In the Mediterranean, many meals start with an assortment of local dishes or what can be called small plates. In Spain they’re called tapas or pintxos, the latter which hail from the Basque and Catalan regions of Spain; antipasti or cicchetti in Italy; hors d’oeuvres in France; mezethes in Greece; or meze in Turkey. Typically, these are small bites that feature vegetables, whole grains, ﬁsh, legumes, nuts, and/or seeds.
In Spain, tapas can be as straightforward as a few slices of cheese, such as Manchego or Mahon, and jamon Iberico (from the renowned black Iberian pig). Or, perhaps, a simple plate of freshly marinated anchovies, Spanish blistered Padron peppers, or a dish of grilled vegetables, commonly eggplant, bell peppers, and onions, known as escalivada. As for ciccetti or antipasti in Italy, you’ll typically encounter an assortment of small sandwiches, crostini, plates of charcuterie, marinated seafood, olives, grilled vegetables, or rice balls known as arancini.
Hummus is a humble dip of blended chickpeas with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and garlic, and is enjoyed throughout the Mediterranean, but especially in the Eastern Mediterranean (Greece, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey). While there is no shortage of hummus to purchase at the grocery store, it’s easy enough to make this classic yourself. An exceptional batch of freshly made hummus will be ﬂuﬀy, creamy, and silky smooth (and decidedly unlike any store-bought hummus you’ve ever tasted), usually drizzled with a good dose of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with spices and/or herbs.
Leblebi, or what we know as roasted chickpeas, is a common snack in parts of the Mediterranean. Simply toss canned or otherwise cooked chickpeas with olive oil and spices, spread them out on a sheet pan, and roast in the oven until crispy for a delicious and healthy snack. Baba ganoush is a smoky, smooth, creamy eggplant dip. The key to achieving that smokiness, the hallmark of a memorable baba ganoush, is to literally char the skin oﬀ the eggplant. Although the skin is discarded, the process of charring the skin infuses the ﬂesh of the eggplant with a wonderful smoky aroma. The eggplant is then combined with olive oil, tahini, garlic, lemon, parsley, and salt.
Spanakopita, spinach hand pies, or hortopita, horta (mixed greens) combined with herbs and feta and wrapped in phyllo, are staples throughout Greece. These pies are packed with healthful green vegetables, making them an ideal dish to enjoy any time of day. Similarly, börek, bourekas, or byurek, depending on country of origin, are phyllo pastries stuﬀed with anything from greens to cheese to mashed chickpeas or potatoes.
The next time you have a dinner party, try some of these small dishes when your guests arrive.
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