Two Heads of Lettuce

Simple recipes for vegetarian potlucks. Would you like to join the Two Heads of Lettuce team? Contact twoheadsoflettuce at gmail dot com.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

marvelous mezze

A mezze platter is one of the most amazingly versatile things you can make - and impressive-looking too, but all of the parts are suprisingly simple. A mezze is a mix of various first-course items that can be eaten together or separately. Below are easy recipes for a few of my favorites. I happen to think that these four, served with a simple green salad, a bowl of olives, and some pita, make a perfect (and extremely colorful) meal. The various components of a mezze are also good individually, on sandwiches, in omelets, as leftovers over rice, as potluck contributions in their own right... etc.

Part 1: Roasted Peppers (smoky and delicious - and only *one* ingredient)

Ingredient: 2-3 sweet bell peppers (red, orange, yellow, or - best of all - a combination of colors)

Procedure:
  • If you have a gas stove: turn on as many burners as you have peppers to a high setting. Place peppers directly on the burner, in the flame. As peppers char, turn them with tongs or an oven mitt so that they blacken evenly on all sides. When skin in black and blistered and peppers are tender, remove from the heat and put peppers in a tightly covered bowl for ten minutes. When you take them out, you will be able to peel off the skins. Once peeled, slice the peppers lengthwise, removing the seeds, and cut into 1/2-inch strips. Serve at room temperature.
  • If you don't have a gas stove: place peppers under the broiler, turning periodically so they blacken evenly on all sides. Once peppers are cooked, follow the instructions above for cooling, peeling, and slicing.
Part 2: Labneh (Lebanese yogurt cheese - *also* only one ingredient)

Ingredient: a carton of yogurt (full-fat works best; nonfat probably won't work at all)

Special equipment: cheesecloth

Procedure: Line a bowl with 5-6 layers of cheesecloth. Pour the yogurt into the bowl, on top of the cheesecloth. Gather the edges of the cloth, twist tightly, and secure with string, a twist-tie, or a rubber band - you should now have a tight bundle of yogurt. Place this bundle in a colander in the sink, and put something heavy (tuna cans, bags of beans, etc) on top of it to compress it. Leave the bundle in the sink for several hours, periodically tying the cheesecloth tighter (as the yogurt condenses), turning the bundle (to press it evenly on all sides) and re-positioning the heavy objects (ditto). The labneh is ready when it acquires a spreadable consistency (similar to a log of soft goat cheese) - but you can experiement in making it drier or less dry by adjusting the draining time. To serve, you can make a well in the top and fill it with olive oil... or sprinkle with zaatar... or garnish with olives...

Part 3: Hummus

You very likely already have a recipe for this staple, but if you don't - try the one that was posted here in December (not by me) or my recipe, which is posted here.

Part 4: Eggplant Salad (because if you want a rainbow on your table - red-and-yellow peppers, bright white labneh, blue-black olives, hummus that's... whatever color hummus is, a dark green salad - you'll need some purple.)

You can go anywhere with this - I've got a good recipe for sesame eggplant salad, but I've also made a mezze with Indian-inspired eggplant, and you can always go mediterranean. My preference is to *not* go the babaganoush route, since you've already got a couple of spreads and the eggplant is a good place to add some texture. For inspiration, I just found a massive website that includes over 3,000 - I kid you not - eggplant recipes, many of which sound very good. I am awed by Ashbury's Aubergines.

And if anyone has a good recipe for the roasted eggplant salad - slightly sweet, eggplant in strips, with skin still on - that's often served on top of falafel - please post it somewhere! I've been in search of it for months...

(If you're overwhelmed: Sesame Eggplant Salad


Ingredients:

  • 1 pound eggplant
  • salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

Procedure:

  • Trim eggplant; peel and dice into 3/4-inch cubes. Salt, allow to drain for 30 minutes, and pat dry.
  • Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet; add eggplant and saute 3-4 minutes, until eggplant is barely tender. Drain in a colander to press out liquid and excess oil.
  • In a bowl, combine all other ingredients. Add eggplant, toss to coat. Serve warm or chilled.)
Put everything - peppers, labneh, hummus, eggplant - in small bowls. Arrange a bowl of olives, and a plate of warm pita, and a green salad - spinach perhaps? Serve to your delighted friends as:
  • lunch
  • the first course of an elegant dinner
  • a potluck contribution

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