Well, dear friends, we’ve been making snacks, main courses and desserts – but how about a nice starter for a really rounded dinner? There are few tastier things in the world than a choice of appetisers prepared with love and savoir faire.
Mediterranean countries excel in this art of making delicious starters; I’ve been concentrating here on Turkey, Greece, Italy and France. In Turkey they’re called mezze, in Greece mezedakia, in Italy antipasti, and in France hors d’oeuvre – and they’re all a lot easier to do than you might think!
Ingredients are for 2 or more, according to how many of them you prepare at the same time…
Stuffed pointed peppers
2 pointed sweet red peppers (ramiro or florina), 150g feta cheese, olive oil
Let’s start with a famous Turkish mezze: Cut the tops off the peppers and remove the seeds; cube the feta cheese into small cubes.
Stuff the peppers with the feta cubes and fry them from all sides for 2-3 minutes, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Serve with pita bread or flatbread!
Baked aubergine with honey
1 aubergine, 3-4tbsp flour, 100ml honey, olive oil
This is a recipe from Asia Minor which we’ve had lots of times at our restaurant in Piraeus which specialises in this wonderful Greek-Turkish food mix – and believe me, friends, it’s simply incredibly tasty! And when I first did it myself very recently, I found out it’s surprisingly easy to do at home as well:
Cut the aubergine into cubes about 1 ½ to 2cm big. Put the flour on a plate and roll the aubergine bits in them. Put them in a baking tin laid out with baking foil, brush them with olive oil all around and then pour the honey over them.
Bake them in the oven at 180°C for 25 minutes; after about 15 minutes, take the tin out and turn all the bits around with the help of two spatulas. A great treat to make any dinner special!
200g Greek yoghurt, ½ cucumber, 1tsp lemon juice, 1-2 cloves garlic, 1tbsp olive oil, mint, salt
Now let’s move on to Greece, where the mezedakia make up a big – and often the most delicious – part of a dinner; and tzatziki is an indispensable part of them!
Peel and grate the cucumber, put it into a sieve or on several layers of kitchen paper and squeeze the water out with more kitchen paper. Grate the garlic finely. Then, in a bowl, mix the cucumber with the yoghurt, the garlic, the oil and the lemon juice and season with mint and salt. Serve with an olive or a cocktail tomato on top and fresh white bread!
2 courgettes, flour, salt, pepper, olive oil
Another Greek favourite that’s literally child’s play to do at home:
Slice the courgettes lengthwise into slices about 5mm thick; put flour on a plate and dip the courgette slices into it, then salt and pepper them on both sides. In a big frying pan with a lot of oil, fry the slices on both sides for 7-8 minutes until they’re brown and then serve them on a dessert plate with white bread. You can do this with aubergines as well, by the way!
200g feta cheese, 1 egg, 5-6tbsp flour, ¼ lemon, salt, pepper, oregano, olive oil
A saganaki basically is a small frying pan in Greece, in which you can prepare all sorts of tasty starters; but the most famous of them is feta saganaki – fried feta cheese.
Slice the feta into 8-10 slices; beat the egg with salt, pepper and oregano and put it on a plate. On another plate, spread the flour. Then, dip the feta slices first in the egg and then in the flour and fry in very hot oil for a few minutes until they turn golden brown.
Serve with the lemon slice and, if you like, a sliced tomato or a leaf of lettuce and white bread.
Fried aubergines in tomato sauce
1 aubergine, 100ml passata, salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper, parsley, olive oil
And here’s a favourite and very easy Italian antipasto: slice the aubergine into slices about 5mm thick. Fry them in a big pan with a lot of oil; when they’ve soaked up all the oil and start getting golden brown, add the passata and the spices and simmer until the sauce is really thick and the aubergine slices almost start falling apart. Serve with olives or tomato slices and fresh white bread!
1 tomato, 2 slices ciabatta (or other white) bread, 50g parmesan, salt, garlic powder, 2tbsp olive oil
Put the bread slices on a baking tray laid out with baking foil; preheat the oven to 220°C. Mix the olive oil, salt and garlic powder and brush the slices with it.
Slice the tomato and put the slices on the bread slices, then top with parmesan. Grill in the oven for 5-6 minutes – ready!
Prosciutto with honey melon
200g thinly sliced prosciutto, ½ honey melon
A very simple starter that doesn’t involve any cooking! Cut the honey melon half into 6 slices and peel them. Then, cut into smaller pieces about 3-4cm big and wrap each bit in a slice of prosciutto. Put a little skewer on each of them and serve on a big plate – very refreshing in hot weather!
Devilled eggs (Uova ripiene)
4 eggs, 2tbsp mayonnaise, 1tsp mustard, salt, paprika
This recipe goes way back to ancient Rome – and you can get as creative as you like here, because hard-boiled eggs go with anything from mayonnaise to chopped onions to caviar!
Here’s a classic recipe, though: Boil the eggs in water for 7-8 minutes. Let them cool down, then peel and halve them; remove the egg yolks and mix them in a bowl with the other ingredients. Spoon the mixture back onto the egg whites and put into the fridge for 30 minutes before serving. You can decorate them with leaves of parsley or dill!
And, if you don’t like it too complicated, you can just put the mayonnaise-mustard-salt-paprika mix on top of the halved eggs…
Hors d’oeuvre plate
100g salami, 100g ham, 100g prosciutto, 100g goose liver pate, 10-12 olives, 100g anchovis in oil, 100g cubed cheese (gouda, edam, cheddar or whatever you prefer), ½ honey melon, 200g grapes, ¼ lemon, fresh parsley
Here’s what a typical French hors d’oeuvre plate looks like: drape the cold meats, the fish and the cheese nicely on one half of a big plate, slice and peel the melon, cut it into bits and add it together with the grapes and the lemon slice (which you can then squeeze on the cold meats and the fish) on the other side of the plate. Decorate with branches of fresh parsley and serve with slices of fresh white bread.
1 camembert cheese, 1 tomato, 1 egg, 4-6 olives, 50g grated walnuts, 2tbsp flour, salt, pepper, thyme, basil, parsley, olive oil
Another French classic: mix the nuts with the spices and herbs and the flour and spread them on a plate; whisk the egg and put it on another plate. Cut the camembert into 4 quarters and dip the pieces first into the whisked egg, then into the flour mixture and then fry them in oil until they’re golden brown and start melting.
Serve on a plate with the sliced or quartered tomato, the olives and sliced white bread.
Summer is coming, dear friends; you may not be able to go abroad this year, but you can bring the Mediterranean cuisine right into your own kitchen! Enjoy preparing and eating…