The Vegan Cook-Off

As I mentioned in my last post, the recipe was invented as an entry for the vegan bake-off, but I unfortunately wasn’t accepted as a competitor. When I got an email saying there would be a second competition, I didn’t hesitate to sign up.  Luckily for me, it was an appetizer round, and I knew just the dish to enter.  It was something I had dreamed up several years before while watching The Next FoodNetwork Star, as I am wont to do.  I can’t even remember what challenge inspired me, but I kept it in mind until last Hanukkah, when I needed a savory snackum to round out the fried confections I was also serving.


This is what I eventually called “Deconstructed Hummus and Pita”, though the name didn’t come until it was necessary to give it a name for the competition.  It is a zatar rubbed pita crisp, topped with a dollop of creamy tahini sauce (or as the tahini jar calls, techina salad), lemon sesame roasted chickpeas, and just a drop of fiery zhoug.  Zhoug, is a Yemenite hot sauce made with chiles, garlic, and cilantro (there are also red versions).


The competition took place in early June at the Bell House in Brooklyn.  Competitors had to arrive with their dish fully cooked, and were given a small table on which they could assemble and display their dish.  My dad came to help out for the first hour, but given the space constraints, we weren’t able to assemble even close to the 250 required samples. As they announced the start of the competition, I looked up from my tupperware and spoons to see an extremely large and daunting crowd of hungry people, lined up and ready to eat.  I felt like I ran out of assembled samples within the first fifteen minutes, and if it weren’t for an incredibly kind audience member (I’m not sure if audience is the best description), I probably would have been out there making pita crisps into the wee hours of the night.


After a whirlwind two hours of serving up samples, the crowd was quieted down, and the judging began. There were three peoples choice winners and three winners picked by the judges.  Each judge introduce the winner by first announcing a runner up, dishes that were good or interesting, but had a technical flaw.  The third place runner up was an Artichoke soup, with a beautiful velvety  texture, but was unfortunately under seasoned.  The judge who announced the third place prize was the one non-vegan judge.  He began by saying the third place winner was so simple, they felt like it was wrong to choose it, but in the end, they had to because they kept going back for more. And then they called my name! The second place winner was a french cheese log, and in first place was a “pulled pork” barbecue jackfruit potsticker, which I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to try.  All in all, it was a really exciting experience that I would totally compete in again.  Here is the list of all the winners with descriptions of their dishes.  If you scroll down, there are also some pictures that were taken, including one of me onstage, in true 50s housewife form.


And now for that recipe (remember quantities are approximate; taste everything):

Pita Crisps

  • Flat-bread pita (4 usually makes a good amount)
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 2-3 tbsp zatar
  • 2-3 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix together oil, zatar and salt.  Dredge the pita in the oil mixture using your figures to distribute the seasoning evenly.  You can do this before or after you cut the pita.  It takes longer if the pita is cut, but the seasoning is distributed a little better.  Either way is delicious!  Cut the pita into 8 wedges, then cut each wedge in half crosswise, so you have 16 triangles (don’t cut them lengthwise, we’re not making pita strips).  Make sure both sides are well seasoned, then lay flat on a cookie sheet.  Bake for 30 minutes, turning once about halfway through.  You want the pita to be golden and thoroughly crisp.  If they are browning too quickly, you can turn your oven down 25 degrees.


  • 1 c tahini
  • 1 c water
  • juice of one lemon
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process til smooth.  Adjust the water and salt, depending on how thick you like the sauce to be.  It will also thicken in the fridge.

Roasted Chickpeas

  • 1 16 oz can of chickpeas
  • 2-3 tbsp techina
  • juice of half a lemon
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp paprika

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and mix until the chickpeas are thoroughly coated with the sauce.  Tasted and adjust salt and lemon.  I like it to have a pretty bright lemony flavor.  Transfer to a casserole pan (I’ve used lasagne sized pans as well as a pie plate).  Bake for about an hour, stirring every 10-15 minutes, so the sauce cooks evenly over the chickpeas.  They are done when the techina is pretty dry and brown.  The chickpeas should be nice and chewy, not crunchy.


  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 2-3 chile peppers, seeds left in or removed, depending on how hot you want it
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • a few tbsp oil or water to seal the paste

Combine all ingredients except the liquid in a food processor and pulverize to oblivion! Stream in the liquid and pulse to combine.

To assemble:  Top a pita crisp with a dollop of techina, 3 or 4 chickpeas and a dot of zhoug (or more if you want it hotter).

I wanted to post this sooner, but I figured now it’s extra appropriate since I just moved to Israel!  Enjoy!

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  • Caren
    October 4, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Absolutely delicious, although I think I did not eat the zhoug since i dislike cilantro (takes like soap) and spicy food. BTW this is not tea, booze or cupcakes LOL

    • Ashley
      October 4, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      Cilantro is delish! I didn’t give you the weird genes. And I’m aware that this isn’t cupcakes, but it’s still related since I got the cupcakes idea from the first vegan cook-off 😀

  • Richard
    October 4, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Next time you should make gavroche. Goes good with nachos.