Mezze is a staple in the Middle East
Its not just a meal, but a full on feast!
To eat through it take some time, to finish it takes a beast!
(All poems courtesy of baba Srouji)
Mezze is a famous Middle Eastern tradition of serving small plates of savories, dips, and salads. Akin to appetizers in the United States, aperitivo in Italy, or tapas in Spain, they are meant to be sampled and shared. In the Levant, mezze is sometimes accompanied by a good anise alcohol, such as Arak (similar to Ouzo). Warm, fluffy Arabic bread (khubz) is a staple in this for this style of eating (and all the better for scooping), as are marinated olives and pickled vegetables. Today we are providing three very simple and familiar recipes for mezze, and you can find the recipes for other mezze dishes such as kubbeh and falafel here, and here.
We’ll start with hummus–because, well, everyone loves hummus! This creamy chickpea puree is a staple in every Middle Eastern household, but in recent years it’s become a bit of a health food craze in the U.S. and can be found at almost any grocery store. However, we think you’ll taste the difference when it’s homemade, so we’ve got you covered with the awesome recipe below. Other classic dips include baba ghannouj, mashed grilled eggplant, and labneh (yogurt cheese). Vegetables are also key. No mezze is complete without tabbouleh, or fattoush.
Hummus has become a global name
Knocking the doors of gourmet fame
A testy breeze of ground chick peas
That the Middle East will always claim
Hummus has basic ingredients of chickpeas, tahina, lemon, and garlic. However, technique for making hummus varies, as does its consistency. We really like Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe from the “Jerusalem” cookbook, which we have adapted here:
1 ¼ cups dried chickpeas, or one 15 oz. can chickpeas
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup tahina
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, crushed
6 ½ tablespoons cold water (100 ml)
- Soak the chickpeas overnight, by covering them with cold water ( 2 ½ cups)
- The next day, drain the chickpeas. Cook them for 3 minutes with the baking soda over high heat. Make sure you stir constantly.
- Add the water and bring to boil. Lower the heat and let it simmer (20-40 min) until tender but not mushy. They are the perfect consistency when you are able to crush them with the back of a spoon.
- Drain chickpeas, let them cool, and place them in a food processor for about 5-10 minutes. If using canned chickpeas, put chickpeas in the processor but reserve the liquid to add in later. The longer the chickpeas are in the processor, the thicker the paste. When they are at the consistency you desire, add tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, and 1tsp salt. Slowly drizzle in ice water and allow it to mix for about 5 minutes, until you get a very smooth and creamy paste (or pour in canned liquid).
- You can decorate with parsley, paprika, cumin, fresh chick peas or just olive oil. We favor paprika & parlsey. If you decide to top with fried lamb, it can be done now.
Rasha K.’s favorite mezze plate is babaganoush. In fact, she was so obsessed with perfecting the technique of stove-top eggplant roasting, that more than a few *harmless* kitchen fires were begun by eggplants that had burst into flames. Such is the noble pursuit of flavor-perfection.
If you are less courageous (and less stupid), you may bake the eggplant for babaganoush in the oven. But be warned: to get that incredible sweet/smokey flavor, roasting over an open fire or on a grill is best. As with hummus, the flavors of babaganoush are often more intense the following day.
2 medium to large eggplants (aubergines)
1/3 cup tahina
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1-2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
Roasting the eggplants:
1. Coat the eggplants lightly with olive oil (not too much, or the eggplant will go up in flames. While an impressive sight, kitchen fires are NOT GOOD).
2. Line the bottom of the gas burner with foil, so that the eggplant drippings do not get into the stovetop and/or cause a fire. Poke each end of the eggplant with a fork, so that you make turn it as though it was on a spit. Or, you can turn the eggplant with a pair of tongs, but they become pretty slippery.
3. Turn on the gas burner to a medium flame. You can adjust the heat as needed. Place the eggplant (cook one at a time) either directly on the flame, or put a little metal wire rack–the type you might find in a toaster oven–over the burner so that it keeps the eggplant slightly off the flame. Turn the eggplant as needed to cook all parts. The eggplant skin will bubble, turn brownish/black, and will start to collapse, which in my experience takes about 10 minutes. Don’t worry. The idea is to completely char the outside, and thoroughly cook the inside. The softer and limper the eggplant, the better it will taste.
4. Peel off the eggplant skins. This should be easy to do if the eggplant is cooked well. You may drain the eggplant flesh in a small strainer for about 10 minutes. In my experience it is not necessary to take all the water out.
5. Place the eggplant flesh either in a food processor or in a bowl. Either process is fine, but you will get a thicker consistency and a smoother blend with the food processor. Add in the lemon juice in garlic. When blended, add in the tahina paste and olive oil. Emulsify in the food processor, or beat ingredients together quickly by hand, using a fork.
6. You may garnish the babaganoush with parsley, but this recipe needs virtually no accompaniment except a hint of olive oil. The flavors should be both bright and smokey, sweet and savoury.
Fattoush Salad (Arabic salad with toasted pita bread)
- Drizzle Pita with olive oil, and toast the pita bread in your toaster or regular oven until crisp but not browned–this is our favorite method. You may also fry the pita this way: heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a large pan. Break the pita bread into pieces, and place in the heated oil. Fry briefly until browned, tossing frequently. Add salt, pepper and ½ tsp of sumac. Remove from the heat and place on paper towels to drain. In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, green onions with the sliced radish and parsley.
- To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil and spices in a small bowl.
- Dress the salad with the vinaigrette and toss lightly. Finally, add the pita chips, and more sumac if you like, and toss one more time. Transfer to small serving bowls or plates. Enjoy!