Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mezze and a Movie

The first day of spring, all we had was cold, cold, cold. Nevertheless, I was determined to usher in the new season with lemon, ginger, parsley, mint, cilantro, and garlic. Down with braises, stews, and casseroles! Down with meat and potatoes and winter vegetables!

Saturday night, the kitchen was strewn with fresh herbs redolent of the warming earth and lengthening days.

As Saturday verged on Sunday, the emerging feast gradually overcrowded the kitchen table, the coffee table, the refrigerator: smoky baba ganoush and garlic-fragrant hummus; honeyed apricot pepper relish; minted, oven-roasted beets topped with feta and parsley; that beautifully colored trifecta – cumin, coriander, and carrots; Israeli health salad, crisp, tangy, refreshing; light, gingered couscous speckled with glowingly translucent apricot slices and sweet peppers; Tunisian olives, artichoke hearts, and lima beans swimming in olive oil and garlic.

Most importantly, a lamb and potato tagine.

What a menu. I’m intoxicated by these dishes, vibrantly colored, perfumed and pungent, with bottom notes of cumin, garlic, ginger, and caramelized onions, freshened by lemon, vinegar, and green, and tied with honey, olive oil, salt.

I love this mingling of savory and sweet, salt and crunch.

When I cook a dish from a specific region, I like to get a sense for the traditional preparation and culture surrounding the food: the history of the dish and the history of the spices, herbs, and vegetables utilized.

This is especially true of Middle Eastern dishes –first, because I was raised on them, and second, because historically, these dishes represent thousands of years of the good and bad: tradition, celebration, hedonism; boom and bust; invasion, cultural dispersion and colonialism.

As a very basic example, cucumbers and tomatoes, neither indigenous to the Middle East, are staples of the cuisine.

Think about it. Israeli health salad – tomatoes (Mexico), cucumbers (India), onions, olive oil, and parsley – has global roots. With a strong grasp of food history, any dish will tell you the history of the world. If you're interested, perfectly describes the origination and dispersal of virtually every staple food.

Sunday, the coffee table, five feet long by a foot and a half, is entirely covered by twelve plates of food.

Sara, Yaz, and Jose arrive. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is on. Drinks are poured. Debauchery ensues.


  1. oh wow! That looks absolutely amazing!

  2. Just found your website by way of Serious is so interesting! Have you posted recipes for the above meal? The food looks delicious. Thanks!