The Meze Table

By Lucinda Hutson
Photography by Lucinda Hutson

Hallelujah, fall is here—a lovely respite from the blistering summer. It’s time to celebrate with outdoor feasts and to revel in cooler nights. A “party on a platter” brimming with an array of tasty tidbits fits my style of entertaining—guests can serve themselves, and I get to sit back and enjoy the fête.

I love creating a traditional meze (Arabic for “many tastes”) table, featuring Middle Eastern–Mediterranean appetizers enhanced with some contemporary touches.


Think romaine leaves cradling tabbouleh alongside fresh, pickled or roasted vegetables, with chunks of feta, marinated olives and grilled pita triangles scattered around hearty spreads like baba ghanoush and hummus. For a more substantial meal, grilled chicken strips, shish kebobs or finger lamb chops marinated in fresh mint and garlic can be added.

Like Italian antipasto, meze offerings certainly make a much healthier, vibrant alternative to ubiquitous chips and salsa, and crackers and cheese. Yet even with an impressive, tempting variety, hummus always manages to steal the show. This rich delight is versatile, economical, nutritious (packed with protein, vitamins, calcium and dietary fiber), and deliciously filling. Though traditionally made from chickpeas (garbanzo beans), oil, lemon, garlic and tahini, hummus’s creamy texture lends itself to many other flavorings, variations and presentations. Some versions might include cayenne and paprika, cumin and coriander, ground sumac berries with their tart tang, or even piquant Southwestern spices. Sautéed spinach and feta, roasted garlic and red bell peppers, spicy olives or lemony artichoke hearts can provide toothsome heft. Many assorted flavors of hummus line refrigerated shelves in local markets, but it’s more fun to conjure up your own fresh favorites!

Hummus’s popularity even inspires some to borrow its name (Arabic for “chickpea”) for spreads that don’t include chickpeas! Try a faux-hummus made from ground black bean and Mexican spices, white beans with anchovies and roasted garlic, or even a colorful blend of roasted carrots and dill. Chef Michael Hinojosa of Austin’s wine-and-tapas bar Vinosity makes one of the best around: fresh beets flavored with orange zest and cumin, garnished with crumbled feta. Yum!

TOPPINGS

  • To garnish hummus, sprinkle with any of the following: fresh minced parsley, mint, cilantro, cayenne, paprika, red sumac, pomegranate seeds, toasted nuts, seeds, fried garbanzos, roasted vegetables, olive oil.
  • For dipping: consider grilled pita bread or crisps, flatbread or lavash, sesame crackers, crostini, farm fresh crudités, hearts of romaine or mound hummus with a medley of roasted veggies.