How to throw a mezze party
Easy steps to serving small plates, Mediterranean-style.
In Spain, it's called tapas. In Greece, Israel and elsewhere in the Mediterranean region, it's mezze. In the U.S., it's either small plates or, more simply, "apps." The flavors may vary, but the idea of the appetizer is the same: a variety of dips, snacks and nibbles that pair well with cocktails and set the mood for the night. When the evenings are increasingly warm and long, Mediterranean-inspired light bites produce the perfect spring or summer menu.
In the Mediterranean, the mezze culture is about creating a feast for the eyes as well as for the stomach. Set a table with plates that give a pop of color. Choose menu items that are bright, vary in texture and give your taste buds a culinary world tour. Pair salty with sweet, spicy with cool and crunchy with creamy. Most importantly, since these dishes are likely available at the grocery store, a mezze party will keep you out of the kitchen and mingling with your guests.
Good quality olive oil, a Mediterranean staple, and fresh herbs, such as parsley or mint, should be at the top of your grocery list. A vegetable platter and pita bread are next. Soft, pillowy pita bread is the megastar of Mediterranean mezzes.
Pita bread. (Photo: jeffreyw/Flickr)
You could make your own pita or buy pita and warm it up in the oven for 10 minutes at 350° F (180° C) before your guests arrive. Crudités add some much needed color to any plate. Go with what is in season and most beautiful at your store. Yellow or red peppers, snow peas, radishes, baby carrots, jicama, broccoli, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes – let your senses select for you. The Serious Eats site has a spectacular guide for creating your own vegetable platter.
Next, a few easy pick-ups will have you on your way to hosting a small plate soirée. Across the Mediterranean, bars commonly serve fantastically fragrant roasted nuts like almonds and cashews. Pick up your favorite nuts from the store or create your own spiced roasted nut mix.
Olives are another no brainer, as the brininess of the olives pair well with a cocktail.
Next, choose your dips. One or two varieties of hummus are always a hit. You could DIY or buy your favorite brand and jazz it up with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.
Tzatziki, a cool cucumber and yogurt-based dip with Greek origins, is also a stellar addition to your table. Eggplant, the star of many mezze dishes, is charred to sweet perfection and then whisked up with tahini, garlic and lemon juice to create babaghanoush – another dip to consider for your party.
Balance out decadent dips with a few light and refreshing salads. Try tabbouleh on for size. Made from bulgur wheat, fresh herbs, tomatoes and olive oil, this simple yet satisfying salad is a strong contender to be thrown into the mix. A roasted beet salad can easily be prepared ahead of time and is also a colorful addition to any plate.
To balance out the savory dishes, serve dried fruit such as dates or apricots. Try pairing sweet dates with Manchego cheese, a rich and buttery Spanish variety. With a drizzle of honey, your guests won’t even miss dessert.
Finally, invite your friends to bring a mezze or favorite appetizer of their choice. A mezze party is all about sharing, enjoying each other’s company and creating new memories. Follow these simple steps, and you and your guests will enjoy an unforgettable and undoubtedly delicious evening.
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