Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mast Va Khiar with Khoubis Arabi

Yogurt Cucumber Salad with Pita Bread

Middle-Eastern food…..mouthwatering pastries… Arabic music…..belly dancing performances and Dabke dancers…….cultural and religious artifacts and cooking demonstrations…….a bit of cultural exposure, that sums up pretty much how we started our last weekend! We have been looking forward to our annual Middle-Eastern Festival and this time, I carried my camera too, thinking that I will capture some sights and share the flavour virtually with you all but the moment we reached there, I saw myself transforming into a personification of gluttony, walking around with two legs and hands and a single mouth, raiding the food stalls with inexplicable greed and gluttony! Based on my previous experiences, this time I knew exactly what to gobble up…we started our Mezas (Appetizers) with Baked Kibbee (beef and wheat mix layered with meat, onions and pine nuts), Meat Fatayer (yeast dough pie stuffed with meat, Grape leaves stuffed with beef and rice and Falafel (chick-pea and fava bean patties) with Hummous (Chickpea dip with tahini, lemon juice and garlic). Though we had the option to try out the vegetarian Mezas, we were more keen on trying out Shawarma (marinated grilled chicken), Beef Gyros and our favourite Kafta (lamb and beef mixed with parsley and spices). After stuffing ourselves with so much of food, I could not leave the place without having a bite of my favourite dessert, Galaktoburiko (custard phyllo pastry). The thought that this festival is an annual affair and I will get to enjoy all this food only next year, made me go for one more piece of the same dessert :) We also bought some Baklawa (layers of phyllo dough filled with crushed pistachios), Bird Nest (something similar to baklawa but in a different shape) and Burma (shredded wheat filled with pistachios) to munch on later. Watching the dabke dancers stomping and jumping and kicking their feet in rhythm …….. belly dancers shimming the shoulders and shaking the hip to the music in the air and the jiggling of coins from their hip belt……devouring the succulent main dishes and lip smacking sweet treats, it was definitely an evening worth all the wait :)

Did I stir-up your appetite with the listing of all the food I had? :) I have something for you, the classic middle –eastern bread, Khoubis Arabi/Pita Bread and a refreshing and filling Yogurt – Cucumber Salad/Mast Va Khiar, an appetizer that can be scooped up with bread. Both the recipes are taken from “Secrets of Cooking – Armenian/Lebanese/Persian” by Linda Chirinian. I have also tried Hummous Bi Tahini (Chick-pea and sesame seed puree) and Falafel (bean croquettes) from the same book which came out quite well. Sometime back, Sra posed a very simple yet thought provoking question,” what unlikely things have you done for your blog?”. Out of the many interesting comments that popped up, my immediate response was to declare that I had tried out many new dishes which I would not have, if not for blogging, but later it struck me that I did a very “unlikely as well as unusual” thing which was to pick some cookbooks on one of my visits to the library!! Though I just flipped the pages, and enjoyed the beauty of those pictures and returned the books without even reading, that was so unusual of me to do something like that…till then I never knew where the cookbook section was : P This was a one time, non-recurring event as well !


  • 1 cup whole wheat flour PLUS 3 ½ cups All-purpose flour (Maida)
  • A ¼ oz packet of dry yeast OR 1tbsp dry yeast
  • 1 ½ cups warm water
  • 1tbsp sugar
  • ¾ tbsp salt
  • 3tbsp vegetable oil
  • Mix yeast with 1 ½ cups warm water and 1 tbsp sugar thoroughly and proof for 10 minutes, till it is foamy on top.
  • Making the dough: In a large bowl, add wheat flour, all-purpose flour (maida) and salt and combine well. To this add the yeast mixture and 2 tbsp oil and mix the dry ingredients with the wet ones until liquids are absorbed. At this stage, add the rest of the oil (1 tbsp) and knead well till the dough forms a ball. You may use food processor to knead the dough. Grease your hands with some oil and rub the dough with your palms and place this in a lightly oiled large glass or porcelain bowl and cover with a plastic wrap and set aside for about 2 hours until the dough doubles in quantity.
  • Preheat oven to 500F.
  • Trick to get perfect pita pockets: After about 2 hours when the dough doubles in quantity, punch down the dough and deflate the air inside and let it rest for 5 minutes and then divide the dough into 6-8 pieces. Taking one piece at a time, flatten and bring the sides folding over towards the center as though you re wrapping a package and seal together all the sides, by gently pressing at the center. Turn the sealed side down and place on a lightly floured surface and cover with flour dusted plastic wrap and again let it rest for 10 minutes. Roll each ball into a flat circle and place on ungreased baking sheets and bake for around 4-5 minutes, until it puffs up and slightly turns golden colored. Cool slightly on racks and store in plastic bag while it is still warm, otherwise bread tends to dry out.

Tricks I learnt: This was my second attempt at making Pita Bread/Khoubis Arabi and it was 100% successful….all my rolled breads puffed up quite well, forming perfect pita pockets; but that was not the case first time when I tried, only 4-5 puffed up well and the rest got over cooked as I waited till it turned golden brown and some did not puff up on time. So, the basic rule here is to wait only till it puffs up well and changes the colour lightly.....don’t wait until it turns fully golden because the bread will not be soft at all; even if it does not puff up, if you see the bread changing its colour, immediately remove from the oven as the bread is cooked well even if it does not puff up, but it will not be as soft as the puffed up ones. Also, you should knead the dough several times and roll evenly to get pita pockets. Another important thing to be noted is that the dough should be moist. Don’t be stingy while adding the oil; 3 tbsp oil is a definite requirement. The oven temperature is also a vital aspect and cooking time varies depending on the oven settings. Though the original recipe calls for 6-8 minutes of cooking, my oven takes only about 5 minutes to do the job. So, it is advisable to start baking one rolled dough at a time, check the accurate baking time for puffing up and once it’s cooled, see if it is cooked enough and once you have an idea about the exact baking time required, you can keep 2-3 at a time and bake. This is as simple/difficult as making home made pizza dough or Naan (Indian bread) at home. Something that you can perfect by practice. Check out Jugalbandi’s whole-wheat pita bread too.

My home grown mint ..

MAST VA KHIAR - Yogurt Cucumber Salad

  • 4 cups yogurt
  • 2 cups thinly diced cucumbers
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves OR 1tbsp dried crushed mint
  • ¼ to ½ cup scallions (Green/Spring onions) chopped
  • ¼ to ½ cup seedless raisins (preferably dark raisins)
  • Salt & white pepper to taste
  • Pour yogurt in a cheese-cloth or a thin kitchen napkin and place in a colander or a bowl and drain for 1 hour.
  • Mix yogurt, cucumbers, mint, salt, pepper and scallions. Stir in raisins just before serving, as it gives out colour if soaked in yogurt for a long time and garnish with diced cucumber or mint leaf or scallions.

You can serve Mast Va Khiar/Yogurt cucumber salad as a dip for pita wedges and for those who like to double dip, serve them in individual cucumber boats to lighten up the atmosphere. To make cucumber boats: Cut the cucumber into desired length and halve them vertically and scoop out the seeds and mushy parts and fill it with the dip.

My second entry to Green Blog Project - Summer 2007 hosted at Letzcook.


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