Meze… It doesn’t really matter how you spell it; mezze, mazzeh or mazze, but I am sure it will ring a bell! Mezes take an important part in the cuisine of many countries, that is why there are many different plates of meze and many different recipes for each of them.
To begin with, if you are not familiar with meze, the first thing that you should know is that meze means sharing. Nobody will cook or order a plate of meze only for themselves. Mezes are for everybody around the table. When they arrive in the middle of the table, everybody will serve themselves a spoon of each meze on their plate. Mezes can be eaten as a starter, but also as a main dish. They are generally served with alcoholic drinks; with raki, ouzo, wine or even whiskey. It’s a way of enjoying different types of dishes, in a very relaxed way, slowly. The people who gather around meze generally have deep conversations, listen to music, sing and sometimes even dance during the meal. Eating meze is a kind of a ritual.
Today, I’d like to share a couple of my favorite mezes I am familiar with, the ones that we’re cooking at home traditionally in Izmir, my hometown. You’ll find ingredients of each meze, and how to make it in a nutshell. In the end, we’ll make a wine pairing to enjoy them all.
1) Fava spread
As it might sound familiar from the name, fava is made with fava beans (also known as faba or broad beans). Dried fava beans and onions are boiled, and mashed until it is very smooth. It’s served with olive oil, sometimes it can be mixed with some dill inside.
2) Roasted eggplants
We need those eggplants that are big and fat. There are a couple of ways to cook them. On the stove, in the oven or in the barbeque. Of course, on the barbeque it has the best result with smoky aromas. The only thing we do is make some holes on them with a knife or fork, and place them directly on the barbeque. You turn them as their skin gets black. When the inside is softened, we peel them and cut them into pieces. After that they are cut, we season with crushed and chopped fresh garlic, vinegar, salt and olive oil.
3) Roasted eggplants with yogurt
Here I’d like to make a parenthesis for the yogurt. The yogurt that we are using to make the meze is called süzme yoğurt, which is strained so it doesn’t have a lot of water in them. The water of yogurt, when mixed with the other ingredients such as roasted vegetables, will cause the mixture to become liquid and this is not something desirable in mezes. So, if you are buying yogurt to make meze, I suggest you drain it with a cheese cloth overnight. In Turkey, you can buy strained yogurt from supermarket. But if you can’t find it, Balkan-style yogurts after draining become very similar to ones that we’re using.
4) Roasted red peppers
These are the sweet and long red peppers (known as piquillo peppers as well). They are grilled as a whole until they are soft enough to peel their skin. After that they are cut, seasoned with crushed and chopped fresh garlic, vinegar, salt and olive oil.
If you want to create some different mezes with this ingredient, you can also:
- Make the yogurt version, the same recipe as number 3.
- Mix number 2 and 4, and you will have a meze with richer flavor.
5) Girit ezmesi (Meze of Crete)
We call this meze of Crete Island, however some friends who live in Crete told me they don’t call it this way – which happens quite often actually. Our recipe has white cheese (feta), walnuts, garlic and some black and red pepper as spices. We crush the walnuts into small pieces (when using a food processor we are being careful to not to turn them into flour), and mash the cheese and mix all the ingredients. I heard some people adding pistachios, it sounds delicious. Instead of white cheese, you can also mix different types of local Turkish cheeses.
6) Pickled beetroots
They’re called pickled but in a very simple way. It doesn’t take a lot of time like the real pickling process since it’s done with boiled beetroots. After the beets are boiled, we peel their skin and cut them in cubes (or rounds if the size is small), we keep some of the boiling water and add a good quantity of vinegar. Final touch is adding some salt and mashed garlic. We’d normally prepare this from the day before and it’s ready to be served the next day with a drizzle of olive oil.
7) Pink lady (Beetroot Tarator)
It might not be the common name of this meze, but we call it “pink lady”. I also heard some people calling it “pink sultan”, and all the other people would just call it beetroot tarator. In this meze, we boil the beetroots and grate them, and finally mix with yogurt and garlic. Don’t try to use a food processor for this meze as the texture won’t be the best – it becomes like a mash. Once you do it in the traditional way, you’ll have a soft pink colored delicious meze.
8) Carrot and Walnut Tarator
The name tarator can mean many different dishes. In this case, it’s the meze made with sautéed carrots in olive oil and walnuts, mixed with yogurt and garlic. The carrots become so soft when you sautée them in the olive oil and give its color to the yogurt.
9) Cacık (Tzatziki)
This might be the most famous meze in the world. It’s very easy to prepare – just cucumbers, garlic, dried or fresh mint, yogurt, salt and a drizzle of olive oil on top. In Turkey there are two versions, the meze version is called kuru cacık, which is prepared with strained yogurt and it’s dense, while the other version is more liquid and can be served with the dishes to be drunk like a soup.
Another very famous meze, this is not typical to Izmir, but we have learned to prepare it from our neighbours from Adana. When I prepare it myself I used canned boiled chickpeas, but my mom makes it out of scratch. The trick is to boil them very well, and then peel all the skins. That is the most difficult part but with the skins, it won’t give you the correct texture. So, after peeling all the chickpeas one by one, the rest is easy, we just put all the ingredients in the blender including chickpeas; tahini, lemon juice, cumin and salt – maybe some water depending on the density.
11) Samphire salad
Now it’s time for the specialities of Izmir; any type of green plants. People from the Izmir and Aegean region are known to be eating almost all the herbs that they find in the surroundings. One of my favourites is deniz börülcesi, known as glasswort or samphire. If I translate literally deniz börülcesi in English it’ll mean “fresh black eyed peas of sea”. This type of translation doesn’t make so much sense, but I want to emphasize the word sea, since it’s a plant that grows close to the seaside. That’s why it has a very special taste of sea salt. Preparation of this salad is not very easy; weboil them and cool them down by putting them in iced water, then we take out all the spines that they have in every single leaf. After that, we just serve it with some lemon juice, salt, garlic and olive oil as usual.
12) Wild radish salad
Another typical herb from my region, we just boil wild radishes for a couple of minutes, cool them in iced water and serve with the basics – lemon juice, salt, garlic and olive oil. Upon taste, some people might also add vinegar, or only vinegar without lemon juice.
13) Purslane salad with yogurt
There is also the version without the yogurt, but in this meze we chop the purslane, and mix it with yogurt, garlic and salt. We serve it with a drizzle of olive oil on top. You can eat fresh purslane in salads as well, it’s delicious.
14) Melon and Cheese
If you don’t have anything at home to prepare meze, we’d just put this on the table: melon and cheese. The cheese we serve with melon is tulum cheese. Tulum cheese is typical to Turkey, prepared generally with goat milk and ripened in a goatskin casing. There are different types of tulum cheese depending on the region and the one from my region is called Izmir tulumu.
It can be served as meze, but actually it’s a very important dish in our home. My mom would make this in every family meal, and in festivities. It’s a dish made with cranberry beans.
16) Fresh black eyed pea salad
This is made with another type of beans, with the fresh black eyed peas, and on top we make a sauce with bread crumbs, garlic and vinegar.
This is a very typical meze, pickled bonito fish, and it’s very delicious.
18) Rice-stuffed mussels
This is one of the specialities of the Aegean region. Black mussels are stuffed with spiced rice when they are boiled. It’s consumed cold and before we eat, we squeeze some lemon on top.
19) Mushrooms with kaşar cheese
One of my favourites since I was a kid, we put a piece of butter and a piece of kaşar, which melts nicely, on each mushroom and cook them in the oven until the cheese melts.
20) Grilled halloumi
Halloumi is a grilling cheese from Cyprus. Thanks to its high melting point, it keeps its integrity when you grill it and it becomes so delicious.
21) Stuffed zucchini flowers
Here comes the final meze that I will write about, a very special one to finish with. Zucchini flowers are edible, pretty and delicious. There are two different meals that we are doing with this, one of them is filling them with cheese and frying them, while the other one is filling them with rice and herbs and cooking them. Both of them are very delicious and they represent the Izmir cuisine nicely.
On the other hand, it’s very time consuming to prepare a table full of meze. When we are cooking these at home with my mother, we start from the morning and sometimes even from the day before. But once everything is ready, it’s the most enjoyable table! We generally pour some “raki” when we prepare the meze table, and if we happen to have it, we also enjoy “ouzo”.
How about pairing with wine? The garlic, vinegar, lemon and all those flavors coming together, might give a hard time to wine to express itself freely on such a table. But a fresh and aromatic white wine, or a dry sparkling wine would be a good companion to mezes.
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