Meze Means Mediterranean
Lorelle Del Matto, MS, RD
Lorelle is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Biology Nutrition and a certiﬁcation in Child and Adolescent Weight Management. Her professional background includes test kitchen and consumer aﬀairs management, recipe and product development, writing, teaching and work as a media spokesperson. On her website, Lorelle provides healthful recipes and evidence-based information to inspire others to “savor the art of healthy eating.”
When it comes to healthy eating patterns, I ﬁnd the easiest to embrace is “Mediterranean.” And there’s no better way to experience it than with a “meze meal” like the one I made recently for my family.
A Meze Meal is borrowed from the traditions of small plate dining of Greece, Turkey and the Middle East with tzatziki, a yogurt-based dip or spread, to unify the platter of delectable food choices. There is lots of ﬂexibility in foods for the platter– and not much work for the cook.
I include whole marinated chickpeas (the marinade is a simple dressing of 1 part vinegar to 1 part olive oil with ﬁnely chopped garlic, oregano or another herb and a little salt and pepper) along with feta cheese, plump dried apricots, toasted walnuts, tomatoes, bell pepper wedges, baby greens and arugula. Romaine spears can be dunked in the tzatziki or ﬁlled with other ingredients like little boats. Alongside are whole wheat pitas and ﬂatbreads that can be stuﬀed, dipped or rolled around the other goodies. Or you can make a little salad with a base of greens with other ingredients sprinkled on top. Consider doubling the tzatziki recipe because it marries all together so beautifully.
For a larger party I expand with more foods such as skewers of grilled boneless chicken cubes marinated with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and herbs. A selection of olives and another cheese or two are nice to include, as well. You get the idea.
What are the beneﬁts of this wonderful style of Mediterranean eating? Some 50 years ago scientists started looking into reasons behind the longevity and health, especially cardiovascular health, of people in Mediterranean regions. Despite the cultural and regional diﬀerences, the dietary similarities were patterns based on vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil and grains with some seafood and eggs, small amounts of milk products, particularly cheese and yogurt, and minimal amounts of meat. Wine is often included at meals in moderation. While the cuisines of Mediterranean countries are varied and unique, they all rely on locally produced, minimally processed and largely plant-based foods.
For many years I have looked to Oldways as a resource for research and consumer-friendly information about Mediterranean and other traditional ways of healthful eating. Research continues to elucidate the beneﬁts of traditional eating patterns. My favorite element of the Mediterranean way is well-stated on the Oldways website, “The Mediterranean Diet is grounded on the principles of enjoyment and pleasure. Foods, drinks and meals are best eaten with others, when possible, and savored.”
Let’s put this into practice at our own tables. I forgot how fun it can be to eat in this casual way and how it inspires relaxation and conversation. I’ll be eating and entertaining “meze Mediterranean” often this summer and I hope you will be too.
Serve as a dip or dressing with fresh vegetables, greens and whole grain pita bread or Mediterranean ﬂatbread.
Makes 4 servings
1 cup lightly packed shredded peeled English cucumber*
Fine sea salt
1 cup unﬂavored fat-free Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons ﬁnely chopped fresh mint
1 small clove garlic, ﬁnely chopped or pressed to measure ¼ teaspoon
¼ to ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Squeeze shredded cucumber to remove some of the liquid and place in a colander set over a plate. Toss with ¼ teaspoon salt. Set aside for 30 minutes.
With back of spoon, press additional moisture from cucumber. Spread cucumber on a clean kitchen towel (or a couple of layers of paper towels) fold towel over cucumber and press out more moisture.
In a bowl, combine cucumber with yogurt, mint, garlic and sugar. Stir to blend well. Taste and add additional salt, as desired.
Cover and chill for 1 hour or longer, for ﬂavors to develop. Drizzle with oil before serving.