Thursday, February 18, 2010

Meze (Mezze)

032 v1-crop v2

Meze (Serbian), mezze (Arabic), and mezé (Greek), are the Eastern Mediterranean appetizers similar to Spanish tapas.  Derived from the Persian word maze ‘to taste or snack’, meze consists of plates that are a feast for the eyes.   Small bites and dips that are varied in texture, flavor and color, in my native Serbia they are traditionally served with rakija (fruit brandy).  

Of all the Slavic nations, the Southern Slavs are the most hospitable…believe me, I’m not partial…and there is no better way for them to demonstrate their warmth and generosity than through an offering of food.  Even unannounced guests are treated like family, and there is always more than enough to go around come see my parents’ leftovers sometime!   Serbian meze may include pršut (prosciutto), salama, kobasica (sausage), kajmak (clotted cream) and ajvar (red pepper relish).   For the sake of this Daring Kitchen challenge and our hostess, I am keeping it vegetarian with Middle Eastern mezze.   

My friend Chantal and I spent an enjoyable day baking pita bread and bringing the meze plates together.  She has an interesting collection of dinnerware  – many choices for the amateur photographer!  Just look at those pretty yellow ‘triple bowl’ dishes above.    Adorable, and perfect for meze!

In the  picture above you will find (counterclockwise from the top):  sliced radishes, kalamata olives, walnuts, preserved limes (I just happen to make a jar with Mexican key limes a couple of months ago), hummus with olive oil and a sprinkling of paprika, cucumber raita, hummus again, and pita bread.  Feta cheese cubes are in the middle.

DBKitchen logo 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 second plate below (from the top) consists of my favorite dip of all muhammara (I will post the recipe soon), pita bread, potatoes with olive oil and lemon zest, and yoghurt cheese sprinkled with dukkah (a blend of sesame seeds, spices and nuts).  Be forewarned:  there are healthy quantities of fresh garlic in the dips and falafel.  So much so that Husbie and I were able to created enough fumes to ward off the vampires and every disease under the sun for a few days now! 

007-crop v1

Pita Bread

Adapted from Vefa’s Pita Bread, found at Kalofagas

Serves 8

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

3/4 cup warm (body temperature) water

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. active dry yeast

1 tsp. sugar

coarse cornmeal for dusting the dough

vegetable oil for greasing the pan

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller blow, combine the warm water, olive oil, yeast, and sugar and let stand for five minutes or until you see that the yeast is active.

Using your hands, gradually add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and knead with your hands until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Cover and leave in a warm spot to rise and rest for about 30 minutes.

Divide dough into six pieces and roll out into 6 - 8 -inch rounds that are about 1/4 inch thick. Dust both sides lightly with cornmeal and poke the surface of your pita breads with the tines of a fork. Stack the dough rounds until you are ready to cook the pita bread.

Place a heavy cast-iron skillet (non-stick pan is fine) and heat to medium-high. Pour a little vegetable oil in the skillet and brush to cover the bottom. Carefully place one pita dough in the hot skillet. Cook for about 3 minutes and turn over when you see bubbles forming in the bread.

Place fried pita breads on to a large cotton kitchen towel and cover. Repeat with the rest of the dough, stacking them as you go. Serve warm with falafel or cut into triangles with the various dips and meze.

016-crop v1

Cucumber Raita

adapted from The Indian Grocery Store Demystified by Linda Bladholm

1 medium cucumber, peeled and most of the seeds removed
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups plain whole milk or Greek yogurt
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
fresh coriander and/or mint, chopped, to taste

cayenne pepper or paprika, for the garnish (optional)

Dice the cucumber. Blot off excess moisture with paper towels.
Add cumin, yogurt, garlic, coriander and/or mint. Chill until ready to be served. Sprinkle with cayenne or paprika before serving.

Serve with falafel (above) or pita bread as part of meze (below).

008-crop v1 

Yogurt cheese sprinkled with Dukkah

To make yogurt cheese, line a medium sieve with two to four layers of cheesecloth (this depends on the weave:  more layers for a loose weave, fewer layers for a dense weave).  Place the sieve over a bowl.  Spoon 2 cups of plain whole milk or lowfat yogurt on the cheesecloth.  Cover with the excess cheesecloth and refrigerate overnight.   When ready to serve, unmold and sprinkle with dukkah.  Serve with pita bread triangles.


Adapted from Claudia Roden's book, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and found on Michele’s blog with my adaptations in italics.

1 cup sesame seeds    I made half a recipe, 1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 3/4 cups coriander seeds   I added 2 tablespoons
2/3 cups blanched hazelnuts   I used 1/3 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup cumin seeds   I used 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Put each variety of seeds and nuts on a separate tray and roast them all in a preheated 350F oven for 10-20 minutes, until they just begin to color and give off a slight aroma. As they take different times, you must keep an eye on them so that they do not become too brown, and take each out as it is ready. You could also roast them in a frying pan. Put them together in the food processor with salt and pepper and grind them until they are finely crushed, but be careful not to over-blend them into a paste.
To serve, sprinkle a little dukkah on the yogurt cheese or pour a little oil on small slices of bread and sprinkle with the dukkah.

038-crop v1

For the hummus, falafel and preserved lemon recipes, please go to Michele’s blog.

This post will be submitted to Susan’s blog Wild Yeast, for her weekly showcase of yeasted foods: YeastSpotting!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Chicken salad with the flavors of Mexico

072 v1

This chicken salad was inspired by the purchase of a good-looking jicama!   Firm to the touch and tight-skinned, it was perfect for the taking and going to shine in a Mexican flavored salad I was already composing in my mind.   Delicious raw or cooked, its crunchy white flesh has the texture of a firm pear.  Slightly sweet on the tongue, the flavor hints of apple and pear.   

The jicama (hick-u-ma) is the root of a legume that is related to the potato and is easily found in Texas stores.  In Mexico and further south it is commonly served by street vendors with a little lime juice and a dusting of chili powder.  When cut into wide strips it can be a healthy replacement for chips – a means to scoop up a guacamole or salsa.  In my chicken salad, it adds a mildly sweet crunch and replaces celery handily. 

 056-crop v1

Composed mostly of water and very high in fiber and vitamin C, it’s the perfect diet food.  Look for jicama that are hard with tight, dry skins; a flattened ball shape, few bruises and no mold.  Pick the smaller ones (1.5lbs – 2.5lbs) as the larger they get, the higher the chance are of them tasting woody.  

Chicken salad with the flavors of Mexico

Serves 4

The marinade:

¼ cup fresh lime juice

¼ cup oil (I used olive oil)

½ teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

2 chicken breasts

The dressing:

¼ cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

¼ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon salt

The veggies:

1 poblano pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced; or left raw, seeded and diced

1 4-oz jar pimento peppers, drained

½ red onion, finely chopped

¼ cup green olives, sliced

1 cup jicama, peeled and diced

¼ cup cilantro, chopped

1 fresh jalapeno or 1 tablespoon pickled jalapeno, chopped, optional – for added spice

1 avocado, peeled and cut into cubes

lettuce leaves or toasted bread for sandwiches

Mix marinade ingredients in a medium bowl until well combined. Add chicken breasts and marinate for 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Preheat oven to 350F. Transfer chicken to a roasting pan, cover with and roast for 30 minutes or until cooked. Cool and then chop into bite-sized pieces.

Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until combined.

062-crop v1

Place chicken, poblano pepper, pimento peppers, red onion, green olives, jicama, cilantro and jalapeno (if desired). Add dressing and mix gently with a large spoon. Top with avocado and serve on a bed of lettuce leaves or in a sandwich.

066 v1

My friend, Debbie, and I enjoyed ours on a bed of lettuce leaves while my nephew, Jovan, loved his sandwiched between buttermilk bread. 


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Buttermilk dinner rolls from Michael Ruhlman

038 v1

I knew I should not have looked at my blogroll this morning. was at the top.  There he was, Michael Ruhlman, as easy on the eyes as ever, looking straight at me.  Today he was pleading, doe-eyed, for me to test a recipe for Buttermilk dinner rolls, then take a photo and send it to him.  Being addicted to yeast and having never met a bread I didn’t like, I brushed all duties aside and pulled my instant yeast out of the refrigerator.  Who was I to refuse Michael Ruhlman - food expert, writer, cookbook author and blue-eyed Adonis? 

Ruhlman found this recipe in Saveur magazine.  He had ‘been wanting a soft, comfort-food, James-friendly dinner roll, the kind of Parker House roll that’s slightly sweet and yeasty and soft as a pillow’.   If I had to equate them with pillows, these rolls would be on the firm and dense side, made for support!   They rose beautifully and produced a tall roll.  The tops baked to a deep brown (at 375F) in just 30 minutes but the inside required longer baking.  For the novice baker, this could be problem as the rolls looked done.  Fortunately the recipe instructed me to test the internal temperature to 195-200F.  Perhaps the oven temperature should be reduced to 350F to allow for evenly baked rolls. 

The end result was a dense but very tasty roll, especially when eaten hot out of the oven with salted butter and honey!   I would bake them again, with slight adjustments in oven temperature, and I’m looking forward to toasting the leftover rolls in the morning for breakfast.

For accuracy, most ingredients were measured on my nifty scale.  According to my scale:  800g of Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour when scooped into cups equaled 6 1/2 cups (I measured it twice).  Here I was curious to see how much the yeasted dough weighed.  1.398kg translates to a little over 3lbs of dough! 

017 v1

And each individual roll weighed 116 grams before being baked.  Don’t you just love the black and white flecks?  Delicate but distinctive!

030 v1

033 v1

I have never measured the internal temperature of bread as I have measured a medium rare steak, but I’m glad I did!  The top was a deep brown after 30 minutes and it looked done.  I tented it with foil and let it bake for another 15 minutes, taking the temperature every 5 minutes, until the rolls measured 195F and my thermometer stick came out clean. 052 v1

Buttermilk dinner rolls from Michael Ruhlman

Update:  Michael Ruhlman suggested that I reduce the amount of flour to 25 ounces/700g all purpose flour for less dense rolls.  The original measure posted was 28 ounces/800 grams all purpose flour. 

25 ounces/700g all purpose flour

1/4 ounce/7 grams (1 package/2 tsps) instant or rapid-rise yeast

20 ounces/570 grams buttermilk (2¼ cups), microwaved for 40 to 60 seconds. I heated my buttermilk in the microwave until it measured 85ºF.

1/2 ounce/14 grams kosher salt (1 tablespoon)

1.5 ounces/40 grams honey (2 tablespoons)

olive oil, vegetable spray or butter for greasing a springform pan

1 egg mixed with 1 teaspoon water

1 teaspoon black and white sesame seeds, or poppy seeds (or any other seed you wish to eat)

Combine the flour and instant yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer. Let sit for 30 seconds and then add the buttermilk, salt and honey.  Mix on medium until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.  I let the machine mix for 5 minutes and hand kneaded for another 5 minutes to ensure that the dough was smooth. (See Michael’s post on Bread Baking Basics for more info on mixing and rising.)

Place about 1 tablespoon oil in a large bowl. Put dough in the bowl and flip it over so that the dough is completely covered with a thin coat of oil. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel. During the winter, I place my dough in my oven so that it rises easily. Turn your oven on to the lowest setting for a minute so that it warms up just a little. Turn the oven off and place the dough on a rack. Close the oven door and allow the dough to rise until doubled in volume (dough shouldn’t bounce back when you press a finger into it).  This will take about an hour in a 90ºF oven or at least two hours, maybe three if rising on the kitchen counter.

Turn the dough out onto your counter and give it a good knead.  Divide the dough into 12 equal portions (about 116g, 4 ounces each).  Form each into a tight boule by rolling it on the counter.  Grease a springform pan with olive oil, spray or butter.  Fit the boules snugly into it, cover with a towel and let the dough rise for 45 minutes to an hour in the oven, as instructed above.

Preheat your oven to 375F /190C.  Whisk the egg and water until it’s uniformly yellow. When the rolls have risen again, brush them with the egg wash and sprinkle them with sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Bake them for 40 minutes (to an internal temperature of 195-200F/90-93C.  Check after 30 minutes and tent with foil if the rolls are getting very dark. Let them rest on a rack for about 10 minutes before serving.

These rolls are best hot out of the oven.  They are dense with a chewy crust and delicious slathered with salted butter and honey!

058 v1

064 v1








This post will be submitted to Susan’s informative blog Yeastspotting!


Monday, February 1, 2010

Fish tacos with spicy pineapple salsa and red cabbage slaw

023-crop v2

Favorite son, Alex and his lovely girlfriend, Alyssa are quite an accomplished young couple.  Both will be graduating from a reputable university in May with degrees in Chemical Engineering and a B.A. and Masters in Accounting respectively, and Husbie and I will finally get a raise…whoop!  I recently received a text from Alex asking me that if they opened a cafe, would I ‘pastry chef it up?’  My initial response was absolutely, but first go and earn some money in the field that you have been studying for the past five years and then we’ll talk! 

The ‘kids’ are fast becoming very skilled in the kitchen that I step aside and watch in amazement and burst with pride as they pickle vegetables, brew beer, make mayonnaise from scratch, grill burgers with blue cheese sauce, make gyros and much more.   I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised since it’s sort of written in their genes!  Alyssa hails from a Louisiana family that takes it’s food very seriously.  Her mother, Rhonda is an excellent cook who can stuff a shrimp like no one’s business and make a hearty chicken and sausage gumbo that’ll make you want to slap ya’ mama!  I have never resorted to fast food as a means of sustenance for my precious children and am happy to see that their philosophy of eating includes an appreciation and respect for fresh ingredients that not only nourish the body, but also provide a healthy avenue for creativity.

025-crop v1

Alex’s interest in ethnic cuisines began in a Cuban restaurant.  At the age of two, Husbie and I watched in amazement as he polished off a bowl of spicy Cuban salsa without a flinch of an eye!  In junior high, he experimented with salsa concoctions and loved to share them with his classmates.  One such salsa was so spicy that it managed to agitate the entrails of an intrepid classmate that he had to leave class and go home; I sincerely hope he hasn’t been scarred for life!

Here’s a meal that Alex and Alyssa treated us to recently.  Inspired by Rhonda’s recipe, these fish tacos are easy to prepare and include a sunny tropical salsa, crunchy red slaw, buttery avocado slices and delicate tilapia.

032-crop v1

Fish tacos with spicy pineapple salsa and red cabbage slaw  Serves 4

8 corn tortillas, warmed. I found very good yellow corn and wheat flour blend tortillas from La Tortilla Factory in Santa Rosa, California. They didn’t crack when folded as many corn-only tortillas do. They are available at Kroger grocery stores (one of the few good things I can chime about that comes from this chain. Living in the ‘burbs comes with its own challenges, one of them being the lack of great stores!)

Red cabbage slaw (see recipe below)

Spicy pineapple salsa (see recipe below)

1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and sliced

4 pieces of tilapia, or other mild white fish

Coat tilapia in a little oil.  Season with salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne, to taste.  Just before you are ready to eat, broil the tilapia for about 8 minutes until just cooked.

Serve tilapia with warmed tortillas, pineapple salsa, avocado slices and red cabbage slaw.

009-crop v2

Red cabbage slaw

½ red cabbage, finely sliced

1 cup cilantro leaves

1/3 red onion, thinly sliced

4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

2 tablespoons canola oil

Place sliced cabbage, cilantro leaves and sliced red onion in a large bowl. Mix vinegar, honey and lime juice in a small bowl.  While whisking quickly, add canola oil to vinegar mixture.  Add to coleslaw and mix thoroughly.

007-crop v1

Spicy pineapple salsa – this recipe calls for more than you’ll need for the tacos.  The rest makes a refreshing tropical dip when served with tortilla chips.

1 large can (20 oz) crushed pineapple in its own juice

1 cup cilantro leaves, lightly packed

2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

hot sauce, to taste.  Alex loves Sriracha brand to spice things up. 

Place all ingredients in food processor and blend.


002-crop v1

045 v1

This post was submitted to Susan’s informative blog Yeastspotting for this week’s edition.