Mezzé






Mezzé (meh-ZAY) embraces the vibrant flavours and cooking styles of North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. It is a selection  of small dishes best eaten companionably, alfresco. One of the many plausible theories is that the word mezzé comes from the Arabic word tamazza, which means to taste food slowly in small quantities, giving your tastebuds heightened enjoyment.



Za'atar is a generic name for a family of related Middle Eastern herbs including oregano, thyme and savory. It is also the name for a condiment made from the dried herbs, mixed together with sesame seeds, dried sumac, and often salt, as well as other spices. Used in Arab cuisine, both the herb and spice mixture are popular throughout the Middle East.

In the Levant there is a belief that this particular spice mixture makes the mind alert and the body strong. For this reason, children are encouraged to eat a za'atar sandwich for breakfast before an exam. Palestinians also remind their children in the morning before sending them off to school that eating za'atar for breakfast will make them smarter. Maimonides, a medieval rabbi and physician who lived in Spain, Morocco, and Egypt, prescribed za'atar for its health advancing properties.


Za'atar
4 t sesame seeds
4 T finely chopped thyme
4 t dried oregano
4 t savory
4 t ground sumac
1 t sea salt
4 t ground cumin


In a dry pan, toast the sesame seeds on a high heat for one to two minutes. Place all the ingredients in a blender and process until finely mixed. Store in a jar in the fridge for up to a week.



Sumac

Sumacs grow in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world, especially in Africa and North America. In Arab cuisine, it is used as a garnish on mezzé dishes such as hummus and is added to salads in the Levant. In Iranian cuisine, sumac is added to rice or kebab. In Turkish cuisine, it is added to kebabs and lahmacun. It is also an essential ingredient in za’atar spice blend. Dark, rusty red sumac is from the dried berries of the elm-leaf sumac and used to impart a slightly tart, fruity flavour. It loses its flavour and aroma in a month even stored in an airtight container, so I recommend purchasing it in small quantity.  



Fattoush is a Lebanese version of bread salad that includes crumbled pita chips, (fattoush means crumbled bread in Arabic) and all the ingredients are tossed with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing that's seasoned with powdered sumac, which has a slightly lemony flavor, and it's the sumac, the lemon, and the fresh herbs that really bump this salad up to something memorable that you'll want to make over and over again.

Fattoush
2 whole wheat pita pocket breads, cut into strips about 3/4 inch wide, then toasted and crumbled
1 t chopped garlic (2-4 cloves garlic
1 t salt (I used fine grind sea salt)
1/2 c fresh squeezed lemon juice, about 2
large lemons 
1 t powdered sumac, plus more for sprinkling on individual salads if desired

1/2 c extra virgin olive oil

2 heads lettuce, chopped

1/2 c thinly sliced green onion

1 c diced tomatoes (let drain a minute or two if extra juicy)

1 c diced cucumber (same size as tomatoes)

1/2 c coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves

1/2 c coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley (leaves only, no stems)

optional ingredients: chopped green pepper or radishes 
 
Preheat oven to 350F/200C. While oven heats, mash together the chopped garlic and salt using a mortar and pestle, or the side of a knife or spoon. Put garlic-salt paste in a small bowl, then add lemon juice and 1 t sumac. Whisk in olive oil and set dressing aside. (You can also make the dressing in a glass jar and shake to combine.)


Cut whole wheat pita into strips about 3/4 inch wide and arrange on baking sheet.  Bake until pita strips are crisp but only barely starting to brown,about 8 minutes. Watch carefully because they can go from crisp burnt rather quickly.


Prepare lettuce.Cut into small pieces. (If you have a salad spinner, you can chop the lettuce first, then wash.) Put chopped lettuce into a salad bowl large enough to toss all of the ingredients.


Chop tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers, mint, and parsley and add to lettuce. Add about half of the dressing and toss, then add crumbled pita chops and toss again with more dressing. (You may not want all the dressing, but this salad should be quite wet.) At this point the salad should sit for a few minutes (or longer) to let flavors blend and so the pita chips absorb some of the dressing. To serve, arrange salad on individual plates and sprinkle with a bit more sumac. You can also serve it in a large bowl with the sumac sprinkled over.




Salatat al Jazar  
Moroccan Carrot Salad

Make the dressing first, so that your carrots can quickly bathe in it once they are grated and start soaking up the deliciousness: 1/3 cup honey dissolved in 1/4 cup lemon juice

Stir in 1 T orange flower water, available in Middle Eastern grocery stores. Add large pinches of kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, dried dill, and ras al hanout, a perfumey Moroccan spice that imparts exotic depth to this salad ( see My Moroccan Dinner Party Menu and Recipes for recipe). 

Turkish dried red pepper and black sesame seeds are other flavour and colour boosters that work very well here, speckling the vibrant vegetables with dainty little red and black flecks. Stir in 1/2 cup golden raisins

Next, grate 8 - 10 large steamed carrots either by a food processor or by hand. Toss carrots with dressing and taste to adjust seasoning. 

Chill for an hour in the fridge to let flavours develop. Keeps well for a few days, refrigerated.

Optional: A clove of minced garlic and a dash of hot sauce for added flavour and heat. A few black olives and a bit of crumbled feta cheese would be welcome additions. I favour the pairing of cumin with carrots and support the idea of throwing in a teaspoon of lightly toasted cumin seeds to the mix.





Muhammara
Roasted Red Pepper and Nut Dip
2 large red bell peppers, rubbed with olive oil
1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium purple onion, chopped
1 T cumin, crushed
2 T walnuts, roasted
2 T cashews, roasted
1/4 t chili flakes
1 T pomegranate syrup (pomegranate syrup is made by reducing pomegranate juice and adds a sweet-tart flavour to Middle Eastern cooking)
1-2 T fresh-squeezed lemon juice 
Garnish: pomegranate seeds and/or pine nuts, roasted

Preheat oven to 375F/ 190 C. Roast peppers in a pan until the skins are charred, about 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin. Set in blender or food processor. Sauté onions and cumin on medium heat for 5 minutes until soft. Transfer to blender with the rest of the ingredients and whizz until well mixed. Garnish and serve at room temperature with toasted pita chips.

  
Toasted Pita Chips with Za'atar

Cut pita rounds in half and pull the double layers apart gently and neatly. Rub olive oil on divided half rounds, sprinkle with za'atar and then cut into triangles. Toast in a preheated oven 350F/ 180C for about 8 minutes until golden and crisp. Watch carefully as they can go from golden to burnt quickly. Any leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. 





Savoury Spinach and Feta Pastries

The addition of pine nuts and raisins give this version of Spanakopita an Arabic flavour.
 
12 phyllo sheets
7/8 c butter, melted

Filling:
250g baby spinach leaves, rinsed 
2 T olive oil
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
4 T fresh dill, chopped
125g feta, crumbled
1 egg, beaten
2 T pine nuts, toasted
2 T raisins
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Steam the spinach on medium heat with only the water clinging to its leaves for 10 minutes. Drain in colander and squeeze out all excess moisture. Put in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Sauté scallions and garlic 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Add to the bowl with the spinach and the rest of the ingredients and mix to combine.


Preheat oven to 375   F/ 190C. Lay out the phyllo sheets and wrapped in a slightly damp tea towel. Working with one sheet at a time, butter phyllo and fold each side towards the centre in thirds to form a 3 inch long strip, buttering each layer. Spoon 1 T of filling onto the sheet and start folding from side to side to form a triangle. Place the prepared pastry on a baking tray. Continue and repeat these steps for 12 pastries. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden and crisp. Serve warm or cold. 




Wara Eynab
Stuffed Grape Leaves

This is a favorite dish of Egyptians and is a version of Dolmathes.

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c rice, uncooked
1 onion, minced
1 tomato, minced
1/2 t dried mint
1/2 t pepper
1 t salt
1 T lemon juice
About half a kilo (500 g) or 50 grape leaves. These can be fresh or preserved in liquid in a jar.
 
For layering the pot:
3 garlic cloves (in slices to be placed between layers of stuffed leaves)
2 tomatoes (in slices for the bottom, top and between layers of stuffed leaves)

 
For the soup:
4 c vegetable broth

 
Prepare the rice mix:
Mix the rice, minced garlic, onion, tomato, dried mint, pepper, salt, and lemon juice in a mixing bowl. 


Prepare the leaves:

Whether you are using preserved or fresh leaves, you will need to rinse and blanch them. Boil about a liter of water in a pot.  Prepare another liter of cold water in a bowl.  In bunches, put the leaves in the boiling water for 3 minutes and then remove them and place them in the cold water for a few minutes.  Drain in a colander.

 




Wrapping: Each leaf has a shiny side and a duller side. The dull side also is where you can see the stem of the leaf. Be sure to have the shiny side facing down as you wrap. Be gentle as you work with the leaves. They can be very fragile.On the bottom of a medium-sized soup pot, layer some of the leaves that got ripped as you blanched them, any stems you don’t want and a few tomatoes and garlic.  

Now you will begin to make the stuffed leaves and layer them in the pot. With the leaf shiny side down, spoon a heaping teaspoon of rice mixture close to the stem of the leaf.  Begin rolling the leaf stem-side first.  I always gather the sides along as I go, which makes for a tighter, neater roll. With the leaf shiny side down, spoon a heaping teaspoon of rice mixture close to the stem of the leaf.  

Once you finish a layer, add more tomato and garlic slices.  Be sure your layer is as even and complete as you can make it.  If you want to present this in the traditional serving style, this will make a difference. Continue until you use up all your filling.  Don’t forget to add tomato and garlic slices between each layer and on the top of the final layer. Pour the soup over the stuffed rolls  until the soup covers the rolls.  

Cover the rolls with a plate to keep them stable while they cook and cover the pot with a lid and cook on medium low heat for about 30 – 45 minutes.  

Check towards the end to be sure nothing is burning.  You’ll know the rolls are ready once most of the liquid is gone. Remove the plate from the top layer.  Check that the rice is done.
 
For traditional serving style:
Cover the top of the pot with a large plate (large enough so the edges extend over the pot).  Holding the pot handles and the plate at the same time, flip the pot over so the contents will now be on the plate.  (If your pot was the right size, this should work fine for you.  When you remove the pot, you should have a well stacked, pretty presentation for your stuffed grape leaves.  (You can easily remove the broken leaves, stems, and tomatoes we added on the bottom of the pot, which will now appear on the top of your stack.)

Instead of tomatoes and garlic, you can use lemon slices and or lemon juice between layers. Serve hot or cold. Recipe from Alf Hana Cooking Blog
  



Chickpea Farinata
2 c chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour
3 c cold water

3 T olive oil
2 t salt
(extra oil for seasoning the pan)



Preheat your oven to 500° and lightly oil a 9” cast iron frying pan. Put the frying pan in the oven for 5 minutes. In a bowl, whisk together the chickpea flour, water, oil and salt until there are no lumps. If you want to add vegetables to the batter do it now. Remove the frying pan from the oven carefully (it will be very hot!) Pour the chickpea mixture into the hot pan and put it back in the oven. Bake for 14 minutes. Open the oven door a little and insert the tip of your oven mitt to keep the door open slightly (this allows the steam to vent). Bake for another 10 minutes or until the farinata is golden brown. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. Top with your favourite sautéed vegetables.



Halloumi is traditionally made with sheep's milk, but it is now commonly made with cow's milk. Made for centuries on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, halloumi is now made all over the world. Because it maintains its shape when cooked, halloumi can be baked, fried or grilled until the outside becomes crisp and golden and the inside melts slightly. Cypriots swear by eating fresh halloumi with wedges of watermelon for a delicious snack.

Grilled Halloumi and Grape Tomato Kebobs

Moroccan Chermoula for marinating:
2 garlic cloves
1 t coarse salt
1-2 t toasted cumin seeds, crushed
1 fresh red chili, seeded & crushed
freshly squeezed lemon juice
2-3 T olive oil, some extra for grilling 
small bunch of cilantro, chopped

 
Crush all of the ingredients in a mortar & pestle or a food processor. You can make extra and store in air tight jar in the fridge for few weeks.

Marinate the cubed Halloumi and tomatoes in the chermoula.  Place the Halloumi cubes on skewers with the grape tomatoes, alternate cheese & tomatoes or any vegetable (or shrimp) of your choice. Grill the kebobs for a minute on each side. Brush on some extra chermoula over the kebobs and cover to keep warm.  Recipe from Novel Eats Vegan Cooking Blog



Rosewater and Watermelon Ice

The best watermelons are reputed to be grown in Iran. Watermelons were cultivated in Egypt before 2000 B.C.

1-5lb. watermelon
2 T rosewater
1-2 T sugar 
Garnish: pistachios, chopped and fresh rose petals


  

Halve and seed the watermelon and cut the flesh into small cubes, reserving the juice. Crush the watermelon pieces with back of a fork or process in a food processor with the reserved juice in batches till it turns into a granita-like consistency. Put in a bowl and then stir in the rosewater and sugar. Chill in the freezer and serve ice-cold garnished with chopped pistachios and rose petals.
  Recipe from Pomegranates and Zataar Cooking Blog





 
 Art Credit 
Top of Post:  Sardinian Coast  Paul Demaria

Colours of Tagine (Morocco) by Jonny Sage





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1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much Valerie for your nice comment on my blog, loved reading it this morning. And I am still, loving your blog and your delicious recipes. I hope you are getting more readers as you deserve it. I love the detail you put into recipes and information, and the spices in this, look so good. :)

    Absolutely, if you would like to do an interview on me, I'd be more than happy to participate. You can e-mail me here: dakotad.com AT gmail DOT com

    - Sorry for spelling out my e-mail like that, you have to or spammers can copy paste the "@" lol.

    I look forward to hearing from you! :)

    Have an amazing week!

    Dakota

    ReplyDelete

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