Like Spanish tapas, the Arabic tradition of mezze involves small dishes that are hugely flavorful. Most are very simple to prepare — in fact, there are plenty of single-ingredient mezze, like the olives pictured here. There are also two- and three-ingredient small dishes that just involve a bit of spice or oil added to the main ingredient. In this assortment, you can see a chunk of sheep’s-milk Feta drizzled with a touch of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of sumac. (Before you gasp aloud, yes, there are poisonous varieties of sumac that you should never eat. This kind of dried and powdered sumac berry, however, belongs to the deliciously edible sumac family.) You can serve several mezze together to make a meal, or you can serve one or two as appetizers to the main course.
Eggplant & Lentil Dip
Although a dip may not seem like a dinner, when you blend in a good helping of lentils (or chickpeas or other legumes), you wind up with a very hearty dip that’s a meal in and of itself. Serving it with a few other simple mezze as I’ve done here makes for an easy, satisfying meal.
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1″ slices
1 cup lentils
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T. tahini
1 T. sweet paprika
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. sea salt
Juice of 1/4 lemon
1 tsp. sumac (optional)*
Lay out eggplant slices on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or aluminum foil, then roast eggplant at 375F for 20-30 minutes or until slices are golden brown and shriveled around the edges. Bring a medium pot halfway full of water to a boil on the stove and add lentils. Reduce heat to low and let them simmer for about 20 minutes or until they’re tender to your tooth.
While eggplant is roasting, drizzle enough oil into a saucepan to just cover the bottom. Heat over medium heat for 1 minute, then add onions and cook them for 5 minutes or until they’re translucent and starting to turn golden brown. Stir in garlic and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes or until garlic is soft and onions are browning.
Blend roasted eggplant, cooked lentils, sautéed onions and garlic, and all remaining ingredients in a food processor until you have a fairly smooth mixture. Add water if it seems too thick, or add more lemon juice if you’d like it to be more tangy. The sumac has a lemony, tart flavor all on its own, so if you use sumac, you may not need more lemon juice; if you don’t have sumac on hand, though, you may need more lemon juice. You may also wish to use more or less salt, depending on your preferred level of saltiness.
Serve dip on its own or as part of a larger mezze plate, sprinkling it with a dash of additional sumac if you like. Toasted pita chips, tortilla chips, or any other whole-grain and crunchy dippables go well with the eggplant dip. So do raw veggies like carrots, cucumbers, and zucchini. Leftover dip can be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days.
* Sumac is lovely Mediterranean spice that provides a tart, fresh flavor — you can include it as a main spice, or you can sprinkle it over foods as a tasteful garnish, much like the way we’re accustomed to using parsley and paprika. Sumac can be found at Arabic grocery stores or well-stocked spice shops like Penzey’s Spices.
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