Sunday, February 14, 2010


The Daring Cooks Challenge this month has proved once again that FRESH IS BETTER. Michelle of Veggie Num Nums chose the challenge, and it's a great one: Pita Bread and Hummus are the mandatory parts, and can be accompanied by our choice of 'mezze'. I love brined lemons, so I made a Chicken Tagine with Brined Lemons and Olives, and added a new little recipe I'm working with, Brined Lemon/Artichoke/Garlic Spread to the Hummus. It was all delicious! Thank you, Michelle, for a great challenge!

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

(This is a GREAT recipe, and I will be using it again!! Very easy and really works!)

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 (It took mine 5-6 minutes, and I wondered if the dough was a little too wet? It felt perfect.), 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. (I used canned chickpeas.)

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.

Braised Chicken with Brined Lemons

(Lemons are best if they have brined for a couple of days, but can be used after only a few hours.)

2 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. ground ginger

2 tsp paprika

Pinch of saffron (if you have it—don’t buy it just for this recipe!)

2 bay leaves

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. coarsely ground pepper

2 T extra virgin olive oil for marinade, plus 2 T for browning chicken

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 lbs. chicken thighs, most skin and excess fat removed

2 medium sweet onions, thinly sliced

1 cup pitted green olives

1/2 cup chicken broth

1⁄2 cup chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

Juice and zest of one lemon

6 brined lemon quarters, rinsed and thinly sliced*

Mix the cinnamon, cumin, ginger, paprika and saffron in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Toast, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Cool.

Add spices, bay leaves, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil to large zip lock bag. Compress to mix, then add the chicken and be sure all pieces are coated. Refrigerate and let marinate for 2-3 hours.

Add remaining oil to large Dutch oven over medium heat. When oil is hot, remove chicken from bag, reserving marinade, and brown chicken on both sides. Remove chicken from pan and set aside. Add onions and sauté until tender. Then add olives and sauté another 2 minutes.

Add chicken pieces, chicken broth, reserved marinade, parsley, lemon juice and zest, and preserved lemon slices. Stir once, cover, and cook over low heat for 1 ½ hours. Chicken should be very tender.

*Brined Lemons

Wash and dry 4 small lemons. Cut into quarters and toss with 1/2 cup salt. Stuff salted lemon quarters (and any remaining salt not adhering to lemons) into quart jar. Juice 2 more lemons, and add juice to jar. Finish filling jar with water to cover lemons. Close lid and turn several times to mix lemon juice and water. For the next two days, turn the jar occasionally to keep mixed. Then refrigerate for up to 3 months.


  1. love your pictures and your pitas. amazing work with this months challenge.

  2. Thank you! I loved making the pitas. They really go well with the Chicken Tagine!

  3. Good job on the challenge!

  4. LOVE the preserved lemon chicken served with those gorgeous pitas. Amazing, amazing job!

  5. Annelle, This all looks amazing! I'm going to try those lemons!

  6. I really like using brined lemons...once you have a jar, you'll always want to keep a jar handy. The funny thing is that I first learned about them in Italy...our hostess made a chicken tagine one night (much like the chicken recipe above, but in a true tagine, which I don't own) and showed them to me!

  7. Thank you so much for cooking along with me this month. Your food looks delicious and your pitas are perfect. I love how colorful your blog is--lovely!

  8. Thank YOU, Michele! This was such a fun challenge. I loved making the pitas..they were really delicious, and my husband and I were especially bad while they were still warm! I was afraid I wouldn't have any to photograph. A couple of days later I cut the remaining pitas, brushed with some garlic butter and toasted them in the oven. We didn't waste a bite!
    And hummus and brined lemons--always a favorite!