Cooking, serving and eating food with others fills the Dove with hope. Therefore this blog will also archive favorite recipes and essays on food.
Lebanese Mezze 101
Small plate first courses or appetizer selections have been popular in the US for the last dozen years or more. Only recently, however, has the “mezze” tradition of the Eastern Mediterranean gained attention in fashionable culinary circles. Restaurants named "Mezze" are becoming commonplace - I know of two in the San Francisco Bay area.
A Lebanese mezze course is enjoyed over several hours of drinking and chatting, preferably in a beautiful outdoor space with a view. The table must be covered with as many small appetizers as is humanly possible, and cold drinks must be served in quantity.
When I was a child visiting my relatives in Southern Lebanon, a family feast meant a serious mezze spread that required several days of preparation. All the tables in the house were lined up together on the veranda, covered with white cloths and surrounded with rush bottomed chairs. Then the women set out innumerable small plates of not only hummous, baba ghanoush, tabbouli, kibbeh and stuffed grape leaves, but also various pickles, olives, fried potatoes and other vegetables, steamed or fried seafood, mixed nuts, and individual platters of whole raw salad vegetables attractively arranged.
A restaurant mezze course is supposed to stand alone. My own family, however, always had to serve a main course after the mezze course was done: barbecued chicken, lamb and fish, with side dishes of rice pilaf and plenty of flat bread! I never had room for the main course after I’d gorged on the mezze.
If you want to recreate the Lebanese sense of abundance in your mezze, you don’t have to cook for several days. Fill in your main mezze items with other easy dishes: field greens, pickles, cooked shrimp, olives, nuts, yogurt cheese (labneh), sliced cucumbers and radishes. The Lebanese, being very trend conscious and cosmopolitan, tend to add and adapt new dishes to their mezze, so feel free to get eclectic. Vietnamese shrimp spring rolls haven’t hit Beirut yet, but they would fit right in!
Today my friends and I don’t care to drink ouzo or whiskey with our appetizers, although these are traditional. Good designer beer goes well with Lebanese food, and flavored sparkling waters or other fruit soda drinks are also extremely appropriate.
Many of my favorite Lebanese dishes can form the basis of a simple meal on their own, or be portioned out onto small plates for a mezze party.
Good luck and have fun!