Why Americans have not adopted the idea of mezze is one I shall rue until the day I die. Mezze, coming from the Turkish meze “taste, flavour, snack, relish”, borrowed from the Persian مزه (mazze “taste, snack” < mazīdan “to taste”)(Wikipedia, “mezze”) is a series of cold and/or hot dishes that precede a meal in Turkey or sometimes serve as a meal or snack in themselves.
In short, you get all the flavors in one meal. Never boring!
Long lunches where cheerful colors greet you with a bright hello and whose flavors are as varied as the conversations that flow into the languid afternoon are truly the authentic Turkish delight. Your palate rejoices at the visitation of so many little foods that it is hard to image eating just a tub of hummus and pita chips without the bitter bite of olive or briny feta cutting through the nutty but sweet tahini. Foods complement each other when eaten in tandem and the Turks have mastered this interplay.
A mezze in Turkey would often include ezme (hot pepper compote, often with walnuts), any variety of beyaz peynir (white cheeses), haydari or cacik (yogurt dips), dolma (stuffed grape leaves with rice and spices), olives, lentil kofte (cold lentil balls), pickled vegetables, shredded vegetable salads, cold seafood or sliced tomato. These were the most common but then there are hot mezze which is a whole other post. It was such a fresh and delicious way to start a meal. In most cases, if food hadn’t been already coming, it would have been enough as it was. Ahhhh.
Today I would like to introduced to you the Shepherd’s Salad. Most often served after the mezze in sit down restaurants, we often ate it with the little bites of food. At home, it seems to fit right in with our idea of eating a side salad but can also accompany small bites as well. Shepard’s Salad at the barebones minimum was served to us as chopped cucumber and tomato and then oil and vinegar were given as a dressing. Outside of that it may include onion, green peppers, parsley, mint and sometimes white cheese such as feta crumbled in. I am speculating that if I was a shepard out in the pasture I would chop up whatever I had and eat it which is most likely the idea behind this salad. Ohh, I got a tomato and cucumber, cool, let’s grab this wild onion and little tasty herbs I see growing in the field too! Boom, salad for a shepherd.
So here is my favorite version. It is simple but flavorful. This summer I have eaten in more days than not since returning from Turkey. The best kind of tomato for this salad is not a fancy, juicy heirloom for the most part. Save that for the caprese. We are looking for a meaty one. This is where your everyday garden variety round red tomato works best. Roma or paste tomatoes are ok, too. Cucumbers such as persians or english seedless are best since the skins are thinner and there is more flesh and is less seedy as well. It is also a great base if you need to feed a crowd. The other day I wanted to stretch what I had for a few days (end of the month broke) so I tossed it with a few cups of whole wheat couscous and it was still good.
I really hope you enjoy my little piece of Turkey. If you find yourself really into Turkish cuisine you should check out the Turkish Cultural Foundation’s food site. It is extremely comprehensive.
- 2 cups of diced tomatoes
- 2 cups of diced seedless or persian cucumber
- 1/2 cup of crumbled sheep milk feta (Valbreso Feta is exquisite and well priced at any Middle Eastern store-better than on Amazon.)
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tsp sumac (great price on Amazon if you don't have a Middle Eastern or Indian store around)
- 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil (I am using a kalamata olive oil from Trader Joe's right now that is perfect with this salad)
- 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- salt to taste
- Gently toss the tomatoes, cucumber and herbs with the olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar. Add sumac and salt to taste. Crumble in feta cheese and serve immediately. The salad can be refrigerated and will last a few days alright covered.
It is nice served with Pita bread. When isn't something better with carbs?