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.