Beat the heat with cold mezze platters put together with cooling and light dips, lentils and seasonal vegetables, says Rahul Verma
We had all met for lunch to mark a friend’s 50th birthday. Why on earth was he born in the middle of summer, I asked him, wiping the sweat off my brow with a huge handkerchief. He didn’t bother to reply, he was too busy eating.
When you can’t beat ’em, you join ’em. So I took a piece of bread from the mezze platter in front of me, dipped it in a small mound of chilled curd with grated cucumber and popped it into my mouth. And it seemed as if an AC was switched on inside me.
Mezze — eaten in parts of the Middle East and North Africa mostly as an appetizer — can be used as an internal cooler, or a heater, if you put the right kind of ingredients together. When the weather is cold, it can comprise anything from rich meat kebabs to creamy cheese-filled filos. When the temperature soars, chefs use a wide range of summer ingredients to help you keep cool.
Take something like hummus with pistachio and beetroot. All that you need for this is boiled chickpeas, which you blend with tahina paste, olive oil and lemon juice. Refrigerate this and then add some pistachio and beetroot to it. Serve it cold with crackers.
In this awful heat, I see summer mezze catching on. That’s what food consultant Manu Mohindra believes, too. “With the use of light summer vegetables, lentils and dips, you can have an excellent summer mezze platter,” he says.
Mohindra has curated a menu of cool (and cold) mezze for a restaurant called Zerzura in Delhi. It includes a host of interesting items — such as chilli garlic pickled olives. For this, mix black olives, stuffed green olives, garlic cloves, olive oil, red wine vinegar, chilli flakes, salt, oregano and brown sugar in an airtight container. Shake well and keep aside in a cool place. Serve topped with feta cheese.
Also on the menu is cheese babaganoush, for which brinjals are roasted, skinned and de-seeded. The pulp is finely chopped and mixed with olive oil. It is seasoned with chopped parsley, roasted cumin powder, garlic paste and salt, and then baked with grated cheese on top. Once it cools, add it to your mezze platter for a different kind of a taste.
Other chefs, too, believe in the cooling qualities of mezze. “This is perfect for summer entertainment,” maintains chef Prasad Metrani of The Westin Pune, who used to earlier look after Souk, the Mediterranean restaurant at Taj Bengal. Mezze ingredients such as brinjals, tomatoes, peppers, lemon and zucchini cool the system, as do sweet smelling herbs such as thyme, oregano, mint and parsley, he adds.
Both Mohindra and Metrani believe that there is nothing quite as cooling as a dish called adasi. Chef Metrani uses green (saboot moong) dal for this dish. He cooks it in a large pot with water, and then adds onions to it, letting it simmer till the dal is tender. He heats olive oil in a pan and sautés garlic. He then stirs in the dal. He mixes flour with water separately and adds this and turmeric to the dal. He covers and cooks it till the dal is mashed. And then he serves it cold after adding lemon juice and coriander.
Pomegranate syrup, Mohindra adds, is another suitable ingredient and works well drizzled over a walnut spread. “Pomegranate syrup is cooling,” he says.
To battle the heat, eat well — and wisely. And you’ll find the internal AC whirring away to glory.
Photographs by Jagan Negi;
Courtesy: Zerzura, Qutab Hotel, Delhi