Mazzah – Middle Eastern hors d'oeuvres – range from the inspired simplicity of ripe cantaloupe slices served with pieces of salty feta cheese, through multitudinous salads, pickles, vegetables and dips, to elaborate preparations like herb-stuffed sardines grilled in vine leaves. Many a diner has browsed his way to the discovery that mazzah alone make an ample, delicious and various meal. Here are three stars from this culinary constellation: tabbulah, the salad of parsley, mint and cracked wheat that is one of the best-known mazzah outside the Arab world; baba ghannuj, also called mutabbal, a smoky-flavored eggplant dip; and green bell peppers stuffed with a spiced rice mixture, strangely refreshing when served cool.
PARSLEY AND CRACKED WHEAT SALAD—Tabbulah
85 grams (3 oz., ½ cu.) burghul
2 bunches flat-leaf parsley (about 30 gr. before washing, or 1½ cu. chopped)
1 bunch fresh mint (about 10 gr. before washing, or ½ cu. chopped)
3 green onions or 1 small onion
1 large tomato
90 milliliters (3 oz., 6 tbs.) lemon juice
60 milliliters (2½ oz., 4 tbs.) olive oil
1 romaine lettuce (optional)
Wash the burghul and squeeze out the water. Wash and chop the parsley, mint and green onions very fine. Dice the tomatoes. Combine all ingredients including burghul. Add salt to taste, lemon juice, olive oil and mix well. Serve in a bowl lined with lettuce leaves. This salad can be eaten with a fork, but the traditional way is to scoop up a bite of the mixture in a lettuce leaf and pop it into the mouth.
STUFFED GREEN PEEPERS—Filfil Rumi Mahshi
6 green peppers
180 grams (6 oz., ¾ cu.) pine nuts
4 large onions
250 grams (9 oz., 1½ cu.) olive oil
450 grams (1 lb, 2 1/3 cu.) long-grain rice
125 grams (4 oz., ½ cu.) currants
5 grams (1 tsp.) salt, 3 grams (1 tsp.) pepper
15 grams (1 tbs.) sugar, water to cover
7 grams (½ cu.) mint
4 grams (1 tsp.) allspice
lemon slices, tomato wedges
10 grams (½ cu.) chopped flat–leaf parsley
30 milliliters (1 oz., 2 tbs.) lemon juice
Choose medium-sized green peppers. Wash them and cut out the stems. Core with an apple-corer or paring knife. Make the stuffing by lightly frying the pine nuts and chopped onions in olive oil. Add the washed rice and cook, stirring, for five minutes. Add the currants, salt, pepper and sugar. Pour in water to about twice the depth of the other ingredients in the pot and simmer until the water is absorbed. Add mint, allspice and lemon juice. When cool, stuff each pepper loosely, as the rice will swell. Cover open end of pepper with a slice of tomato like a lid. Set the stuffed peppers in a single layer in a large pan or dish. Sprinkle with salt and sugar, drizzle a little olive oil and 250 milliliters (1 cup) of water over them and simmer very slowly until the peppers are just tender. Decorate with chopped parsley, lemon slices and tomato slices or wedges, and refrigerate. Serve cool.
Other vegetables stuffed in the same manner are tomatoes, zucchini (courgettes), eggplant (aubergines), cabbage leaves or grape leaves. Both kinds of leaves should be briefly parboiled to make them tender and flexible.
EGGPLANT DIP—Baba Ghannuj
1 large round eggplant (aubergine)
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
60 milliliters (3 oz., 4 tbs.) tahinah
60 milliliters (2 oz., 4 tbs.) lemon juice
salt, red pepper
slices of red bell pepper to garnish
Cook the eggplant in a hot oven or on a fork over the flame of a gas stove. When it is well cooked through and the skin is blackened, douse in cold water, peel and chop into small pieces. Mash two or three cloves of garlic to a paste with about the same volume of salt. Add eggplant, mash to a smooth consistency and blend in the tahinah and lemon juice to make the Arab version of this dish; omit the tahinah for the Turkish version. Serve in a bowl with a little olive oil on top and garnish with chopped parsley, red pepper slices and a dusting of red pepper. Serves five.