Little Dishes With A Great Taste Mezze

Great tastes in little dishes served on small plates or in tiny bowls are a long-standing culinary tradition among the people of the Fertile Crescent.

One of the leading food writers of our day, Alan Davidson emphasizes that this style of eating is widespread over a swath of land stretching from western Asia through the Middle East and Greece all the way to North Africa. And all over the region these tiny tastes that grace the table with their appetizing appearance are known as ‘mezze’. A Persian word, ‘meze’ means ‘a taste’ or, occasionally, a ‘seasoning’. The taste in question can range from a crudité, or vegetable served raw, to a sophisticated cooked dish served hot or cold. And the variety of them is extremely rich. The name ‘mezze’ was given to these ‘tastes’ in the cuisines of many countries in the Mediterranean basin. The Spaniards, who once lived under Arab rule, call theirs ‘tapas’ despite the fact that they were influenced by the same tradition.  To the French they are ‘hors d’oeuvres’, to the Italians ‘antipasto’, in the English-speaking countries they are ‘appetizers’, in Russia ‘zakuski’ and in northern Europe ‘smörgasbord’. Part and parcel of the natural cuisine of every country, these pre-prandial treats constitute a unique diversity of their own

Overture To A Meal
People in the hunting and gathering stage, in periods when cooking had not yet been invented, were forced to consume the fruits and vegetables that grew in the natural environment. Consequently they had no choice but to eat the edibles that they gathered by instinct in a nutritional system without which life could not have continued. Communities that still exist in the wild today in certain parts of the world continue to nourish themselves at tables laden with tiny morsels of food. Over time, however, the Persian word ‘meze’ acquired a new dimension, spreading far and wide as a highly popular culinary culture to the Mediterranean countries and, thanks to the Turks, to the Balkans.
These tiny but extremely tasty gastronomic treats that whet the appetite cover a wide array from olives to caviar and everything in between. Generally quite easy to prepare, mezze are low-cost, seasonal dishes that are served scattered over the table in tiny bowls and plates. With their endless variety, mezze exhibit direct regional, traditional and seasonal influences.

Salt Bonito

Ingredients:
1 large bonito (“torik”) or two medium-sized bonito (“palamut”), rock salt ground to the size of sugar,  a few bay leaves

Preparation:
Cut the bonito into four or five fillets. Clean out the spinal area thoroughly with a toothbrush, making sure to get rid of all the blood. Remove the spinal cord using a piece of thin wire or straw. Keep the cleaned fillets in cold water for half an hour to completely remove all traces of blood. Remove excess water from the fillets using a dry cloth, and pack with bay leaves in a deep dish that has been lined with one centimeter of rock salt, finally covering them in a centimeter-thick layer of salt. Empty the water expelled from the fillets each day. Remove the bones and skin from the fillets using a sharp knife after a period of 10 to 12 days, after which they will be ready to eat. Slice thinly and serve with lemon and red onions.

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves, Served Cold

Ingredients:
1 white cabbage (medium size, for stuffing), 200 gr rice, 500 gr diced onion, 2 tbsp pine nuts, 1 tbsp currants, 1/8 tsp black pepper, 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/8 tsp allspice, 1 tsp dried mint, 1 tsp granulated sugar, 2 tsp salt, 2 cups olive oil, 1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine, water as needed

Preparation:
Fill a pot with water, add salt and bring to a boil. Blanch the cabbage by first plunging into the boiling water, then into ice water, and let drain. Cut into pieces. Soak the rice in water for 15-20 minutes, then rinse and drain well. Heat one cup of olive in a pot and saute the pine nuts until they begin to brown. Add the chopped onion and mix over low heat until they begin to color. Add the salt and the spices and let steep over low heat. When cool, add the chopped parsley and mix well. Fill the cabbage leaves with the rice stuffing and roll up. Cook in water with the rest of the olive oil, salt and sugar for 25-30 minutes over low heat.

Winter Squash With Yoghurt

Ingredients:
200 gr winter squash, 150 gr thick, strained yoghurt (Turkish ‘süzme’ yoghurt), 2 tbsp virgin olive oil, 3 tsp butter, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 bunch fresh dill, chopped, 2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Preparation:
Remove the rind and grate the squash. Melt the butter in a skillet with the olive oil and add the grated squash. Saute until cooked through. Add salt and pepper, remove from the heat and let cool. Mix the süzme yoghurt and the dill in a mixing bowl. Add the cooked squash and mix well. Remove to a serving platter, drizzle with a little olive oil and serve.

Çiroz Salad

Ingredients:
4 dried mackerel (Turkish ‘çiroz’), 3/4 cup mild vinegar, juice of half a lemon, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/4 bunch fresh dill

Preparation:
Wrap the dried mackerel in a piece of cheesecloth and pound with a meat pounder or wooden mallet. Remove from the cheesecloth and let sit for ten minutes in steam or a warm oven until tender. Then skin and bone the fish. Place the pieces of dried mackerel in a bowl and drizzle with the vinegar. Let stand for 5-10 minutes. Remove from the bowl to a serving plate. Add the olive oil, lemon juice and dill and mix. Ready to serve.