Meze: Snacks, Small Plates and Street Food from the Middle East is my first introduction to the work of Sally Butcher who has had a very successful career in food as a writer of many cookbooks such as Persia in Peckham, Veggiestan and Snackistan and also as the owner and chef of the iconic Peckham-based café and shop Persepolis.
My experience cooking Middle Eastern food is limited, however, my experience eating Middle Eastern food is a different story. I was, therefore, excited to be asked to write this review (my first ever!) as I knew I would get to cook many of the delights that I’ve consumed before.
When the book arrived I was taken aback by the beauty of the cover with intricate fabric patterns in dark greens and lively pinks – wonderfully kitsch. This style continues right the way through the book, including each of the new chapter pages, making for a pleasurable reading experience.
I find the print size of the text a little small, making for hard reading, especially through the introductory pages which are full of small text on a dark background (even if teal is my favourite colour). Luckily, it’s worth persevering to read the introduction (even with strained eyes) as it gives some interesting information about the background to meze style food. For example, the word for meze is derived from mazeh, which is Farsi for ‘taste’ – a great way to describe plentiful platters of Middle Eastern food. The author also refers to the change in eating style in the UK – these days we’re opting for less formal dining and more casual styles of food including sharing small plates and street food. Therefore this book comes at a good time for those looking to cook this style of food at home.
The book has been divided into very sensible chapters with charming, no-nonsense names such as ‘Nuts and Nibbles’, ‘Fishy Things’, ‘Meat On Sticks’, ‘Meat Not On Sticks’, ‘Hot Vegetarian Meze’, ‘Salads and Cold Meze’, ‘Mostly Carbs’, ‘Halwah: Sweet Treats’ and ‘Something To Wash It Down’. There is a very helpful index if you’re looking for something specific or have something in the fridge waiting to be used up – I can recommend the Carrot Crisps with Cardamom and Cumin, if you always buy too many carrots like I do!.
Every recipe has an introduction that either describes the history of the dish, shares some of the traditions associated with the dish or the experience that the author has had with it; these introductions not only make for interesting reading but also make the book feel personal. The introductions are very well researched and described; which is a huge help in deciding which recipes I want to cook. The layout of the recipes is pretty traditional with a list of ingredients to one side and clear instructions under the recipe introductions. The author has given alternative suggestions to ingredients to many of the recipes, which was helpful as I found it hard to source some ingredients.
Due to a very serious sweet tooth, I have a habit of flicking my way towards the pudding section as soon as I pick up a new cookbook… and I was not disappointed here. The very first recipe in this chapter ‘Umm Ali’ (Ali’s Mother’s Pudding) caught my attention not only as a nutty, sugary, pastry delight but for the revenge story that came with it – an ancient urban legend describing the history of the dish. In the legend, Umm Ali’s husband divorced her for a widowed Sultana who decided to kill the husband! Umm Ali got her revenge by killing the new wife and creating a dish to celebrate! The recipe was easy to follow and flexible in the ingredients list; I opted for a mix of pistachios, almonds and cashews as the nut mix and croissants instead of pastry. This created quite a dense dish akin to a bread pudding in texture but more like a rice pudding in flavour. It was delicious warm, but even better for breakfast the next day! Although it may not be traditional, I feel a little spice or dried fruit would have taken the dish to the next level.
The ‘Three Pea Tagine’ was another winner in my house with beautiful layered spice and slow cooked split peas with a bright mint note. It makes the perfect small plate as part of a meze style dinner. Intrigued by the ingredients, the ‘Grilled Watermelon and Halloumi’ was another delicious snack. It was very nicely balanced with spicy harissa, creamy halloumi and refreshing watermelon. Simple, yet effective.
It would be remiss of me not to cook a lamb dish in a cookbook about Middle Eastern cuisine. I opted for the classic street food: ‘Shawarma’. Marinated for 24 hours, the lamb was flash cooked and beautifully tender, served within a soft flatbread and a delicious thoom (garlic sauce) which added a powerful punch. This was my favourite of the recipes I’ve cooked thus far. The author includes a few bonus recipes to go alongside including a kebab salad mix and a gluten-free flatbread, but I was slightly disappointed at the lack of a with-gluten flatbread recipe.
Meze is a really solid Middle Eastern cookery book. It contains a large range of recipes from things you’d expect to see, to several intriguing, less familiar recipes. I’m looking forward to making the ‘Giant Couscous and Black Cumin Salad’, the intriguing ‘Mushy Pea Hummus’ and the ‘Turkish Coffee and Yogurt Cake’. Although most recipes are simple, some level of cookery skill is required so this book may not be suitable for absolute beginners. The book is very well styled (the crockery used throughout is lovely to look at) and contains well over 100 recipes. At just £12.99 RRP, that represents fantastic value for money.
Recipes from Meze
We have permission from Pavilion Books to share some recipes with you from the book, coming soon:
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Kavey Eats was provided with a review copy of Meze: Snacks, Small Plates and Street Food from the Middle East, by Sally Butcher from publisher Pavilion Books. Currently available from Amazon UK (at time of publishing) for £9.56 (RRP £12.99). Book cover image provided by publishers, all other images by Jack Thomas.