Sunday, March 6, 2016

Middle Eastern Breakfast: Pita, Fool and Labneh

Sometimes as the end of the day approaches, I need a family meal everyone will enjoy and will make enough for my hungry crew. Getting everyone around the table at the same time, from the pickiest eaters, to the hungriest among us, is also a challenge. For all these reasons, I am a huge fan of breakfast for dinner.

Of course, breakfast for dinner doesn't just mean pancakes, waffles or frittata. This past month I was thrilled to have had a glimpse at a few items often found on a Middle Eastern breakfast table. We tried pita bread, fool and labneh.

For my March Secret Recipe Club reveal, I was matched up with Sawsan from Chef in Disquise. Looking through her blog recipes I flipped at all the amazing recipes I haven't tried or even heard of before. Her Egyptian Layered Pastry (Feteer meshaltet) sounds amazing, as do her Macarons with Biscoff filling. But it was breakfast that really caught my eye. She had a gorgeous 3 part breakfast series with an amazing spread of items typical for a weekend breakfast.

It was like taking a culinary trip around the world, minus the jet lag!

Now, Sawsan mentions that the staples of hummus, fool and falafel are often available for purchase at a local restaurant, bright and early, for weekend meals. Since I don't have access to my own favorite neighborhood restaurant, I had the opportunity to make them for myself. Most of the work was passive time, rising and simmering away. As we got closer to dinner time, everything came together pretty quickly.

My biggest challenge was just hunting down the ingredients I needed. I felt very "small town" America when I tried to hunt down fava beans. Though I have grown my own in the garden, I had a hard time finding them canned or dried in my grocery stores. I was finally able to find some in the city at Whole Foods in the dry bulk section. I also had good luck finding things like zataar on

By the way, if you have never tried zataar before, pictured below, it is amazing! It is a Middle Eastern spice blend with differing balances of thyme, oregano, marjaram, sesame seeds, etc. It is wonderful with the labneh or mixed with olive oil for dipping bread.

Labneh is one I had to try, I have often heard of "yogurt cheese" but this was unique. Drained for several hours then hand rolled into balls, it is stored in olive oil. I knew immediately I wanted to try this one with fresh yogurt.

Labneh Balls
recipe from Chef in Disguise

You Will Need:

  • 2 c. plain yogurt or greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • olive oil to cover the balls
Stir together the salt and yogurt. Drain the yogurt with cheesecloth for 3-5 hours or overnight in the fridge. Put a small amount of olive oil on your fingers and form uniform balls, about a tablespoon in size. I used a small melon baller to achieve consistent sizes. Store in an airtight jar covered with olive oil. Make sure the top of the balls are covered with the oil.

Then of course I had to make fresh pita to go with the labneh and fool! Pita is very easy to make and I have made it before, but this recipe has an addition of honey and is very easy to follow.

Pita Bread
recipe from Chef in Disguise

You Will Need:

  • 2 1/2 tsp. dry yeast
  • 1/2 c. warm water
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 4 - 4 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 Tbsp. powdered milk
  • 1 1/2 c. lukewarm water
First, proof the yeast by combining the yeast, 1/2 cup warm water, sugar and honey in a bowl. If the yeast is active it will bubble up in a few minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, olive oil, salt and powdered milk. Use your fingers to rub in all the oil till well mixed.

Then create a well in the middle of the bowl and add the proofed yeast and 1 cup of lukewarm water. Mix to bring the dough together (with a wooden spoon or in a stand mixer).

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and begin to work the dough. Slowly add more water (from the reserved 1/2 cup) as necessary. Knead till a smooth and elastic dough has formed.

Place the worked dough into a large oil coated bowl. Turn the dough to coat lightly with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise till doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 520 degrees and move the rack to the lowest position. Place a baking sheet into the oven during preheating.

Divide the dough into small portions. Mine were a little larger than a golf  ball. I like smaller pita pockets. Let these rest under a damp towel for about 10 - 15 minutes.

Once they have rested, roll out to thin circles of dough (3-4 mm). Then cover again with a damp cloth to rest for another 10 minutes.

Carefully place the dough,  on the baking sheet. Be careful to lay it on the hot baking sheet without folding or crimping. The hot baking sheet and hot oven will create the dough to puff up as steam is trapped inside the dough. Bake for 2 - 5 minutes, then flip and bake for another 1 - 2 minutes.

Remove from the own and place under a clean dry towel. The bread will stay pliable if kept covered.

Repeat the steps with the remaining pita dough. Once cooled, place in storage bags and use within 2-5 days.

Also, if you only want to make a few at a time, pinch off what you need and store the remaining dough in the fridge.

Fool (or Fool Medames)
recipe from Chef in Disguise

Fool is a dip of cooked fava beans and a very filling addition to the breakfast foods. I started my recipe from dried beans because it was all I had access to. Sawsan's recipe begins with a can of already cooked fava beans. If you need to start with dry, too, start with this step:

Rinse and soak 1 pound fava beans the night before. Cover the beans with warm water and 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar. The next day drain and rinse the beans. Simmer them for 4-6 hours covered, on low till tender.

Then you can continue with the recipe....

You Will Need:

  • cooked fava beans
  • 1 clove garlic minced *optional
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped finely
  • 1 lemon juiced 
  • 1 Tbsp. tahini *optional
  • 1/4 c. mint leaves chopped
Heat the fava beans, cooking liquid (or remaining liquid in the can) and garlic till it comes to a boil. Turn it down to a simmer. Take off the heat and mash the beans coarsely. Stir in the tomatoes, lemon juice, tahini and mint leaves. Drizzle the top with olive oil and garnish with a little more chopped tomato.

Fool can be used as a spread in the pita with tomato and cucmber slices.

Now that is my idea of breakfast for dinner! I hope this inspired you to try some of these recipes. This was my first time and it was a lot of fun.

Be sure to check out the whole blog, Chef in Disguise, for more wonderful recipes and Middle Eastern cuisine as well as beautiful baked goods and other treats.

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