Big meals seem superfluous in summer. No one wants to really eat when the temps hit the nineties which is why bite sized foods seems perfect. It's time to try the Eastern Mediterranean tradition of mezze. It's a light, tasty way to eat and enjoy the flavors of the season.
David Tanis covered this in his column A City Kitchen in yesterday's New York Times Food section. Mezze is basically a selection of small plates, similar to tapas.It's a standard in Greece, Turkey and Lebanon where its' big in restaurants but even bigger at homes around the regions. Families gather around their Sunday tables that are laden with small but filled plates along with glasses of Greek ouzo, Turkish raki or Lebanese arak. The ingredients represent the regions. Grape leaves and cucumbers are used often. Eggplant is a big staple , especially in the Middle East mezze or mezedhess. Mostly it's served as a Turkish style dip with pita. Zucchini figures large too and it's prepared a variety of different ways.Most of the ingredients can be bought at any farmer's market or even the family garden. Mr. Tanis also recommends going to your local Middle Eastern grocery , not only to pick up the veggies but also buy pita and olives as well as dates and phyllo based desserts. More unusual ingredients such as sumac, pomegranate molasses and Marras pepper flakes, vital to the recipes, can be bought on line.
These recipes are purely vegetarian. There are meat based meze such as lamb, chicken and pork kababs and kefta ,balls of ground beef. You could make the kebabs on a grill and they would make a nice accompaniment to these recipes, however an all veggie meze is lighter fare, perfect for a hot midsummer night,The recipes are relatively easy and drenched in spices. Try the cucumber with feta , mint and sumac.It's taking two pounds of Persian cucumbers cutting them and dressing them in a savory mix of garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Feta and sumac are added for creaminess and tang. There is also mashed eggplant with capers, scallions and parsley. It's cubing the eggplant, roasting it and then briefly pulsing it in a food processor. Pomegranate molasses is added along with yogurt for smoothness and cayenne pepper for heat. It can be used as a dip for warm pita bread or spread on rounds of French or Italian bread. There's also zucchini and cherry tomatoes with blanched zucchini strips in a tasty dressing composed of pureed red peppers.They're blended with olive oil, mustard, vinegar, Maras pepper and cayenne.The strips and sliced cherry tomatoes are arranged on a platter and then drizzled with the dressing.It's garnished with oregano, parsley and olives.
It's definitely the time of year for an all veggie mezze. Make the tasty dishes with the harvests of the season, drenched in exotic spices and flavors. Enjoy them on a warm, night , as they would do on a warm, starry night in the Middle East.