One of the unexpected pleasures of Moroccan cuisine is the Mezze table, a course of richly colored, vibrant, sumptuous salads and tasty bites before the main meal. For those not familiar with this custom, the Mezze course is so luxurious that you might think it's the main meal. If you don't have a plan, you'll fill up on Mezze and be surprised—and full—when the next course arrives.
In a Moroccan household, there is always something beautiful and delicious to eat and a glass of tea with fresh mint, even if you drop in unexpectedly. If the Mezze course is gorgeous, you can trust the remaining entrees will be as well. Here's a plan for approaching the Mezze: if you want to try everything, just take one piece or a small bite of each item.
The variety is an asset if you're planning a party! Your Moroccan-style Mezze table will carry the party all by itself without additional courses. Plan your items, so they're easy for your guests to take while they're moving around a room. Refill trays periodically or add newitems to liven things through the event.
This is a chance for a delicious and creative spread. Choose any colorful vegetable and make a great salad out of it. Moroccan seasonings include olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric, paprika (or hot paprika), coriander, cilantro, salt, of course, and more.
Here are three examples of salads you can prepare:
SPICY OLIVE SALAD
Extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup
Garlic, 5-6 cloves
Tomato paste, one 6 oz. can
Plum tomatoes, 6-8 petite diced (or one 32 oz. can petite diced)
Lemon, 1/2 unpeeled
Hot chili powder, two tsp.
Szeged hot paprika, 1 TB
Swad chili pepper (very hot), 1/2 tsp.
Cilantro, 1/2 bunch/cup, chopped
Mediterranean green pitted olives, two-and-a-half 19.5 oz. cans (drained)
Wash (but do not peel) and slice the lemon into thin slices, then quarter the slices. Set aside. Add extra virgin olive oil to a pan with a lid, then the garlic. Saute briefly, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and seasonings (not the cilantro). Stir the mixture, add the quartered lemon slices, and simmer covered until the lemon slices soften. When all the flavors are blended, the lemon slices are slightly softened, and the sauce is creamy and thick, add the drained olives. Serve as part of a Mezze on small plates or shallow bowls.
Walnuts, 2 cups
Pomegranate molasses, 4 TB
Red Bell Peppers, four large, roasted
Garlic, two cloves
Extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup
Pita crumbs, dried/toasted, 1/2 cup
Cumin, two tsp.
Crushed red pepper, two tsp.
Tomato paste, 2 TB
Salt, one tsp.
Roast the washed but unpeeled peppers in the oven until skins are lightly browned and will peel easily. Remove the peppers from the oven, cool, peel and set aside. Add garlic cloves to a food processor and process briefly. Then add homemade pita chips, enough to make about 1/2 cup of crumbs, and pulse until evenly crumbled. Add the peeled peppers, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil, pomegranate molasses, cumin, crushed red pepper, tomato paste, and salt. Pulse until all is relatively evenly chopped, then run until as smooth as you like it, stopping to scrape down the sides. Serve spread around a small dish or shallow bowl garnished with walnuts and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses.
Eggplant, three large
Salt, 1 TB
Garlic, 3-4 cloves, minced
Mediterranean pickles, 1-2, rough chopped
Red onion, 1/4 sliced
Cilantro, 1/2 bunch, chopped
Moroccan Eggplant Sauce, 1 cup (see recipe below)
Tomato paste, 6 oz. can
Lemon, juice of 1 lemon
Water, to 1-1/2 cups
Sea salt, 1/2 tsp.
Cumin, one tsp.
Szeged hot paprika, one tsp.
You'll need to start this recipe a day ahead. Mix the sauce ingredients and refrigerate until you are ready to put the salad together. Cut the eggplant into thin slices, the quarter the slices. Layer into a large bowl with 1 TB salt. Cover the pot and refrigerate overnight. The next day, drain (and perhaps squeeze out additional moisture) the eggplant. Deep fry at 375 degreesuntil slices are slightly browned. Drain the fried eggplant, then add to a bowl. Fold in the remaining salad ingredients including the sauce very lightly. Do not mash.
A WORD ABOUT PITA
Here are a couple of ways to manage your pita so it will work nicely for your party. Use the thin Lebanese pita. Cut it into 2-4" squares or strips. Spread on a roasting tray and roast/toast in the oven at about 250 degrees until thoroughly dried, perhaps slightly browned but not much. These make great chips!
If you don't want your guests to dip, you can make little cups with the same pita. Use a cookie cutter to cut 3-4" rounds. Press the rounds into tiny muffin cups, and roast/toast until they are dried cups. Fill each cup with a spoonful from any of these recipes and arrange filled cups on trays for your Mezze table.
DON'T FORGET THE TEA!
Don't forget the glasses, hot water, tea bags and a bowl of beautiful fresh mint leaves for your guests to enjoy Moroccan-style tea! Enjoy your party.
If you don't want to cook, visit us at Kous Kous, where we always offer Moroccan-style hospitality.