By Emma Waverman and Eshun Mott

Hot or cold, spicy or sweet, mezes are collectively eaten as a meal. Each country bordering on the Mediterranean Sea has a tradition of small plates to be shared. Spain has tapas, Italy antipasti and Turkey and the Middle East has mezes.

Unlike tapas, mezes from the Middle East are not meant to be solely an appetizer, but rather as a “come-on to taste,” says Middle East cookbook author Paula Wolfert, so people can get together to discuss their day over, what else, good food. The most common mezes are salads and dips made with local ingredients, such as eggplants (see the second recipe), tomatoes, tahini (ground sesame) and thickened yogurt. But the range of dishes can be incredibly extensive, including fried, pickled or grilled meats or fish, as well as other seasonal vegetables.

Some restaurants have a long list of mezes on their menu, with more than 30 different dishes. Typically four or five will arrive at the table and as long as you are interested, more will keep coming!

Enjoying a meal of mezes often means grabbing some hot pitas and scooping up the contents of the shared dishes. In Turkey, a glass of Raki is served with mezes, whereas in Greece you can pair them with a glass of local Retsina wine or ouzo.

To make your own mezes meal, try the following recipes. Group them up with some prepared dips such as hummus and baba ganoush, warm up some pitas and enjoy.

Muhammara (aka Roasted Red Pepper & Walnut Dip)

This delicious Syrian dip is the glamorous cousin of hummus and is equally at home as a dip for pita bread or as a sauce for meat or fish. Pomegranate molasses is available wherever you can find an array of Middle Eastern ingredients, and makes a delicious dark, sweet/tart accent to this dip. (You can substitute lemon juice if you prefer.)


  • 2 red bell peppers, quartered and seeded
  • 1 cup walnut halves
  • 2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1½ tsp chopped garlic
  • ½ tsp ground cumin, preferably freshly ground
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses (or lemon juice)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


  1. Preheat a barbecue or broiler on high heat. Grill or broil peppers with skin side closest to the heat source for 8 to 10 minutes or until skin is black and blistered. Transfer peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand until cool enough to handle, then peel off skin. Reserve.
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F. Place walnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant. Cool.
  3. Combine walnuts, bread crumbs, garlic, cumin and cayenne in the bowl of a food processor, and process until walnuts are finely ground. Add reserved peppers, olive oil and pomegranate molasses, and process until uniform. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature. Makes about 1½ cups

Smokey Eggplant Salad

Pan roasting eggplant on the stove gives this salad its delightful smokey flavour, but you need to use a heavy-duty skillet, ideally one made of cast iron, for full effect. If you don’t have one available, you can roast the eggplant on high heat on a barbecue, or even in your oven—aiming for a blackened skin wherever possible.


  • 1 eggplant (about 1½ lbs.)
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1/4 tsp chili flakes
  • ½ tsp ground cumin, preferably freshly ground
  • 1½ granulated sugar Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp coarsely chopped parsley


  1. Heat a large heavy-duty skillet on medium heat. Add eggplant and roast, turning frequently for 30 to 35 minutes or until skin is hard and blackened and eggplant is completely collapsed and tender. Cool slightly, remove stem and skin, and coarsely chop eggplant, discarding any liquid that accumulates. Reserve.
  2. Heat oil in another skillet on medium heat. Add onion, season lightly with salt, and sauté for 10 minutes or until onions are nicely browned and soft. Add garlic, chili flakes and cumin and sauté for 1 minute longer. Add reserved eggplant and stir until flavours are combined. Season eggplant with sugar, salt, pepper and lemon juice, and stir in parsley. Serve eggplant salad at room temperature with warm pita bread.
  3. Makes about 1 cup.

Emma Waverman and Eshun Mott are longtime food writers and recipe developers who penned a column for Outpost magazine, and co-authored the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them. You can find Emma regularly at Here and Now on CBC Radio One.

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