14 Feb 2010

It’s a Chickpea Affair

This was Carnival l week in old Europe and here in Nord Rhine Westphalia were I live, this is a deeply felt festivity. It all goes by the number 11, they start planning it the 11th of November and the party this year started the 11th of February at 11am (Carnival takes place always the week-end before the start of Lent period). In other words, do you like beer not only in October? Come by this region around February to get loaded up and see Germans through new eyes.
I am not a big beer fun and decided to stay home enjoying the falling snow and doing some cooking. Lucky enough, the monthly Daring Cooks challenge http://thedaringkitchen.com/ involved Lebanese Mezze; namely Pita bread and Hummus and few other optional dishes (thanks to Michele of Veggie Num Nums for the choice).

Last day I collected then my energies and started preparing the bread. The process starts by letting a sponge ferment before hard kneading the dough.
It all went pretty well, mixed the flours (I used 50% all purpose, 30% whole wheat and 20% semolina flour) and let the sponge rest while I was enjoying a cup of coffee and working a bit. After this it was all chickpea world!
I decided to try also the falafel recipe and so started throwing things in my blender: chickpeas, onions, garlic, parsley and mint (didn’t have coriander), cumin and salt; then came again the flour, enough to make a ball out of the dough. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to let the dough sits in the fridge.
In the meantime the oven was warming up and I had to start baking the breads while frying the falafel. It was only at the end of the entire ordeal that I noticed that one of the window’s glasses had fissured for the difference in temperature between the outside and the warm air behind toaster oven, sitting in front of it. Sigh… This quite affected my mood also for the next day. Anyhow, it was time to set aside a few of the prepared goodies for the photo shooting session and gorge on the rest for dinner, while watching few episodes of The Simpsons (as usual).
The photo shooting session went pretty well this time, this means that I didn’t ended up with more than 100 shots per item to choose from.

What about the tasting experience, you might ask; I quite liked the hummus with its sharp citrusy notes though I might use more tahini next time.

The bread, done with this combination of flour, was far too crispy to be considered pita bread and it didn’t puff up as supposed. I just ended up baking nice and flavourful flat breads. I will definitely employ the sponge method again, since the bread had little if none yeast flavour.

As concerning the falafel, well let’s say I can now play tennis. Nice taste but far too chewy on the inside; the flour needed to make a ball out of the dough seems to be too much or perhaps I had worked the dough too long.
And here we go with the recipes.

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 (.43 ounces/12.1 grams)
  • 2.5 cups lukewarm water (21 ounces/591 grams)
  • 5-6 cups all-purpose flour (may use a combination of 50% whole wheat and 50% all-purpose, or a combination of alternative flours for gluten free pita) (17.5 -21 ounces/497-596 grams)
  • 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.

Hummus – 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.

  • 1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (or substitute well drained canned chickpeas and omit the cooking) (10 ounces/301 grams)
  • 2-2.5 lemons, juiced (3 ounces/89ml)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • a big pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste) OR use peanut butter or any other nut butter—feel free to experiment) (1.5 ounces/45 grams)
  • additional flavorings (optional) I would use about 1/3 cup or a few ounces to start, and add more to taste
1. Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ 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.

Falafels - 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 (7 ounces/100 grams)
  • 1/2 large onion (roughly chopped, about 1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped OR use a couple pinches of dried parsley (.2 ounces/5 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped OR use a couple pinches of dried cilantro (.2 ounces/5 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon table salt (.1 ounce/5 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon dried hot red peppers (cayenne) (.1 ounce/2 grams)
  • 4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (.1 ounce/2 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (.13 ounces/4 grams)
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour (1 ounce/24 grams) (you may need a bit extra)
  • 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. 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.
Note: I sometimes prefer to bake these so I can avoid the deep frying. I bake them on a nonstick pad (silpat or the like) at 325F (160C), just until they’re firm, about 20 minutes. 
If you haven’t yet, try your hand at Lebanese Mezze; your family will thank you!

On another ground, I want to thank the lovely Sarah of Simply Cooking for the award she has just given me:

You may remind that also Asha gave me another one of these; so here the same rules apply: share with you 10 things I love and pass the award to other 10 bloggers.
Here we go then:

  • I prefer savoury to sweets;
  • I would like to need only 4h of sleep per night;
  • I am more a Gothic than a Baroque guy;
  • For as much as I like Florence, I find it a pretty boring city;
  • I like to photograph sculptures;
  • I love Michelangelo's volumes;
  • I adore Leonardo's drawings;
  • One day I will own an emerald cut diamond;
  • I often ponder about taking a second master;
  • I am a compulsive book shopper.
I would like to share this award with:

Thanks for your work and inspiration my friends!


  1. Looks Yummy, but then your food always does. I might have tried this today if were a little earlier in the day. I am bookmarking for next weekend though! Thanks for sharing with us:)))

  2. How convenient! I have a made up batch of chickpeas in the fridge waiting to be transformed in to something yummy!

  3. @CJ Thanks dear, you are too kind ^_^
    @Yolanda Your chickpeas will love you if you would use them for these delicacies :D

  4. Hi Alessio, thanks very much for sharing Happy 101 with me. I am a compulsive book shopper too.
    Mezzes are looking good too on all the DC posts, I never knew how pittas were made before.

  5. Thank you for the award Sweetheart, but who's Bluegerry? ;) Nice chickpeas by the way...

  6. @Hilda: Isn't Bluegerry your pet? lol sorry, will correct the misspell ;)

  7. My hummus & pita turned out perfect. :) I only made 1 cup of chickpeas but it was still a lot that it took us 3 days to finish it. LOL! Like you, I did add a lot more tahini than indicated in the recipe. I made Pita twice and twice it turned out perfect. It puffed up beautifully. :) We are very happy with this recipe.

  8. Thanks so much for the award Alessio! I'm honoured. Loving the chickpea affair =)

  9. Mmmm, hummus (and I had to laugh at your tennis ball falafel comment!) Thanks for the award - I'm also more of a savoury than a sweet person... Have you considered baguette cut diamonds? Sounds more suitable for a foodie ;-)