other night we invited guests for mezze, the delicious Middle
Eastern version of tapas. Mezze exists in different
incarnations all around the Mediterranean basin, an alternative to
the three-course meal that has become the staple of Western tables
everywhere. The Spanish, the Greeks, and various Arab
countries all possess their own specialized small appetizer-sized
dishes, but we think none do mezze as well as the Lebanese who have
developed countless mouth-watering varieties.
etymology of the word mezze is uncertain but one theory has it
deriving from the farsi word maze which means "taste" or
"snack". Traditionally accompanied by arak, the
Lebanese version of ouzo, mezze may also be served with wine; we
recommend a Kefraya blanc de blanc, a Lebanese
favorite. Mezze is meant to be eaten slowly: meals can
stretch languorously to three or four hours. The host brings out two or three dishes
at a time, along with pita bread and olives. You are meant
to savor not only the food, but your company as well.
favorite mezze dishes include muhamarra, fattoush
and fishnah. Muhammara, also known as
vegetarian meat, is comprised of chopped walnuts and breadcrumbs
mixed with hot red peppers, cloves, and cumin; its reddish hue
approximates that of steak tartare. Fattoush is a
simple salad composed of many of the same ingredients as tabbouleh,
but cut in larger chunks and mixed with pieces of toasted pita
bread. Fishnah, an Aleppine specialty, is technically
an entrée, but can also be served mezze-style: this kaftah or
ball of ground beef is served in a delicious wild sour cherry
sauce that is one of the wonders of Levantine cuisine.
can also be inventive and create one's own variations on a
mezze theme and invite friends over. However, if you
want to take a break from a grueling work week and be served
instead, we recommend the delicious mezze offerings at ILILI in
the Flatiron district--and one of our favorite places.