the broiler and finished off the chicken under high heat.
While the chicken was cooking, I put all of the hummus ingredients into the food processor. The problem is, I couldn't find any tahini at the store. So I did a Google search and found that peanut butter was considered a solid substitute for tahini. This seemed strange to me, given all of the sugar and such added to peanut butter. But I figured if everyone deemed it so, I'd give it a shot. I blended up the hummus, drizzled it with olive oil, and sprinkled over minced parsley and paprika.
When all was said and done, this was the dinner we were left with...
So the verdict...
As I figured, the pita bread came out "doughy". I have to suspect I should have used more oil instead of more flour to resolve the "sticky" issue, but since I've never worked with dough before, I just can't be certain.
The hummus was really visually appealing. However I did not like the substitute of peanut butter for tahini! The smell of peanut butter kept bothering me, and the taste was just "off" from the other flavors of lemon and garlic in the meal.
The salad was really flavorful and colorful. The first bite could make you pucker a little, as the lemon flavor is pretty strong. And the bread was soggy after having marinated so long. But the pita is what had the best flavor in the salad. So I don't know whether I would change the step of marinating the bread in the salad the whole time or not. It's a trade off. soggy bread = flavor!
The chicken was really delicious! Lots of flavor in it! Next time I might cook it under high heat longer, to make it browner. But I wanted to be cautious, as I couldn't find the chicken I wanted with skin on. So I worried about it getting dried out under a broiler.
So that was my middle eastern cooking experience.
The chicken is a definite keeper. I would do the hummus again when I can find tahini for it. The salad is a nice combination with the hummus and the chicken. However I think I probably won't do the pita bread again. Too much effort with too little pay off!
I always enjoy my cooking challenges! They give me an opportunity to try things that I wouldn't try otherwise. Thanks Daring Kitchen!