Mezze magic

A few Saturdays ago I invited some of my gal pals over for a long overdue catch up. Cue free-flowing fizz and lots of screeching. The vibe was informal and relaxed (think cosy kitchen supper) so I decided to make a Middle Eastern feast; basically food to graze on that wouldn’t distract us from getting all the gossip.

I consulted my growing library of cookery books and after some deliberation, opted for houmous (naturally), falafel, a broad bean dip and a couple of salads. I thought I’d share these recipes so that you can get a little taster from these books – try before you buy if you will.

These dishes are really easy to make and require barely any actual cooking but if you’re serving them all together, preparation is key as there is a fair bit of chopping, grating and opening tins (I’m lazy, ok?) involved.

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Not the best of photos but I was too busy entertaining, darling…

Houmous

This was actually the first time I’d made my own houmous. You see, I’ve never been that au fait with food processors but my lovely housemates have one that they let me use. Let me tell you, it’s a game changer. Here’s an easy peasy recipe from Deliciously Ella’s first book. Yes, she’s very ‘clean eating’ but I like Ella’s approach to creating quick, healthy and tasty food.

To make the houmous, chuck two 400g tins of chickpeas, a clove of garlic, two teaspoons of ground cumin, the juice of two lemons, a few generous glugs of olive oil and some salt and pepper into a food processor and blend. That’s it. This makes a large bowlful.

Broad bean and avocado dip with lemon and thyme

My sister Jess bought me Peace and Parsnips: Vegan Cooking for Everyone by Lee Watson for my birthday and boy, was it a good present. It’s a lovely book to look at and will give you lots of plant-powered inspiration. So far, I’ve only made this dip but I’m really looking forward to trying some more of Lee’s recipes, especially his amazing-looking burgers.

Making this dip is another job for the blender. Boil or steam 300g of broad beans (I used frozen), let them cool and then chuck in a food processor with two ripe avocadoes, a clove of garlic, the juice and zest of one lemon and a bit of mint and thyme. As you blend, gradually add three tablespoons of olive oil. This makes a large bowlful.

Falafel

I’ll admit that I have a bit of a girl crush on Áine Carlin: she’s super cool, wears beautiful vintage clothing and makes delicious vegan dishes. I want to be her. Her second book, The New Vegan, is full of fuss-free food and looks like an Instagram feed on paper.

To make Áine’s falafel simply blend two 400g tins of chickpeas with two spring onions (I used half a leek instead), two garlic cloves, a heaped teaspoon of ground cumin, half a teaspoon of paprika, a tablespoon of plain flour, the juice of half a lemon, two tablespoons of olive oil and a bit of fresh coriander. Once it’s blended, make little patties (you should get about twelve depending on how big you make them) and pop onto a baking tray into a preheated oven at 200C. Bake for twenty minutes then turn the patties over and cook for another twenty minutes.

Carrot, beetroot and sesame salad

This salad is from Deliciously Ella’s second book and is really fresh and colourful, which is usually a sure fire-sign that something’s healthy – unless you count M&Ms. It’s also a doddle to make.

Peel two beetroots and three carrots, and grate. Mix the grated roots in a bowl with four tablespoons of sesame seeds, three tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, two tablespoons of maple syrup and some salt. This should serve four people if served as a side.

Warm kale, chickpea and orange salad

Another one of the ‘clean eating’ brigade, Madeleine Shaw describes this salad as a ‘nutritional powerhouse’ but never mind that, it’s delicious. It comes from her book, Get the Glow.

Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a pan with a finely chopped white onion and two teaspoons of ground cumin and sauté over a medium heat for five minutes. Add a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger plus salt and pepper and stir for a minute. Add a drained 400g tin of chickpeas and cook for a further five minutes, stirring constantly. Add some chopped kale (three or four leaves will do) and a grated courgette to the pan and cook for another five minutes, stirring every so often. Just before serving add the zest and juice of one orange and more salt and pepper. Serve warm. This should serve four people if served as a side.

Roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad

This is one of Ottolenghi’s simpler recipes – he is known, after all, for his lengthy lists of ingredients. This recipe is from the magnificent Jerusalem.

Preheat the oven to 220C and mix cauliflower florets (use a whole head) with three tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Spread out onto a roasting tin and roast on the top shelf for 25-35 minutes then transfer to a large mixing bowl to cool down. Reduce the oven temperature to 170C, place 30g of hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast for 17 minutes. Allow the nuts to cool a little then roughly chop them and add to the cauliflower. Add another two tablespoons of olive oil, 50g of pomegranate seeds, half a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and allspice, a tablespoon of sherry vinegar and two teaspoons of maple syrup and stir the mixture. Season with salt and pepper, add some parsley and serve warm. This should serve four people if served as a side.

As an extra dish, I made some bulgur wheat (with a bit of olive oil and lemon juice) with chopped dried apricots, dried cranberries and pistachio nuts. I added a bit of parsley and mint too. This would work just as well with couscous, buckwheat or quinoa.

If you’re after some easy eats for entertaining, you can’t go wrong with mezze. Just make sure you make lots – more is more, especially when it comes to houmous.

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