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A Greek Meze Party

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Move over, tapas, and make room for meze—these tasty Greek nibbles are the ideal party food

When I first stepped into a little Greek village some thirty years ago, I wasn’t yet aware that each custom I learned would come accompanied by a meatball, each tradition wrapped in phyllo, each conversation moderated with hummus, and each argument made zesty with cucumber-yogurt dip.

I had entered the land of mezedes or meze, the legendary small plates of Greece. Like tapas, their Spanish cousins, meze (meh-ZAY) are not appetizers in the first-course sense. Rather, they’re tidbits offered in a variety of settings, from sunset confabs to late-night gatherings in a café or around a kitchen table—and they’re always, always served at parties. This culinary custom derives from the ancient Greeks, who believed that no guest should be welcomed and no drinks should be served without a nibble. Three thousand years and many treats later, these Greek small plates remain, to my mind, the perfect party food, and I turn to them every time I entertain. They’re so versatile, you can make just one or two as cocktail noshes or, even better, serve up a meze spread and make it the center of the party—that’s what I do.

These eight dishes are the backbone of any meze spread—the classics you’ll find all over Greece, from chickpea, eggplant, and tangy yogurt dips to spinach and feta phyllo pie (spanakopita), crisp lamb meatballs, zucchini fritters, and stuffed grape leaves. As with all Greek food, the wonderful thing about meze is the freshness of their ingredients, which include an abundance of herbs and olive oil, and the variety of flavors, from earthy and meaty to zesty and sweet.

Menu Timeline

This timeline will help you put together a great meze party without a lot of stress.

Up to two days ahead:

  • Toast the pita chips and store in an air-tight container.
  • Grill the eggplant, cover, and refrigerate.

Up to one day ahead:

  • Make the hummus and refrigerate.
  • Make the eggplant dip and refrigerate.
  • Make the tzatziki and refrigerate.
  • Make the stuffed grape leaves and refrigerate.
  • Make the meatball mixture and refrigerate.

Up to 4 hours ahead:

  • Make and shape the zucchini fritters and refrigerate.
  • Make and bake the spanakopita.
  • Take the stuffed grape leaves out of the refrigerator and bring to a cool room temperature.

Up to 1 hour ahead:

  • Re-crisp the pita chips in a low oven.
  • Take the hummus, eggplant, and yogurt dip out of the refrigerator.
  • Fry the zucchini fritters.
  • Shape and fry the meatballs.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce:

  • 2 lb. fresh spinach
  • 1 lb. zucchini (about 3 medium)
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 small tomato
  • 2 large lemons
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 bunches scallions
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 small bunch fresh oregano
  • 1 large bunch fresh mint
  • 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 very large or 2 medium bunches fresh dill

Meat, Eggs & Dairy:

  • 1/2 lb. ground lamb
  • 1-1/2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt, preferably Greek
  • 12 oz. feta cheese
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 oz. Greek kefalotyri cheese or good-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 tsp. whole milk

Other Groceries:

  • 1 15-1/2-oz. can chickpeas
  • 1 15-oz jar grape leaves
  • 1 loaf good artisan-style bread or dense white sandwich bread (such as Pepperidge Farm’s Hearty White)
  • Ten 6- to 7-inch round pocket pita breads
  • 1 package frozen phyllo dough (such as Athens brand)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1/2 cup short-grain rice, such as arborio
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. tahini (sesame paste)

Pantry Staples:

  • 4-1/2 cups olive oil for frying
  • 1-3/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbs. red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Black peppercorns

The Menu

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