Meze… It doesn’t really matter how you spell it; mezze, mazzeh or mazze, but I am sure it will ring you a bell! Mezes are 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 him/herself. Mezes are for everybody around the table. When they arrive to 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 main dish. As far as I know, they are generally served with alcoholic drinks; with raki, ouzo, rakia… It is 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. It is kind of a ritual eating meze. I am not going to go very deep in this ritual part, but I really would like to share couple of my favorite mezes that I am familiar with. Today I will only share the mezes that we are cooking at home traditionally in Izmir. (I will probably make a second version with the mezes that I’ve eaten in restaurants).
As it might sound familiar from the name, fava is made with fava beans. Dried fava beans and onions are boiled (or the onions can be sautéed and mixed afterwards to boiled fava beans), and mashed until it is very smooth. It is served with olive oil, sometimes it can be mixed with some dill inside.
2) Roasted eggplants
Those eggplants that are big and fat… There are couple of ways to cook them. On stove, in oven or in barbeque… Of course on barbeque it has the best result with smoky aromas. We just put them directly on the barbeque and turn them as the skin is getting black. When inside is softened, we peel them and cut into pieces. After that they are cut, seasoned with crushed and chopped fresh garlic, vinegar, salt and olive oil.
3) Roasted eggplants with yogurt
The same recipe to cook the eggplants, once they are cut, we mix them with yogurt, garlic and salt. Before eating, we put some olive oil on top and decorate it with parsley leaves. Some people also add dried mint into the yogurt while mixing.
Here I would 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 us roasted vegetables, will cause the mixture to become liquid and this is not something desirable in mezes. So if you are buying a yogurt to make meze, I suggest you to drain it with a cheese cloth overnight. In Turkey, you can buy from supermarket strained yogurt. But if you can’t find it, Balkan-style yogurts after draining become very similar to ones that we are 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.
- You can also make the yogurt version of number 4, the same recipe as number 3.
- You can also 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 I am not sure how it is actually called in Crete. We generally make it with feta cheese, but some people mixed different types of local Turkish cheeses. Our recipe has feta cheese, walnuts, garlic and some black and red pepper as spices. We crush the walnuts into small pieces (when using a blender we are being careful to not to turn them into flour), and mash the cheese and mix all the ingredients. I also heard some pistachios are also added with the walnuts – I haven’t tried that version but it sounds delicious.
6) Pickled beetroots
Called them “pickled” but it doesn’t take a lot time like the real pickling process since it is 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 prepare this from a day before and it’s ready to be served next day with a drizzle of olive oil.
7) Pink woman/Beetroot Tarator
I believe this is not the common name of this meze, but we call it “pink woman”, I also heard some people calling it “pink sultan”, (and apparently all the other people call it beetroot tarator.) In this meze, we boil the beetroots and grate them, and finally mix with yogurt and garlic. Once I was feeling lazy and put all the ingredients in the blender but the texture was not the best – it becomes like a mash. Actually in blender, it becomes very similar to the beetroot dips that are sold readily in the supermarket, but our version is denser. Another difference is the color, if you use the blender it becomes very dark pink almost like fuchsia color, but with grater it will have a softer pink.
8) Carrot and Walnut Tarator
The name tarator can mean many different dishes, I also learned while writing this article. In Balkans, it is cold soup served in summer, similar to tzatziki, but more liquid. In my case, it is the meze made with sautéed carrots in olive oil and walnuts, mixed with yogurt and garlic. The carrots become so soft when you sautéed them in the olive oil and gives its color to the yogurt. I’ve tasted some versions where they used uncooked carrots – but it is not the same taste.
This might be the most famous meze in the world. It is very easy to prepare – just cucumbers, garlic, dried or fresh mint, yogurt, salt and 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. (I haven’t even tried it, since my mom told me that is an absolute NO!) So, after peeling all the chickpeas one by one, it’s easy, I 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 Izmir and Aegean region is known to be eating almost all the herbs that they find in the surroundings. One of my favourite is deniz börülcesi, known as glasswort or samphire. If I translate literally deniz börülcesi in English it will mean “fresh black eyed peas of sea”, I know that it doesn’t make any sense to translate this way but I want to emphasis on the word, sea, since it’s a plant that grows close to seaside. That is why it has a very special taste of sea salt. Preparation of this salad is not very easy; you boil them and cool them down by putting them in iced water, than you should 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 to my region, we just boil wild radishes for 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 of course, but in this meze we boil the purslane, chop it and mix it with yogurt, garlic and salt. We serve it with a drizzle of olive oil on top.
14) Melon and Cheese
If you have anything at home to prepare meze, we would just put this on the table. The cheese served as meze with melon is generally 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 one of them is Izmir tulumu.
It can be served as meze, but actually it is a very important dish in our home. It is 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 crumbles, garlic and vinegar.
Actually this is not homemade, but it’s a very typical meze, which is a pickled bonito fish – it sounds strange, I know but it’s very delicious.
18) Rice-stuffed mussels
This is not homemade neither, but definitely one of the specialities of Aegean region. Black mussels are stuffed with spiced rice during they are boiled. It is 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” in each mushroom and cook them in the oven until the cheese melts.
20) Grilled halloumi
This is a cheese to grill! 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, very special one to finish with. Zucchini flowers are edible, pretty and delicious! What else you can aspect from a flower? There are 2 different mezes that we are doing with this, one of them is filling them with cheese and fry them, while the other one is filling them with rice and herbs and cook them. I love them both, but here I am sharing how we made the fried version.
It is 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 is the most enjoyable table! We generally pour some “raki” when we prepare the meze table, and if we happened to have it we also enjoy “ouzo”. What about pairing with wine? If we are eating out, sometimes I pair them with a suitable white wine but generally the garlic, vinegar, lemon and all those flavors coming together, gives hard time to wine to express itself freely on such table.
Share with me if you tried any of these meze! Do you have other versions of the same plates? Do you have other recipes that I should know of?
PS: All these dished are made by beloved mom. Thank you mommy!
All images © 2018 by Nedret Neslihan IVIT. All rights reserved.