Friday, February 18, 2011

The Mezza

In Spain, it is tapas; in China, it is dim sum; in France, it is hors d'oeuvres; in Lebanon, it is mezza.

I love to eat this way. We like to call this type of tasting and snacking "appetizers" or as Zach's dad likes to say "appe-TEASERS". However, with the popularity of the eating-several-small-meals-instead-of-three-big-ones diet that is finding it's way into the American food culture, eating appetizers or sharing small plates for dinner has become something I now see regularly when dining out (and I do dine out quite regularly these days!). Now, I am not quite sure that this whole "several small meals" thing is something I completely buy into. I like to think people are capable of eating three meals without going overboard, maybe with a couple healthy snacks between. And when I go out for tapas, dim sum or mezza, it does not necessarily mean I will be eating less; it just means I will have the opportunity to taste more delicious plates. I will admit, this process slows me down and allows me to enjoy and appreciate each dish on another level which might ultimately lead to less of a calorie intake. It just seems like this dining method was made for people like me, you know, the people who like to"try" everything on everyone else' plate at the table after rushing through their own meals.

I made a mezza last weekend after we tasted a new Lebanese plate at one of our favorite Lebanese food spots in LA, Pi on Sunset. The dish was Kofta in Pita which is exactly what it sounds like: Kofta (or Kafta) in pita bread. It is like a Lebanese quesadilla (with no cheese). It was delightfully delicious so I decided to try it at home. I did cheat by buying the meat already spiced from an Armenian bakery, but I am sure this would work perfectly with any Kofta recipe.

The other dish I made was something for which I hold very fond memories. When I had a chance to visit Lebanon years ago, I would go to the bakery some mornings to bake my own manakeesh. This is essentially a thinly rolled bread topped with one of a few different toppings: zaatar (a sesame/thyme spice mixture), cheese or minced lamb meat. I used to call it :Lebanese pizza" when I was little. I suppose I like to compare every dish to something that is familiar. I did not make my own dough for this version, but you certainly can if you wanted to try it. There are several recipes available online. I am fortunate enough to have several greek and Armenian bakeries close by so I was able to buy some bread on which to spread the various toppings. It is the kind of thin bread that is almost like a thick pita.

Both of these recipes are super simple, and they are a great start for a Lebanese mezza if you ever feel adventurous enough to try one.

2 large pita bread rounds (between 12 and 16 inches)
1/2 pound kofta meat (recipe here)
butter (room temperature)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Gently open the pita so that the whole inside is facing upwards...if you are using the real thing, the bread should be thin so be careful
Spread a very thin layer of butter on the inside of each half. (The butter will be on the same side of the bread as the meat).
Place half of the meat (1/4 lb) onto each of the open pitas; try to plop it around different places so it is easier to spread out.
Close the pita by folding the two halves back together.
Gently press the bread together, smashing the meat so it spreads evenly. I used a roller on the outside of the bread to flatten it even more evenly.
The pita should basically look like it did at first, but with a meat layer in the middle
Cut each pita into 6 triangles with a pizza cutter of a large sharp knife.
Place triangles onto a baking sheet lines with foil.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 5-10 minutes (until meat is cooked just all the way through.
Serve with hummus, labneh or just eat plain.


4 thick bread pitas (The kind that does not separate in the middle and is more like pizza dough. You can find these in midle eastern grocery stores, or you can use homemade or store-bought pizza dough)
1-2 tbsp zaatar (spice found in most grocery stores but definitely in middle eastern grocery shops)
4 oz Halloumi cheese (specialty cheese shops or middle eastern groceries)
good quality olive oil (I used garlic olive oil)
2 pinches of hot paprika

For manakeesh with zaatar:
Drizzle olive oil onto the bread (baked or unbaked)
mix the zaatar with olive oil. (keep adding the oil slowly and mix it until the spices turn into more of a wet paste...the consistency of mud)
Spread the zaatar thinly over the bread (use more or less to taste)
Bake at 400 degrees F for 5-10 minutes (or until bread is done and slightly toasted).

For manakeesh with cheese:
Drizzle olive oil onto the bread (baked or unbaked)
Crumble cheese and sprinkle it generously on the two pitas.
Drizzle a tad more oil over the cheese and sprinkle a pinch of hot paprika over the top
Bake at 400 degrees F for 5-10 minutes (or until bread is done and slightly toasted).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Delicious on both counts!

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