There is a wonderful, longstanding tradition throughout the Mediterranean of serving bite-sized portions of food—as a pre-meal snack to abate hunger pangs and accompany a glass of wine, or as a multi-plate meal in itself. Longtime Oldways friend and Mediterranean cooking expert, Paula Wolfert, writes about
, the flavorful small bites of North Africa in her book
The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean
(page 11, Ecco, 1994):
"A great Mediterranean mezze table is like a giant menu degustation. One has the opportunity to sample a whole slew of delicious foods at will: rustic red beans simmered in olive oil; grilled chicken with crackling skin, perfumed with the flavors of garlic and lemon; purees enriched with sesame seeds, nuts, and oils; pastries in all shapes and sizes…the list goes on and on."
Throughout the Mediterranean, these small treats go by a variety of names. In Greece, they might be called
, and feature flatbread with a bean and feta cheese puree. In Italy, depending on where you are, you might be served an
, a pre-dinner tipple always accompanied with a small bite of food, or an
platter of cheeses, olives, grilled or roasted vegetables, and cured meats. In Venice, there is a custom of enjoying
, small tastes unique to the region such as marinated anchovies, stuffed olives, and
(teeny meatballs). But perhaps most well-known is the cultural and communal ritual of enjoying
in Spain, which is currently trendy both inside and outside the Spanish borders. Traditionally, family and friends gather on Sunday afternoons at tapas bars to catch up on the news of the week and enjoy a few slices of
tortilla española (a potato-laced omelet), roasted red peppers, and
gambas al ajillo
(garlic and hot pepper shrimp).
No matter the name of the Mediterranean treat you’re enjoying, when portion size is kept in mind, smaller is better. Plus, having some vegetables, hummus, or cheese to nibble on between meals can help curb overeating when the entrees are served. Deprivation is not on the menu in Mediterranean communities. Rather, the focus is on modest portions and simply-prepared plant foods. And, while they might be small in size, these snacks are often served with friendly company, another important aspect of a healthy lifestyle.
As you scramble to figure out your Thanksgiving meal plans, consider adding a Mediterranean-inspired dish to your menu—whether it’s before everyone sits down to the table, or as a new twist to side dishes. It can be as simple as replacing crackers and store-bought dips with hummus and veggies. And the good news is that turkey, the traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece, has a neutral flavor that makes it ideal for pairing with a range of flavors and textures. In short: Don’t be afraid to experiment with Mediterraneanizing Thanksgiving.
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