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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Mezze Culture - Kibbeh Niyeh

Eating is social. 

Often, when you are alone and eating by yourself, you are most likely to choose the simplest, fastest and least challenging food option. Rarely would anyone ever go for a six or twelve course menu when eating alone! When cooking only for one, most people would tell you ‘I choose simple food. At the end of the day, who am I cooking this for?’ That is very true. Because food is social. We like to share food with others and have company when eating. Even mothers would wait for their children to come back home and have lunch together. When my Dad came back home from work, Mum used to always say: “Come sit with dad, so he doesn’t have to eat alone.”

In the same effect, and since the dawn of man, food has brought people together. In the primitive sense, people hunted in groups, and in progression, we chose food to be a medium with which we express our social nature. We celebrate achievements, friendships, family, and well being - any occasion really - by offering food. It is interesting how the best cook in the family always ends up having the busiest home in the family as the house becomes the whole family’s gathering place. Even when it comes to meeting people for the first time, add food to the equation and immediately the atmosphere becomes cosier, warmer and more relaxed. It is fascinating how food brings people closer together!

Levantine cuisine understands these facts very well, and evidently draws upon them through the creation of the Mezze Tradition. The word Mezze – otherwise known as Muqabilat – is in essence a selection of small dishes served as starters to tickle your taste buds and kick start your appetite. The Mezze culture is that of relaxed food, where people get together and enjoy a variety of dishes (with or without alcohol) in a casual and laid-back atmosphere, all while being social and interacting with friends. The most significant characteristic about Mezze is that it is food to be shared with a group, and not meant to be ordered by plate for each individual. In the Middle East, you would get a variety of dishes that are placed in the middle of the dining table, from which each one takes out into their plates.

You can present Mezze in a variety of ways, you can even serve it in vegetables or mini cups along with bread sticks to
make an excellent offering for a cocktail party

Starters are a staple course all cuisines. 

Every cuisine has a Mezze of sorts: Tapas for Spanish, Antipasti for Italian, Apéritif for French...etc.
The ‘Mezze Culture’ though is not just about starting your meal. Mezze is about elongating the time of the meal, creating a social outing – if I may so call it- where food is the centre of this gathering. Where you get to forget about time and just enjoy the company of your friends while delighting in mouth-watering food selections. Mezze includes hot and cold varieties. It is served as the first course of the meal, usually followed by mixed grills, or other Main course options, then followed by Arabic desserts and fresh fruits. With that said, Mezze can often be a meal on its own! I, for instance, hardly ever want to eat anything else!

Good food, good company and a superb time; captures the essence of how food is social.

Among the most popular Mezze choices in the Middle East are (just a few, the list is long):

Cold Mezze

  • Tabouleh
  • Fattoush
  • Rocca & Zaatar Salad
  •  Mutabal
  • Baba Ghanoush
  • Hummus(with or without Meat)
  • Kubbeh Niyeh - made out of row Meat and Bulgur, pounded into a paste- recipe Below
  • WaraEnab Bizeit (stuffed Vine leaves)
  • Shanklish (made out of sheep or cow cheeses, mixed with herbs & nuts)
  • Pastirma (seasoned, air-dried cured beef) 
  • Olives & Pickles 
  • Muhamara (made out of red peppers & nuts)

Hot Mezze

The options are endless and the flavours are Divine. I am getting hungry just thinking about this! Mezze is a manifestation of how food is social. It is a fabulous way to go when entertaining at home. Making the food is not complex, and most of it is ‘make-ahead’ which allows you to actually entertain your guests, rather than be stuck in the kitchen all night. Try out the Mezze recipes on this blog, and keep checking as more Mezze recipes are to come...

Assorted raw meats Mezze (including Kibbeh Niyeh)

Kibbeh Niyeh (Raw Kibbeh)
You Needserves 6
1/2 kg Lean meat, choose fresh meat as this going to be eaten raw (has to be lean, no fat)
1 cup Bulgur, soaked in water till soft and the water squeezed out
1 small red onion
1/2 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Salt & Black pepper to taste

Using a meat grinder- with the smallest wholes - grind the meat twice. In the same meat grinder, add the onion and mince very finely. Add the minced onion, the spices and seasoning as well as the softened Bulgur to the ground meat and mix them together into a paste. It is kind of like kneading. You will need to add a little cold water to cool off the meat from the heat of your hands. This addition of the water will create a soft, smooth dough-like texture, which is how Kibbeh Niyeh should be.

Place on serving plate, and garnish with fresh mint leaves.

It is customary to serve Kibbeh Niyeh with olive oil, mint leaves and garlic paste on the side. This is an amazing Lebanese dish, and spells Arabic Mezze. It is one of my favourites, try it am telling you, you are going to love it :))

I hope you like today's recipe, and that today's post helps you better understand the mezze culture. Do let me know what you think, and if you would go for a mezze themed dinner at home?

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