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MEZZE

   
 

  Small dishes add up . . .

   

 

  

 

The 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.

The 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.

Our favorite mezze dishes include muhamarra, fattoush and fishnahMuhammara, 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. 

One 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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       
 

Shop for ingredients: Sahadi's

Cookbook: Dawn Anthony's Lebanese Food

Dine Out: ILILI, New York

 

Tags:  food  middle east  travel    

 

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