Mediterranean Grazing Meze
Most people know that the Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world. Mediterranean food is also revered as being one of the most delicious and enjoyable cuisines. Did you know that the term “Mediterranean” describes a region which includes 22 countries on 3 continents? Many people read the word Mediterranean and think of Greece, Italy and Spain but the term also encompasses many Middle Eastern and Northern African Countries. This region is rich with history, culture and exquisite flavors. Many spices and dishes are not exclusive to one country, but each have variations that are specific to their own food sovereignty.
One of the most majestic culinary wonders of the Mediterranean region is the Meze. This presentation of a myriad of small dishes, dips, breads and accoutrements is hard to pin on just one country. Most of them have their version with a different name, varying elements, and distinct essence. What they share is the focus on grazing while spending quality time with loved ones, savoring life and food together. This style of eating is healthy for the spirit and for the digestion. Some use the meze as a precursor to a meal like an appetizer and others use it as a meal in its own right. I like a spread like this on a summer night, eaten al fresco as a main event. I borrow elements from several countries and I veganize, which is not difficult since most Mediterranean food is heavier on plants. My food is not traditional, as these dishes aren’t in my own family’s culinary history. I have adapted and honored elements of authentic dishes and given them a simple, modern and easy to execute twist that in no way implies ownership of the recipe. I like to call this method of cooking and recipe adapting cultural appreciation. This style is perfectly “Mediterranean” in that it is varied in taste, texture, and history and is the perfect way to sample flavors from the region, which is often in discord, in harmony together in a balanced meal.
Muhammara is a slightly spicy dip made from red peppers and walnuts that originates from Syria. My first exposure to this heavenly dip was in California where I lived for a decade and a half. My hubby was Sous Chef in a small Bistro in Berkeley Ca called “ZUT! on Fourth” where they made the tastiest Mediterranean meze plate I have ever had in America. The platter consisted of muhammara dip, an exquisite eggplant and raisin salad, and hummus served with homemade fluffy and char-grilled pita bread. My husband used to bring a platter home for us to nosh on when I was pregnant with our first child. The distinct, creamy texture and flavor of Muhammara is such that years later, just the memory sparked a craving so strong that I set out to recreate my own version of the heavenly masterpiece. After doing research and using a friend’s recipe (Chef Emily Baird of @everythingyouwanttoeat) as a rough guide, I arrived at the ingredient and amount combo that I use in my recipe. My cooking is usually done this way, using inspiration from others, doing research on a dish’s history and then experimenting and improvising with the ingredients and combining to my own taste palette. I hope you try this piquant, tangy, and creamy dip. You will not be disappointed by it’s droolworthy flavor profile and heavenly texture especially when paired with warm pita bread.
My Mediterranean style Meze consists of a Lebanese Fattoush Inspired Salad, a roasted veggie platter, Syrian Muhammara dip and fresh baked pita. I made this epic spread for a collaboration with Mediterranean Living’s website. You may find the recipe for Muhammara here on their site and I am sharing the Fattoush Salad and The Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables here on Betterfoodguru.
Flatbreads are very popular in most Mediterranean countries. Each has their own name and version, but they all pair amazingly well with the regional dishes of each. There are many reasons that they are so popular. Nothing is better than tearing off a piece of soft, warm pita bread and using it to scoop the magnificently colored Muhammara or smoky Baba Ganoush into your hungry mouth. Pita bread is surprisingly simple and easy to execute. A little extra effort carries a huge reward and is worth every moment of preparation to savor these delectable treats. Have you ever tried a freshly baked or grilled pita? You must. The difference is night and day from the store-bought cracking and crumbling dry breads. These are fluffy, pliable and even suitable for rolling if cut large enough. The ideal vehicle for any spread, fresh pita is the perfect addition to any meze. Making your own bread is cheaper, healthier and easier than you have ever imagined. Visit Mediterranean Living to find this ultra simple recipe.
Fattoush Inspired Salad
- 4 cups spring mix or lettuce of choice
- 2 each Belgium endives
- 5 each Persian Cucumbers
- 4 each radishes
- 10 each cherry tomatoes
- 1 each watermelon radish
- 2 each mini pita breads
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 pinch sumac
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch garlic salt
- 2 each lemons
- Brush or spread a few drops olive oil on the mini pitas plus a few sprinkles of garlic salt and bake in 400 degree oven until crispy. 3 minutes
- Let cool then rip into bite sized pieces
- Use a mandolin to slice cucumbers and radishes in uniform, thin slices
- Cut cherry tomatoes in half and split endives in quarters
- Layer all ingredients in a large bowl attractively, drizzle with olive oil, squeeze lemons over to then garnish with kosher salt and sumac
Mediterranean Roasted Veggie Platter
- 7 each sweet baby bell peppers
- 1 each Italian eggplant
- 1 bunch green asparagus
- 1 bunch white asparagus
- 1/2 cup mixed olives from jar
- 1/2 cup artichoke hearts from jar
- 1 ea salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1/2 each lemon
- preheat oven to 400
- Cut eggplant in half and score with crosscut then sprinkle with salt and smoked paprika
- Trim asparagus and save woodier ends for soups
- Spread 1 tsp olive oil on large sheet pan with your hand out to the edges.
- Lay out all veg in one layer sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in oven for 20 minutes turning once halfway
- Let cool and serve on a platter with mixed olives, artichokes and lemon.