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Friday, February 12, 2010

I’ve never…

You know that party game, right? It’s about honesty, supposedly, or perhaps more aptly, it’s about daring and prowess. Well, I find myself “playing” it in the kitchen all the time—albeit with a different set of “rules” and definitely minus the binge drinking. In my relative adolescence as a cook and a baker, there’s a huge list of things I’ve never eaten and techniques I’ve never tried. Some of which are deceptively simple and others, understandably complicated. I’d like to do it all…eventually…and without paying tuition to a culinary school. But there is that notion of time and interest and duty, all of which take precedence in some sort of amalgamation to determine what challenge I tackle next. I consider it my personal adventure, that, yes, is often influenced by food trends and seasonal availability, but not swayed by other’s opinions. At least I’m trying not to be influenced by other’s opinions. When you blog about what you are doing in the kitchen, it’s really rather hard to ignore an imposed set of expectations. When so many others also blog about what they are doing in their kitchens, it’s even harder to set yourself apart from what’s “already been done”.

Take for instance this month’s Daring Cooks challenge….

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.

The mandatory recipes for this challenge were to make pita bread and hummus. Additional options, including recipes for cucumber raita, falafel, and preserved lemons, were also given. My mezze consisted of pita, hummus, falafel, baked kale chips, and preserved lemon.

Seemingly simple, made-from-scratch pita bread and hummus. Sure, lots of home cooks have done this already, but actually, I’ve never. Years ago I clipped a magazine recipe to make homemade pita, but I’ve never gotten around to making it. Sure, I make hummus all time, usually per request of my sister at family gatherings, but I’ve never made it using dried beans; always, they come from a can. Finally, I’ve never, ever tasted a preserved lemon, let alone preserved one myself. Until now. Thanks to this challenge, I can check a few more “I never’s” off the list. I'm actually kinda proud of my ingenuous naïveté. For if I’ve done it all (in the kitchen and in other aspects of life), then I'll no longer be adventuresome and youthful. And THAT (in spite of my calendar age) is surely something I plan to hang on to for quite some time.

Pita Bread
adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

2 tsp regular dry yeast, not instant
2½ cups lukewarm water
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
1 TBS table salt
2 TBS olive oil

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 1½ 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.
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 ¼-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.

adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

1½ cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (or substitute well drained canned chickpeas and omit the cooking)
2 lemons, juiced
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
a big pinch of salt
4 TBS tahini (sesame paste)
1 TBS cumin
¼ cup olive oil

1. Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1½ 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.

from Joan Nathan and

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight
½ large onion (roughly chopped, about 1 cup)
2 TBS fresh parsley, chopped
2 TBS fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp baking powder
4 TBS all-purpose flour

tasteless oil for frying (vegetable, canola, peanut, soybean, etc.), you will need enough so that the oil is three inches deep in whatever pan you are using for frying

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.
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 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 F 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.

Note: You can bake these on a nonstick pad (silpat or the like) at 325 F, just until they’re firm, about 20 minutes.

Preserved Lemons
from Paula Wolfert and Epicurious

5 lemons
¼ cup salt

Safi Mixture:
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
5 to 6 coriander seeds
3 to 4 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
freshly squeezed lemon juice, if needed for volume

1. Special Equipment: 1 pint Mason Jar – Sterilized
2. If you wish to soften the peel, soak the lemons in lukewarm water for 3 days, changing the water daily.
3. Quarter the lemons from the top to within ½ inch of the bottom, sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit.
4. Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of the mason jar. Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt, and the optional spices between layers. Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons. (If the juice released from the squashed fruit does not cover them, add freshly squeezed lemon juice — not chemically produced lemon juice and not water.) Leave some air space before sealing the jar.
5. Let the lemons ripen in a warm place, shaking the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice. Let ripen for 30 days.
6. To use, rinse the lemons, as needed, under running water, removing and discarding the pulp, if desired — and there is no need to refrigerate after opening. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year, and the pickling juice can be used two or three times over the course of a year.

Notes from Epicurious:
• According to the late Michael Field, the best way to extract the maximum amount of juice from a lemon is to boil it in water for 2 or 3 minutes and allow it to cool before squeezing.

Notes from Paula Wolfert:
• Located on Morocco's Atlantic coast, south of Casablanca and north of Essaouira, the city of Safi is known for its seafood specialties.
• To most closely approximate the flavor of Moroccan lemons, Wolfert recommends Meyer lemons for this recipe. This lemon/mandarin orange hybrid, in season in January and February, has yellow-orange flesh, a smooth rind, and a sweeter flavor than other lemons.


Miss E said...

Good work - this sounds delicious!

Do you read Pete Bakes? I tried his pita bread recipe last year and while I had a bunch of problems, the pitas were sooooooo delicious. I was thinking I should try it again soon.

Also I've found that I really like soaking my chickpeas in the crock for my slow cooker for 24 hours, then cooking them on the lowest setting while I'm at work. This usually results in them getting a little toasty, which gives the hummus a great flavor! I was also delighted to find bulk tahini at the co-op - so much cheaper and more convenient than buying the big expensive jars!

Olivia said...

Thanks for all the tips, Miss E! I've yet to own a full size crock pot, guess it's something I should get around to investing in. I see its myriad usefulness...