Seems as if tapas are everywhere these days, and deservedly so. But Spain isn’t the only country specializing in small plates meant to be shared in bars and informal restaurants. Greece and other countries in the Eastern Mediterranean have a similar, yet deliciously unique tradition: meze.
I’ve been thinking about meze (pronounced MEHD-zuh) a lot lately. Actually, I’m doing more than just thinking. That’s because this Sunday, Sept. 26, my husband and I are sponsoring a house concert for two amazing guitarists from Chicago, Andreas Kapsalis and Goran Ivanovic. House concerts are becoming increasingly popular as both a venue for hearing live music in an intimate setting and a way to support extraordinary musicians. The performances take place in private residences. All proceeds from the suggested donations are given to the performers. If donations don’t cover the performers’ minimum, the host covers the balance.
Kapsalis is from Greece, and Ivanovic is from Croatia/Yugoslavia, so serving a complimentary meze buffet is a natural for the concert. Following are recipes for four of the dishes that will be on our meze table.
For information about Kapsalis and Ivanovic, and the house concert, visit www.glatzclinic.com or call 217-525-8444.
Contact Julianne Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watermelon and Feta Salad
The idea of pairing sweet watermelon and salty/sharp feta might seem unlikely. But the two compliment each other perfectly, as Greeks have known for ages.
- 1c. thinly sliced red onion
- 2 tsp. salt, preferably kosher or sea
- 4 c. chilled watermelon, seeds removed if present, cut into one-inch cubes
- 1 c. (approximately 4 oz.) feta, cut into one-inch cubes
- 1 - 2 tsp. sherry, balsamic, or raspberry vinegar, or more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Mint sprigs and/or sliced leaves for garnish
Put the sliced onions in a colander, toss with the salt, and let drain for 20 minutes. Rinse thoroughly under cold running water, drain, then squeeze dry in a lint-free towel.
Place the onions, watermelon and feta in a serving bowl. Mix gently, sprinkling in the vinegar and pepper, and breaking up the feta as little as possible.
Taste for seasoning, adding a little more vinegar or pepper if needed.
Garnish with the mint sprigs and/or leaves and serve. May be refrigerated an hour or so before serving, but if serving it later than that, prep the ingredients ahead separately, then combine them just before serving. Serves 4-6.
Fennel and Orange Marinated Olives
Outdoor markets throughout the Mediterranean have stalls with a staggering, even bewildering, variety of olives – different types, sizes, cures and marinades. This is a favorite.
- 3 c. olives: Kalamata, other black olives
- 1 1/2 c.0 thinly sliced red onion
- 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
- 1/2 tsp. cracked peppercorns, or more to taste 2 large oranges
- 1 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2/3 c. red wine vinegar
- 1/4 c. sugar
If the olives have pits, crush them very lightly with your palm to absorb the marinade. It’s not necessary if the olives are pitted.
Put the sliced onion in a saucepan, add a teaspoon of salt and water to cover. Bring to a boil, for 1 minute, then drain.
Peel the oranges in large strips with a peeler. Remove any white pith by slicing it off horizontally with a sharp knife. Juice the oranges.
Return the onion to the pan and add peels, the remaining ½ tsp. salt, peppercorns, fennel seeds, sliced garlic, vinegar and sugar. Add just enough orange juice to barely cover the onions, reserving the rest for another use. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for four minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the olives. Let come to room temperature, then refrigerate in a non-corrosive container. The olives should marinate for at least 24 hours before serving. They will keep, refrigerated, for several weeks.
“Skordalia holds the heart of Greece,” says anthropologist Susanna Hoffman in her Greek cookbook, The Olive and the Caper. “It is loved like mashed potatoes, remembered like warm cookies, dreamed of like a good steak – it’s everyone’s comfort food.… In any café you can order it by the plateful. In every household it welcomes children home from school. It is lavished over fried fish, poured on vegetables, spread on bread. I serve skordalia as a side dish with poultry, spread it over the skin of turkey, chicken and duck before I roast them, rub it over a whole leg of pork as it grills, or put it out as a surprising appetizer dip.”
- 2 large russet or other baking potatoes
- 6-12 garlic cloves, peeled, or more or less to taste *See note
- 1 tsp. kosher or sea salt, plus additional if needed
- 1 T. red wine vinegar
- Approximately 1 c. flavorful extra virgin olive oil
- Kalamata olives for garnish, optional
Preheat the oven to 450°. Scrub the potatoes and bake them until a knife pierces them easily, 45 minutes or longer.
While the potatoes are baking, smash the garlic cloves with the flat of a large knife, then sprinkle them with the salt. Alternate mincing and smashing the garlic until it forms a paste. A garlic press can also be used.
When the potatoes are done, cut them in half lengthwise, scoop out the flesh, and mash with a potato masher or fork until smooth, or put through a ricer. You should have 2 to 3 cups. Stir in the garlic and vinegar. Add olive oil in a thin stream until the mixture is thinner than mashed potatoes, but still fairly thick – about the consistency of hummus. You’ll probably need between ½ and ¾ c. olive oil. Taste the mixture and add more salt if necessary.
Spread the mixture in a thick layer on a plate, then drizzle with a little more olive oil. Garnish with a few olives if desired. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
Skordalia is best eaten fresh, although it can be made ahead and refrigerated. Warm it gently in a microwave, then drizzle with the oil and garnish as above.
*Note: Classic skordalia uses lots of garlic. The amount should depend on your preference, but also on how fresh it is. The flavor of older garlic is stronger and should be used more sparingly. Don’t use pre-minced, bottled garlic: it’s too harsh.
CEVAPCICI (Grilled Balkan sausages)
Cevapcici aren’t Greek, but they’re ubiquitous in every Balkan nation, including Croatia, homeland of our house concert guitarist, Goran Ivanovic. That’s one reason I’m putting them on our meze table. The other is that they’re absolutely delicious. There are as many cevapcici variations in the Balkans as there are of meatloaf in America, but all seem to combine at least two kinds of ground beef, pork, lamb or veal. I especially like the half lamb and half beef version below. The mixture also makes a killer hamburger.
- 1 lb. ground beef, chuck preferred
- 1 lb. ground lamb
- 2/3 c. minced onion, NOT super-sweet
- 2 tsp. minced garlic, or to taste
- 1 T. sweet Hungarian paprika
- 1 tsp. – 1 T. hot Hungarian paprika, optional
- 1/3 c. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Gently mix all the ingredients together. Test by sautéing tablespoon-sized patty, then adjust the seasonings accordingly. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight before grilling to allow the flavors to develop and mingle.
Form 2- to 3-inch long/one-inch wide sausages around flat skewers (soaked ahead of time if wooden) or form into oval patties. Grill over high heat, turning once, until the outsides are browned and the meat is sizzling. Cevapcici can be served as is, on rolls, or in pitas. They can be topped with a cucumber-yoghurt tzatziki (such as is served with gyros), or raw or sautéed peppers and onions.