Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tapas and Mezes...create a cultural experience in one meal!

Tapas is the name of a wide variety of appetizers predominately in Spanish cuisine. They may be cold or warm. In North America and the UK, tapas have evolved into an entire cuisine - and can be the beginning stages of any cuisine or made into a full meal.

Mezes or mezze is the term used in the Eastern Mediterranean (Persian, Greek, Arabic and Turkish influence) They are a selection of appetizers or small dishes often served with a beverage, like anise-flavored liqueurs or different wines.

In essence both are similar in nature, however, they originate from two different places. They have also been called: small plates, mini salads or even side plates. But there is an associated authenticity and cultural flare when you call them Tapas or Mezes...

So in my Moroccan Flavours cooking class, the participants created a sampling a three little salads that were the "appetizers" of the well rounded Moroccan meal. Actually, the true appetizer or starter recipe was a smokey eggplant dip with wilted spinach and spelt lavash, but let's not complicate things.

The whole point of what I am getting at, is that it can be extremely simple to prepare a few different small little salads, which together can create the beginning of delicious meal.

It may seem like a lot of work to prepare three different salads, but if you think of it this way, now you have three different salads to choose from and if you really don't like one at least you've got two more to munch on!

At the very least the goal is to have a small sampling of different flavours that compliment each other and taste great together!

Since the theme of the night was Moroccan...the flavours of cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, fennel, lemon and mint were the inspiration of most of the recipes.

But you can do this with any combination of flavours with any variety of spices and ingredients of choice. Whether your palate is Indian, Asian, Spanish, French - you can really have a lot of fun with Tapas!

So here is some insight to what you see above and you will see that it is fairly simple and quite fun to create a cultural experience in just three little recipes!

Zesty Citrus Mint Salad


4 oranges, supreme and cut in half
4 grapefruits, supremed and cut in half
½ bunch of mint, chopped finely

For the Dressing
½ cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 orange, juiced
5 mint leaves

1. Supreme the oranges and grapefruits and then cut each slice in half.
2. Strain the chopped slices over a mesh colander and place in a large bowl.
3. Finely chop the mint and combine with orange and grapefruit slices.
4. In a separate jar or bowl mix together the olive oil, salt, orange zest, a few mint leaves and orange juice.
5. Allow dressing to infuse overnight or for 2-3 hours.
6. Pour the marinade over the oranges and grapefruit, discarding the mint leaves.

Speckled Lemon and Fennel Salad


2 heads of fennel, thinly sliced
1 preserved lemon, finely minced and diced or zest of one lemon
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp agave nectar
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
¼ teaspoon sea salt

1. Using a mandolin, slice fennel into fine slices
2. Dice the preserved lemon and combine with fennel
3. In a separate bowl mix together, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, agave nectar, sea salt and black sesame seeds
1. Pour dressing over fennel and allow to sit for 2-3 hours in refrigerator

Beet Cumin Salad


2medium beets
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon sea salt
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp ground cumin
½ cup olive oil

1. Boil beets a medium saucepan for 30 minutes.
2. Remove beets from boiling water (reserve beet juice), allow cooling and gently removing the skins.
3. Using a mandolin, slice beets into long strips (about ½ inch thick).
4. In the pot with reserved beet juice, heat and combine apple cider vinegar, agave nectar, garlic, cloves, cinnamon sticks, fennel seeds and sea salt allow to come to a boil and reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
5. Allow beet juice mixture to cool and then pour mixture over beets and let it sit absorbing the liquid for a few hours or overnight.
6. Place cumin powder into a jar with olive oil, shake a few times with lid sealed and allow oil to infuse for a few hours.
7. Remove beets from juice and place into a large bowl and stir in cumin oil and chopped parsley.
8. Serve and enjoy.

This recipe can also be done with Raw Beets and the dressing can be amended by infusing the other herbs in the oil with the cumin for several hours and then combining it with apple cider and agave nectar.

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