You’ve sent the invitations. You’ve even cleaned your house. Now, what are you planning on feeding these people?
When it comes to party perfection, few styles fit the bill better than a spread of mezze. Mezze, by definition, suits a gathering — “a selection of plates to accompany alcoholic drinks.” Planning a party surrounded by beautiful Middle Eastern mezze doesn’t even have to be difficult, as you can make most of the elements in advance, leaving you to whoop it up with your suitably awed guests. In this series of videos, you will see just how easy it is to provide a spread of delicious dishes without breaking a sweat.
Your Mezze Party: The Essentials
Here are a few items to really ramp up the authenticity of your mezze spread:
- Plenty of pita bread. A big portion of a traditional mezze is dip-based, so having a big basket of pita bread cut into triangles can help to soak it up.
- Fresh cut veggies. Raw vegetables are a staple on the mezze table, and are used to scoop dips, or guests can just munch on them.
- Olives. Good quality olives are a must for a mezze. Look for several varieties, such as Kalamata, Castelvetrano, Manzanilla, and olives stuffed with garlic or or pimento. Serve mixed together or separately — just be sure to include a receptacle for the pits.
- Pickles. While making your own pickles is relatively easy, you’ll do just as well picking up a selection of pickles from your local Mediterranean or Middle Eastern grocery store. Look for bright pink, beet-dyed turnip pickles for a traditional table, as well as crunchy dill cucumbers. A variety of pickled vegetables can help round out your table, and is great for cocktail hour. See below for a quick recipe on how to make your own.
1. The Dips
Sure, you could just go to the store and pick up a tub of hummus. But why? Making your own hummus is extremely easy and doesn’t even require a food processor (as demonstrated below). However, should you want a smoother hummus, a food processor is vital. Try flavoring your hummus with extra garlic, chopped cilantro, parsley, or even chilli pepper. Hummus is infinitely customizable.
Feta & Red Pepper Dip
While feta cheese and red pepper in all their forms make frequent appearances on mezze tables, this dip brings them together in a symphony of yumminess. While you can roast your own red peppers for this particular dip, it’s just as easy to purchase a jar of pre-prepared red peppers from your grocery store.
As legend has it, there once was an elderly, toothless father (the baba) whose daughter had to mash his food, as he wasn’t able to chew it. Step forward baba ganoush, a Middle Eastern favorite consisting of roasted and mashed eggplant, tahini, lemon juice, and lots of garlic. If you’re not willing to spring for a jar of tahini (sesame paste) for your bash, many swear by using peanut or almond butter instead — also a great hack for hummus.
2. The Nibbles
Falafel is to the Middle East as the hamburger is to America. Its popularity knows no bounds, and with its crispy shell and creamy interior, it’s easy to see why. While the idea of frying something might strike fear into the heart of a novice chef, falafel is a great way to get started down the path of all things fried and delicious.
Top tip: Canned chickpeas won’t work for this dish. You’ll need to soak some dried chickpeas overnight for the best results.
No mezze table is complete without a plate of pickles. Having an array of pickles helps ramp up the appetites of your guests, and also goes great with cocktail hour. Try flanking your homemade pickles with a selection of brined goodies from your local Middle Eastern or Mediterranean grocery store. The olive bar at some of the bigger supermarkets may also present some great additions.
You’ve probably seen fancy marinated feta at specialty food stores and marvelled at both the flavor and the price. Making your own feta is simple, inexpensive, and doesn’t take a lot of time. Make this a few days ahead of your party and you’ll have an simple, yet elegant, plate to add to your parade of dishes.
3. The Salads
As any smart host knows, anything you can make ahead will make your party better. After all, who wants to spend all night chained to the kitchen while your friends and loved ones whoop it up? Make-ahead salads like Tabouleh get better the longer they sit, so they’re easy to prepare the morning of (or even the night before) your party. Remember, the key to a great tabouleh is to have a greater ratio of herbs to bulgar.
Piyaz (White Bean Salad)
Another from the don’t-miss-your-own-party range of dishes, piyaz is a traditional Turkish dish that makes a regular appearance on mezze tables. This make-ahead dish also gets better with time, so aim to have this completed the night before and garnish at the last minute. Large beans work well here, so look for haricot, great Northern, or even Greek gigantes beans.
Roasted Veggie Salad
If there’s ever a time to showcase vegetables, it’s on the mezze table. In a way, creating a mezze spread for your guests ensures that there’s something for everyone, from carnivores to vegetarians, and even those on pesky diets. This roasted vegetable salad makes use of what’s in season, and can easily be adjusted to use what is on sale in your locale. For a more Middle Eastern spin on this, omit the balsamic vinaigrette and instead toss veggies lightly in a mixture of olive oil, cumin, and za’atar (a traditional spice mixture of dried herbs and sesame seeds).
Rolling out a table full of mezze not only means you’ll delight your guests, but it also ensures your presence at the actual party. Use this list as a base and add additional dishes depending on what’s available, who’s coming, or how many people you need to feed. These little, flavor-packed dishes were made for parties and sharing!
Featured photo credit: Ewan Munro via flic.kr