There is great joy to be had in sitting down with a group of friends to a table laden with plates and bowls of different dishes, dips and bread.
Mezze and tapas is by far one of my favourite ways to cook and eat, and it always seems amazing to me what a variety of food you can create with a relatively limited number of ingredients.
So, here are some simple Middle Eastern recipes that will have greedy guests turning up in hoards.
175g natural yogurt
200ml warm water
7g sachet fast action dried yeast
400g strong white flour
100g wholemeal flour
Olive oil, for kneading and shaping
Nigella seeds, to finish
Set the oven to 200
Put the yoghurt in a bowl, add warm water (very warm if the yoghurt is fridge cold) and stir until smooth. Mix in the yeast and let it sit for a few minutes to dissolve.
Add the flour, salt and mix to a dough. Cover the bowl, leave for ten minutes then rub oil onto the worktop. Scrape the dough onto it. Oil your hands well, then knead until soft and springy. Leave in a bowl for half an hour to rise.
Divide the dough into two pieces. Stretch and fold into two rectangles.
Line a baking tray with baking parchment and flip the dough rectangles onto it. Leave uncovered for 30 minutes.
After half an hour, stretch the dough out a little more, oil the top of the dough and sprinkle with nigella seeds. Leave to rise for another 15 minute and then bake for 25 minutes until golden.
2tsp cumin seeds
2tsp coriander seeds
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained
1.5tsp baking powder
1tbs plain flour
100g carrot, finely grated
1 red chili, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1tbs chopped fresh coriander
2tbs chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon, zest only
Vegetable oil for frying
Sesame seeds to garnish
Dry fry the seeds. Grind in pestle and mortar.
Put the chickpeas in a food processor. Pulse. Add the ground seeds, salt and pepper and the rest of the ingredients, except for the vegetable oil and sesame seeds. Pulse again. Check for seasoning. Chill for half an hour.
Roll the mixture into flattish balls. Roll in the sesame seeds.
Heat 5cm oil in a pan. Fry the falafel in batches and serve.
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Handful of sliced mint
Two handfuls of fresh parsley, chopped
Pinch of cumin
1tbsp of lemon juice
2tbsp of olive oil
Toss the onion with the mint, sumac, salt and pepper. Leave to rest for ten minutes so the onion starts to soften. Add the rest of the ingredients.
Chickpea, Spinach and Tomato Stew
1 red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Small piece of ginger, thinly sliced
2 mild chilis, chopped
1tsp garam masala
1tsp ground cumin
4 tomatoes, chopped
2tsp tomato puree
400g can of chickpea, rinsed and drained
200g spinach leaves
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Fry the onion over a low heat until softened. Stir in the ginger, garlic and chilis and cook for 5 more minutes.
Add the turmeric, garam masala and cumin. Tip in the chopped tomatoes and the tomato puree. Simmer for five minutes.
Add the chickpeas to the pan with 300ml of water. Simmer for ten minutes. Stir in the spinach to wilt and serve.
Courgette-wrapped Feta and Olives
Chop the olives, tomatoes and parsley. Mix into the ricotta with the crumbled feta. Season with salt, pepper and lemon zest.
Slice the courgette into long thin strips. Fry in a griddle pan or bake in the oven with olive oil.
Wrap each courgette strip around a spoonful of the ricotta filling. And serve.
Cracked Wheat Salad
Cracked wheat (also sometimes labelled bulgur wheat)
Lemon juice and zest
Cook the cracked wheat.
Cut a small cross on the bottom of the tomatoes. Cover with boiling water and leave for ten seconds. Peel the skin off. Remove the seeds and dice.
Chop the cucumber, slice the red onion and chop the herbs.
Mix all the ingredients together and season.
2 x 400g cans of chickpeas
2 garlic cloves, crushed
6tbs olive oil
3.5tbs lemon juice
Paprika and parsley or coriander leaves to serve
Rinse the chickpeas in cold water and tip into the food processor.
Add the tahini, crushed garlic, salt, lemon juice and a splash of water. Turn on and slowly pour in the oil as it runs. Check seasoning and consistency. If necessary add more salt, lemon and/or tahini. If it too thick add more oil or water.
Serve with a garnish of paprika and herbs.
Finely slice the mint. Chop the cucumber into cubes. Crush the garlic. Mix all the ingredients together and serve.
Carrot Salad Recipe
Mild green chilli
Roughly grate the carrot. Finely dice the chilli. Mix the lemon, olive oil, cumin, chilli and harissa to make a dressing.
Finely chop the parsley. Mix and serve.