Recipe :: Middle Eastern Mezze

A menu for hosting a thematic book club dinner
A menu for hosting a thematic book club dinner

This isn’t your normal recipe post. Sometimes the stars align, and I get to host my book club when we’re reading something that really lends itself to a thematic dinner. This happened recently when the book we read was set in Iraq, and so this post is a round-up of the menu – a Middle Eastern Mezze.

I traveled to Israel in 2019, and had amazing Middle Eastern food while I was there. I also recently visited a wonderful Persian restaurant near me that I’ve heard people rave about and it absolutely lived up to expectations. So it was a lot of fun to try to recreate some of the dishes that I’ve enjoyed.

Most of these recipes will be links to other sites, but I’ll tell you what tips or tricks I may have used to make them easier or more delicious. Also, I found a wonderful little gem of a Middle Eastern market not too far from where I live. There, I was able to pick up a few items that the grocery stores around me don’t necessarily carry – like saffron ($$!!), cardamon, and rose water.

Hummus and Baba Ganoush
Baba Ganoush and Hummus

Hummus: I had hoped to pick up good, authentic hummus at the market. Checking out, the very helpful gentlemen asked, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” I asked if they carried hummus. He looked at me with half-smile and half-smirk, to which I said, “You make your own, don’t you.” He nodded.

I’ve made hummus before, and I wasn’t pleased. So, I looked high and low for a recipe that might have a trick – and I did! It turns out, the trick to really smooth hummus is cooking the canned chickpeas before blending them. I used this recipe straight by the book, and I’d put it up against any I’ve had in a restaurant.

Baba Ganoush – This recipe is fun to make just so you can say it! Pro tip: After roasting the eggplant, I let them sit for nearly an hour (while I was making other stuff) and by the time I got to scooping out the flesh, the purple skin peeled right off. Easy-peasy. I also found that I didn’t need the straining step.

Tabouli – I’ve been making this tabouli recipe for several years now. It was nice to have at least one dish that I knew I could count on!

Shawarma – This spicy marinated chicken has all the herbs and spices you think of that make Middle Eastern food delicious. I cut the cayenne in half (as suggested for most palates) and used chicken tenders that hubby then grilled. I also made the lemon yogurt sauce she suggests. It made a great addition to the wraps I had as leftovers.

Shirin rice Shawarma Tabouli
Shirin Rice, Shawarma and Tabouli

Shirin Rice – This is the one dish where I truly created my own recipe. Please, if you are Middle Eastern, don’t berate me with comments on how this is NOT authentic Shirin rice. Authentic Persian rice is going to have a “tahdig” which is a crispy layer on the bottom. I didn’t trust myself to get this right on the first try with company coming.

My version: Cook two cups of basmati rice according to the directions, adding the orange zest of one orange and 1/2 cup of sugar to the water. In a separate skillet, cook the orange zest of another orange with 1/2 cup of carrots cut to match sticks, 1/2 cup of chopped pistachios and 1/2 cup of slivered almonds. Mix the nuts and carrot mixture with the rice when finished. It had the wonderful flavor of Shirin rice I experienced in my local Middle Eastern restaurant.

Bastani

Bastani (Persian Ice Cream) – If you’ve never had Bastani, the distinct flavor makes this a truly unique treat. I served this with wafers I picked up in the market and topped with chopped pistachios. I used this recipe and opted for the easy version that basically has you adding saffron and rose water to store-bought vanilla ice cream. Again, easy-peasy. I adjusted the amounts of saffron and rose water in the recipe to how much was in my carton.

In addition to this, I served pita bread, pickled veggies (both picked up from the Middle Eastern market), raw veggies (cucumber, radish, carrots), olives, feta, and herbs (mint, tarragon, and cilantro).

Middle Eastern Mezze

It was a wonderful feast that was fun to make and got rave reviews!

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