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Starters & Mezze

from Claudia Roden's book

The tradition of the mezze - the little appetizers and hors d'oeuvre served with drinks - goes right across the Mediterranean, but Lebanon beats every country by the sheer quantity and variety that is offered in restaurants, with some serving as many as forty and even fifty different ones. At home, some of these little dishes appear on the Sunday lunch tables when extended families get together (everybody goes to visit their parents in the mountain villages on Sunday) and no buffet table could be without a familiar selection.

Start a dinner party with a carefully chosen variety of mezze (it could be just two or three). Serve them with warm bread - the thin round Lebanese pitta-like bread called khobz halabi or the very thin sheets called markouk - and put olives and raw vegetables, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, spring onions, on the table.

Baba Ghanouj


This version of the famous dip - an unusual one with added yoghurt - is particularly delicious and creamy. Serve with pitta or Lebanese bread.


serves 6-8

2 aubergines (weighing about 650g)
3 tablespoons tahini
juice of 2 lemons
125-200g strained Greek Style yoghurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed, or to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley


Prick the aubergines in a few places with a pointed knife to prevent them from exploding. Turn them over the flame of the gas hob or a hot barbecue, or under the grill, until the skin is charred all over (this gives them a distinctive smoky flavour) and they feel very soft when you press them. Alternatively, place them on a sheet of foil on an oven tray and roast them in the hottest oven (pre-heated to 240°C/475°F/Gas 9) for 45-60 minutes until the skins are wrinkled and they are very soft.

When cool enough to handle, peel and drop them into a strainer or colander with small holes. Press out as much of their juices as possible. Still in the colander, chop the flesh with a pointed knife, then mash it with a fork or wooden spoon, letting the juices escape through the holes. Adding a tiny squeeze of lemon juice helps to keep the puree looking pale and appetizing.

In a bowl, beat the tahini with the lemon juice (the tahini stiffens at first then softens), then beat in the yoghurt. Add the mashed aubergines, garlic and some salt. Beat vigorously and taste to adjust the flavouring.

Spread the puree on to a flat serving dish and garnish with a dribble of olive oil and a sprinkling of parsley.


My friend Kamal, whom I watched in his kitchen in Beirut, adds the juice of a bitter orange. In this case, omit the yoghurt.



This rustic salad from the Bekaa Valley does not feature on the standard restaurant menu. It began originally as the leftover meatless filling for vine leaves. Make it with fine-ground bulgur.


serves 6

200g fine-ground bulgur
2 garlic cloves, crushed
juice of 2½ -3 lemons
salt and black pepper
7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas
large bunch of flat-leaf parsley (about 250g), chopped
large bunch of mint (about 90g), chopped


Soak the bulgur in plenty of cold water for 20 minutes until tender, then drain and squeeze out the excess water. In a bowl, mix the garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper and oil. Soak the drained chickpeas in this for 10 minutes, then stir in the bulgur. Chop the herbs finely and mix them in when you are ready to serve.




This bread salad is the favorite everyday Lebanese salad. Sumac gives it a distinctive sharp flavor. The old traditional way was to moisten the toasted bread with water and a little lemon juice before soaking it further with the dressing, which made it deliciously soft and soggy. Nowadays, the toasted bread is broken into pieces and added to the salad at the end while it is crisp. You can buy purslane and small cucumbers (they have a better flavor than our large ones) in Middle Eastern stores.


serves 6-8

1½ pitta breads
1 Cos lettuce, cut into 1.5 cm ribbons
about 100g purslane leaves or lamb's lettuce
4 firm ripe tomatoes, cut into medium pieces
4 small cucumbers, peeled and cut into thick slices
1 green pepper, seeded and cut into small slices
1½ mild onions or 8 spring onions, chopped
large handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
4-5 sprigs of mint, shredded
100ml extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon sumac


Cut around the pitta and open them out. Toast them under the grill or in the oven until they are crisp; turn them over once. Break them into small pieces in your hands.

Put all the vegetables and herbs into a large bowl. For the dressing, mix the oil with the lemon juice, salt, pepper and sumac.

Just before serving, sprinkle the toasted pitta over the salad, then toss the salad well with the dressing.

Batinjan Raheb


This salad is delicious and beautiful to look at.


serves 6-8

2-3 aubergines (weighing about 1kg)
juice of ½ - 1 lemon
garlic cloves, crushed
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper
large handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 sprigs of mint, chopped
4 spring onions, sliced thinly
4 plum tomatoes (unpeeled), diced
handful of fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)


Prick the aubergines in a few places with a pointed knife to prevent them from exploding. Turn them over the flame of the gas hob or a hot barbecue, or under the grill, until the skin is charred all over (this gives them a distinctive smoky flavour) and they feel very soft when you press them. Alternatively, place them on a sheet of foil on an oven tray and roast them in the hottest oven (pre-heated to 240°C/475°F/Gas 9) for 45-60 minutes until the skins are wrinkled and they are very soft.

When cool enough to handle, peel and drop them into a strainer or colander with small holes. Press out as much of their juices as possible. Still in the colander, chop the flesh with a pointed knife, then mash it with a fork or wooden spoon, letting the juices escape through the holes.

Mix the aubergine puree with the lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley and mint. Spread the puree on a large flat serving plate. Sprinkle all over with the spring onions, tomatoes and (if using) the pomegranate seeds.

Fattet Hummus Bi Laban


A layer of chickpeas, spread over toasted bread soaked in their cooking broth, smothered in yoghurt with an elusive taste of tahini, and a pine nut topping may sound heavy but it is surprisingly light and delicate in the eating, and the mix of textures, temperatures and flavours is a joy. The bread must be the very thin flat bread known as khobz halabi which is sold by Lebanese bakeries . You need either 1 large one measuring about 30cm in diameter, or 2 smaller ones; or 1 pitta bread could be used instead.


serves 6-8

250g chickpeas, soaked for 2 hours or overnight
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large or 2 small very thin Lebanese flat breads (see above)
2½ tablespoons tahini
1 kg natural (full-fat) yoghurt, at room temperature l00g pine nuts
1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


Drain the chickpeas and put them into a pan with water to cover, then simmer, covered, for 1¼ - 1½ hours until they are very soft. Add water so that the level remains about 1cm above the chickpeas throughout. Add salt when the chickpeas have begun to soften, and the crushed garlic towards the end of the cooking.

Toast the bread in an oven pre-heated to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 until it becomes crisp. Then place it in the bottom of an ovenproof dish and break it up into smallish pieces by pressing down on it with the palm of your hand. Pour the hot chickpeas and enough of their cooking liquid over the pieces of bread so that they are well soaked. If you are not ready to serve, you can reheat this in the oven when you are.

Before serving, beat the tahini into the yoghurt, and pour it over the chickpeas. Quickly fry the pine nuts in the oil, stirring, until lightly browned, and sprinkle over the dish.

Fennel and Pistachio Salad

from Janna Gur's book, The Book of New Israeli Food


(serves 4-6)

1 hot green pepper, chopped finely
2 tablespoons honey
½ cup pistachio nuts, roasted and crushed
¾ small fennel bulbs
½ cup filleted lemon segments
Coarse sea salt
¼ cup delicate olive oil


Cut the fennel bulbs into thin longitudinal slices. Soak in ice water for about 30 minutes. Drain, mix the fennel slices with the lemon segments, sprinkle coarse sea salt on top and set aside to rest for 15 minutes.

Mix the fennel and lemon salad with the olive oil, hot pepper and honey. Sprinkle the roasted pistachio nuts on top and serve.


from Janna Gur's book, The Book of New Israeli Food

Called mashaushe in the Galilee, this dish is served at most hummus joints and is easy to prepare at home. It is a mixture of warm cooked chickpeas with tahini and a piquant sauce.


(serves 6)

6 cups cooked chickpeas (as prepared in the Basic Hummus Dip), warm
1 cup raw tahini


6 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 hot red pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, crushed


Mix sauce ingredients and set aside.

Using a wooden spoon, mix warm chickpeas with tahini, mashing lightly.

Divide the mixture between 6 plates, pour the sauce over and serve immediately.

Israeli Meze

from Janna Gur's book, The Book of New Israeli Food

Erez Komarovsky, one of Israel's most original and creative chefs, offers his unique version of the Israeli meze. Fresh season fruits and vegetables, and quality olive oil are the stars of the table.

Hummus-style Bean Dip


(serves 6)

½ kg (1 Ib 2 oz) dry white beans, soaked in water overnight
1 cup raw tahini
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice


2 tablespoons honey
3tablespoons pickled (Moroccan) lemons


Drain the beans and cook in salted water for 3-4 hours, until completely soft.

hummus style bean dip
photo: Eilon Paz

Mash the beans in a wooden mortar and pestle (or in a food processor) with some of the cooking liquid. Add the tahini and lemon juice, season with salt and mix well.

Combine the sauce ingredients and adjust the seasoning.

Pour the sauce over the bean dip and top up with roasted almonds.

Serving Suggestion: Ladle the bean dip over a bed of cooked beans.

Fish Falafel in Spicy Harissa Mayonnaise

Avi Steinitz, Avenue Convention Center, Airport City

Halfway between fish cakes and a traditional falafel, this dish takes the best from both worlds: the tender taste of fish and the nutty crunchiness of fried chickpeas. Serve in a pita, as you would a falafel, or as a starter or cocktail snack with fresh yoghurt or a spicy sauce.


(serves 12)

200 g (7 oz) dry chickpeas, soaked in water overnight 900 g (2 Ib) fresh skinned saltwater fish fillets (grouper, sea bream or similar) 3-4 onions, quartered 7 stalks parsley, coarsely chopped 3 stalks coriander, coarsely chopped 3 cloves garlic, peeled 60 g (2 oz) sesame seeds Oil for deep-frying Harissa Mayonnaise: 1/2 cup mayonnaise 1 teaspoon (or more) harissa (p. 298) 2 cloves garlic, crushed 1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice Salt to taste


Drain the chickpeas and rinse thoroughly. Put in a pan, cover with plenty of water and cook for at least 2 hours until soft.

Grind the chickpeas with the fish, herbs, onions and garlic in a meat grinder. If you use a food processor, work in short pulses in order not to mash the delicate flesh of the fish.

Add the spices and sesame seeds and mix well. Refrigerate for half an hour.

Moisten a falafel tool or ice cream scoop and form the falafel patties, or wet your hands and make small walnul-size balls.

Heat oil for deep-frying to medium heat (150°C/300°F). Fry in small batches on both sides for 3 minutes until the falafels turn golden-brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain the excess oil in a colander.

Mix the ingredients for harissa mayonnaise and serve alongside the falafels.

Fish Falafel
photo: Eilon Paz

Palestinian Mezze

from Christiane Dabdoub Nasser's book
Classic Palestinian Cuisine

Christiane Dabdoub Nasser, is the author of Classic Palestinian Cuisine. Christiane is a dynamic and creative cultural heritage professional.

Bandora b'za'tar

Tomatoes with Thyme

The pungent taste of za'tar, thyme, and the strong aroma of white cheese from sheep's milk add a particular flavour to this salad, which rouses a primeval longing for the simple life close to the earth. As long as fresh thyme is available this salad must be served at every meal. If the cheese is not fresh in season, it has to be soaked for a few hours for desalination before use.

Unlike cheeses in the west, traditional white cheese is produced in spring when pastures are available after the winter rains, and preserved in salted water for the whole year. Just like olive oil and baladi vegetables, the purchase of this cheese is done through a network that is continued through generations of suppliers and buyers. If a farmer holds back on the prescribed amount of gum Arabic, mahlab and izba, precious ingredients that give the cheese a distinctive flavour, he loses overnight the business he has established over many years.

Although people who try it for the first time may not appreciate its pungent flavour, Palestinians who live abroad are very nostalgic for this cheese. My brother-in-law who has been living in New York for the past forty years eats this salad heartily when his wife prepares it with feta cheese. When I asked about the English muffins he uses to dip in the sauce, he explained that it reminded him very much of tabun bread and that when he dips a morsel in this salad, the whole past rises from his plate. I made no further comments, but then I realised that indeed, he has been away for too many years!


4 large tomatoes
150 g (5 oz) semi-salted white sheep's-cheese
4 spring onions
A bunch of freshly picked za'tar, about 30 g (1 oz) leaves or according
to individual taste
2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
¾ tsp salt
Pepper to taste


Wash the thyme leaves and set them aside to dry on a paper towel. Meanwhile dice the tomatoes and cheese into small cubes and put them in a bowl. Trim the spring onions and chop them and add them to the same bowl.

Add the thyme leaves, the oil, the lemon and salt and pepper and stir. Serve immediately.

Grilled Peppers with Coriander Dressing

Grilled peppers


3 sweet red peppers
3 sweet green peppers
½ cup coriander leaves
3 garlic cloves
⅓ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste


Put the peppers in a pan and grill them whole - without removing the stem - in the oven for 10 minutes on each side. You can use a Teflon-coated pan, which you do not have to grease. When they are done, take them out of the oven and leave them to cool for half an hour before you peel them and remove the stem and seeds. Cut them in long flat strips and put them on a flat serving plate, alternating a few green strips with red ones. Wash the coriander leaves and let them drip on a paper towel; meanwhile peel the garlic cloves and chop both very finely on a wooden board. Mix the garlic, coriander and salt and pepper in the oil and add to the peppers. Serve immediately.

This salad, simple and moist, is a very good accompaniment to bread-based food such as sfiha.

Ful m'dammas

Broad Bean Salad

Hummus and ful m'dammas are as inseparable as butter and jam and find their place of honour at every brunch, picnic or barbecue. It is also the poor man's staple and goes a long way when dipped with bread. The secret of a successful plate of ful is in its consistency, which should be soft for easy dipping.


500 g (1 Ib 2oz) beans
⅓ cup tahineh
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp salt
¾ tsp pepper
1 hot pepper, finely chopped
Olive oil and some extra lemon juice for serving


Pre-soak the beans in water and half a tsp of sodium bicarbonate for a few hours or overnight. Cover them with water, cook them on medium heat till they boil, then lower the heat and let them simmer, covered, for 1½ hours. Check the water and add as necessary. The only way to get the beans right is to overcook them until they mash under the pressure of the back of a spoon against the sides of the pot. Keep on stirring and mashing for five minutes or so. You should aim for a mushy uneven texture rather than a puree. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before you season.

Cream the tahineh in ¾ cup water then add the crushed garlic cloves, the lemon juice and the salt and pepper. Stir well and add to the ful making sure that the ingredients are well mixed. Transfer to a shallow bowl and sprinkle with the finely chopped hot pepper, some lemon juice and a gener¬ous helping of olive oil. Serve immediately as this dish is more enjoyable lukewarm.

Salatet banjar

Beetroot with Garlic

Beetroot with garlic

This salad is important to include in a mezze display as it adds a different dimension to the variety. The parsley, with its bitter aroma, offsets the sweet flavour of the beets quite adequately.


7-8 fresh beetroot
2 garlic cloves
1½ tsp salt
1 tbs olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
A small bunch of parsley, about 1/2 cup chopped


Put the washed beetroot in a pan full of hot water, bring to the boil and leave to cook, covered, for about 40 minutes. Once they are cooked rinse them out with cold water and pare them. You can dice them on a wooden board or slice them, as you prefer; the parsley has to be chopped by hand so it stays fresh all through the meal. Parsley chopped in a food processor looks limp immediately.

Crush the garlic with the salt with a pestle and mortar; gradually add the olive oil until it becomes soft and creamy. Add to the beetroot and add the lemon juice and parsley. Stir well and serve in a fresh bowl.

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