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  • Writer's pictureNick Clarizio

Mezze Madness (Menu #6)

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

Dearest Most Gracious and Appreciated Reader,


Forgive me for the brevity of this week's menu. I spent time back on campus visiting friends, so I ate out a few times. I forgot to take a photo of the meals. And some of them were not worthy of making it onto the menu ---not naming names. To make it up to you, I'll cut the fat of the chitchat I typically include in the intro. Instead, we'll get to the meat and potatoes of things ---the details on the dishes. With that said, let us begin.


This past weekend's farmer's Market was the first of July. Which means I was finally willing to indulge in one of my culinary obsessions: nightshades. I bought armfuls of eggplants and pockets full of peppers. "Why?", you may ask. Mezze. "But, Nick, what's a mezze?" I'm glad you asked.


Mezze is a culinary tradition or style of eating from the Mediterranean and the Middle East (Covington 2022). It's popular in "the eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, the Balkans, Western Asia, and the Middle East [including] countries such as Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Iran, Dubai, [and] Armenia [...]" (Covington 2022). The word mezze itself means “taste and/or snack” (Hill 2022). Some compare it to the Spanish eating style of tapas, but they differ in the ingredients they incorporate (Covington 2022; Hill 2022). Depending on what they're served with, mezedhes (the dishes served in mezze) can act as either appetizers or a full meal (Hill 2022). They vary from region to region (Hill 2022). Some of my favorites include classics like baba ghanouj and hummus, as well as lesser-known ones like muhammara.


You won't see too many mezze on this week's menu. To best enjoy mezze, you need a multitude of them. I spent the week preparing them rather than eating them. So this week was one of mezze preparation madness. Next week will be one of mezze eating madness. I also hope to provide you with some enriching info on each of these dishes. Some, I make often; others, I'll be exploring and playing with for the first time myself! One thing I particularly enjoy about the concept of mezze, though, is that anything can become a mezze. For example, one day this week, I wanted to eat leftover spinach fesenjoon, but I also wanted to eat some of my dad's eggplant parm. So, I took smaller portions of each and fashioned this into an unconventional mezze plate. You could do this with any foods. Simply take small portions of each and mix and match them. I'm often riveted by the new flavors and flavor combos I discover. Who knew that a Persian walnut and pomegranate sauce (fesenjoon) would pair so well with the eggplant and tomato of eggplant parm? I didn't. But I do now. That's the beauty of mezze for me. They allow curiosity, playfulness, and discovery. Enough details. Let's dig into a few of this week's dishes.


Skillet Biscuit:

This is a recipe I've lightly modified from the following recipe (https://www.burlapandbarrel.com/blogs/recipes/grilled-or-griddled-seeded-round-breads). It's quick to prepare and quick to cook, making it ideal for feeding a crowd or preparing a bunch for later. It's also quite adaptable. You can switch up the seeds in it or the flours you use and come to different, but still delicious, results.


Fesenjoon خورش فسنجون (Homa 2014):

In broad strokes, fesenjoon is a Persian stew of walnuts and pomegranate. That might sound unlikely or unfeasible to some audience, but I promise it's both doable and astounding. Even though I've made it numerous times, I'm frequently shocked by how well the pairing works. It "hails from the verdant northern Iranian hills and coast, where pomegranate and walnut trees grow" (Nosrat ND), and what grows together, goes together. To make it, you roast walnuts and grind them into a paste, to which you pour in pomegranate molasses to taste. This is your stew base. From here, you sautée onion with turmeric, then you add in the walnut paste, diluting it with stock or water. You let this cook, with or without meat or other veggies, for ideally a few hours, diluting as necessary with more stock. Towards the end, you throw in some bloomed saffron and, if needed, sugar to balance the acidity. If you can get your hands on fresh pomegranate, you can toss some arils (the name of the pomegranate's edible interior) on top to finish the dish. This is just a vague guide. Actually making the dish takes time, patience, and repetition. But perhaps this template is enough to inspire you.


As for the origins of fesenjoon, I found this fascinating anecdote from Mersedeh Prewer on The Mediterranean Dish:


"My family eats fesenjan on the night of the Winter Solstice or Shabe Yaldā as we call it. Taking place on the longest night of the year, Yaldā translated from Persian to English means ‘birth,’ which ultimately underpins the essence of this festival. The festival dates back to ancient times when a majority of Persians were followers of Zoroastrianism. From its Zoroastrian roots, Shab-e Yaldā celebrates the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness – the winter solstice marking the lengthening of days, shortening of nights and the advancement towards spring. Pomegranates are a symbol of this festival so fesenjan is a perfect stew to cook on this special occasion" (2023).

She also notes that, due to the abundance of walnuts and pomegranates in the Gilan province of Northern Iran, many other dishes from this province use this combination (Prewer 2023). For example,

"Kal Kabab, an eggplant, garlic, walnut and pomegranate molasses dip, and Kabab Torsh, chicken or lamb kebabs coated in a walnut and pomegranate paste before cooking over charcoal" (Prewer 2023). And here is one thing I love about blogging. I get to uncover new dishes and learn new things at the same time as I share them with you. You and I are on a learning voyage together, and we may not even notice it at times.




Shakshuka شاكشوكة (Translation from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakshouka):

The final dish I'll discuss is shakshuka. This is another favorite of mine, and one of the first dishes I fell in love with. Shakshuka hails from North Africa and the name probably comes from the Arabic for 'mixture' or 'a mixture', although this detail is up for debate (López-Alt 2022). Shakshuka's name hints to its origins: "the dish itself probably got its start as just that: a mixture of odds and ends cooked in a pan or a tagine with eggs" (López-Alt 2022). Today, shakshuka is "popular throughout the Middle East" (López-Alt 2022), and you can dress it up or down as you wish: using more or less bell pepper, adding in types of hot chilies, throwing in various kinds of meat or cheese ---the list goes on (López-Alt 2022). You can debate its origins and preparation, but what's indisputable is that shakshuka belongs among culinary royalty. Easy to make, easy to adapt (just today, I tossed some preserved lemon on top ---yum!), and jam-packed with flavor ---what's not to like?


Without further ado, here's the menu for the week of July 3.




Clockwise from top left: Skillet Biscuit + Ribs meal; Shakshuka; fesenjoon + eggplant parm meal; 4th of July Spread; Shakshuka meal; Mezze + chicken thighs meal



Bibliography


Covington, Linnea. 2022. “Learn All About Mezze, From the Dishes to How to Serve.” The Spruce Eats.

Hill, Kathryn. 2022. “What Is A Meze?” Kitchn. September 28, 2022. https://www.thekitchn.com/what-is-


Homa. 2014. “KHORESH FESENJAN خورش فسنجون|FESENJOON.” November 20, 2014.

Kenji López-Alt, J. 2022. “Shakshuka (North African–Style Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce)

Recipe.” Serious Eats. August 10, 2022. https://www.seriouseats.com/shakshuka-north-african-

Nosrat, Samin. ND. “Khoresh-e Fesenjoon (Persian Chicken Stew With Pomegranate and Walnuts)

Prewer, Mersedeh. 2023. “Fesenjan (Persian Pomegranate & Walnut Stew).” The Mediterranean Dish.

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