Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Appetizing Appetizers ; Tastes of the Mediterranean Will Tempt All during Holidays

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Appetizing Appetizers ; Tastes of the Mediterranean Will Tempt All during Holidays

Article excerpt

People in our area are in love with Mediterranean food; it's colorful, healthy and delicious. Holiday gatherings are a great time to put out a traditional spread of Mediterranean appetizers, often called mezze. Those we are most familiar with come from Greece and the Levantine countries at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea south of Turkey.

".. Syria, Lebanon and Jordan serve food that is about 95 percent alike," said Palestinian Amjad Manna of Manna Mediterranean restaurant on Lincoln Ave. "In Egypt it's different, and if you go into the gulf area it's different."

Manna said when we call an appetizer spread "mezze," it refers to food that is served with alcohol such as Ouzo, Arak or Raki, the anise-scented liquors popular from Greece through Turkey and the Levant. But because Muslims often do not drink alcohol, such appetizer spreads at home are usually served with tea or coffee and are called mokabelat, said Manna.

Such appetizers are reserved for fairly casual gatherings.

"When you invite someone to your house and you actually send out invitations, you have a feast - a full meal," he said. For an occasion we would call an open house or cocktail party, mokabelat or mezze are perfect.

"Most of the dishes are dipped," said Manna. "People share the large plates; we really don't have forks or saucers for it. Just go to the dish, pick up bread and dip; in a family it's casual. If you're doing it more of a buffet style, people might get a little plate, or if you have people over who aren't family they might get a plate. The assortment ranges from the dips to a few hot meat dishes to lots of pickles and salads.

"Tabbouleh is a good salad dish to serve," said Manna. "Baba ganoush is good, and kibbeh which are like meat balls, or kibbeh nea, which is raw meat. We are actually mainly vegetarians."

Other salads might include fattoush, a salad with pieces of toasted pita bread mixed in like plentiful croutons.

Hummus always is present, but not in any of the crazy flavored varieties we find in supermarkets today.

"Growing up there wasn't any flavored hummus," said Manna. "It was basically garlic or no garlic. Labne, or yogurt cheese, would be on the table. Olives are very essential and pickled vegetables, mainly cucumber, turnips, cauliflower.. we pickle a lot of vegetables."

"The pickles really are awesome," added Amjad's wife, Kristi Manna. "There are bright pink pickled turnips, you can get them at Aihua; they're great, and they do a pickled vegetable mix similar to Italian giardiniera. There are always olives and dates. When we visited Aqaba, the date trees had clusters of dates that looked like big cluster of grapes. They serve pita bread, sfeeha or mannaeish, which are like little meat or cheese pizzas."

One of Kristi Manna's favorite appetizers is fried Nablus cheese. You can find it at Aihua. It must be rinsed well or briefly boiled to remove the preservative salt.

Then fry it, with no coating, in a little olive oil in a nonstick pan until brown and crusty on the outside. Serve with sliced tomatoes and pita bread.

Drinks to serve with appetizers would include mint or another herbal tea or coffee, especially Turkish coffee, thick, strong, and spice-scented.

"To make Turkish coffee or Arabic coffee, you boil the water with sugar in a pot," said Amjad Manna.

"Then add the coffee grounds and a little ground cardamom and boil it with the water for about 10 minutes. We serve it in little- bitty cups. We never add milk or cream but some people here like to do it that way."

For dessert, consider baklava or namoura, a pastry of semolina with shredded coconut. Birds' nests of kataifi or thin shredded phyllo dough is baked filled with pistachio nuts and cheese. …

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