I first fell in love with mezze on a holiday in Beirut.
This muhammara recipe retains the spice of the original while adding an earthy depth of flavor and sweetness from the roasted carrots.
I was entranced by the long, leisurely social dinners featuring a menagerie of small plates in varying colors, textures and flavors. Mirroring the terrain and culture of the country, mezze was a soulful experience.
The meals felt perfectly orchestrated, coming in waves with bright, vibrant cold salads and dips, transitioning into warm earthy tones of heartier legumes and sometimes meats, all priming you for the main course.
I have found this style of dining to be perfect for both the guest and the host, and it’s one I relish creating at home today. Hosts are able to naturally weave themselves into the evening while never feeling handcuffed to the kitchen, while guests always have something new and enticing to try. It’s also the ideal way to showcase whatever looks and tastes best at the market that month.
This fall, I’m expanding mezze beyond my home kitchen and into a new restaurant, Beet Box, in Columbia, Missouri. Working alongside co-owner and chef Ben Hamrah, I’m excited to share mezze brunches on Sunday mornings. During the week, we’ll compile all of our favorite market items and recipe ideas and make them key players in our prix-fixe Sunday brunch menu.
This fattoush has a creamier Caesar-style dressing that pairs with the brightness of mint and the spiciness of jalapeño.
This lighter version of baba ghanoush made with zucchini is especially delicious.
Mezze Halls Around the Region
If you’d rather let someone else prepare your mezze feast, there are plenty of Middle Eastern restaurants that would be happy to oblige.
In Hazelwood, Missouri, Kaslik Mediterranean Cuisine serves a whopping 21 cold and hot mezze dishes. Cold staples include the tabbouleh, tahini salad and hummus, plus must-try specialties such as msabaha, whole chickpeas doused in a tahini sauce with garlic and lemon, and makdous, baby eggplant with spicy walnuts, garlic and olive oil. On the hot side, we love the grilled halloumi cheese and pita stuffed with spicy ground beef. facebook.com/kaslik1948
At Ranoush in the Delmar Loop, chef-owner Aboud Alhamid serves more than 10 robust hot and cold mezze menu items inspired by family recipes from his native Syria. Don’t miss the traditional cold muhammara dip, made with a mix of nuts crushed into a spicy pepper sauce and served with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh pita bread from Cham Bakery, or the warm grilled halloumi cheese tucked inside soft pita. ranoush.com
Persian kebabs are the specialty at KC Grill ‘N Kabob in Lenexa, Kansas, but if you’re settling in for a leisurely shared meal, don’t overlook the mast-o khiar, a dish of shredded cucumbers mixed with yogurt and herbs, or the tahdig, crunchy golden rice paired with gheymeh or sabzi, two distinct Iranian stews. kckabob.com
At Kinzi in Mission, Kansas, chef-owner Mike Alhmood offers both a sit-down restaurant menu and a full bakery selection, including housemade baklava. Must-try mezze at Kinzi (named for Alhmood’s daughter) includes Feta cheese dip with olives, olive oil and za’atar served with pita bread and kibbeh, onion, pine nuts and spices. facebook.com/ghalhmood
Vasken’s Deli in Branson, Missouri, serves both Mediterranean and Middle Eastern favorites, including small plates such as baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, red pepper hummus with toasted pita bread and stuffed grape leaves. vaskens.com