Little Dishes: Starters, Tapas, Mezze and the Rest.

The custom of serving appetizers, called Mezze in the Middle East and Tapas in Spain, with drinks is an important and most delightful part of Mediterranean life. It is less a part of family life than of entertaining and of the outside world of cafes, tavernas and kebab houses. It signifies leisure, camaraderie and good humour. In the Mediterranean you do not drink very much and you never drink without eating. You have time to enjoy the moment in an unhurried way and to sharpen your conversational skills.” Claudia Roden, Mediterranean Cookery, BBC Books 1987.

Tapas in Toulouse
Look what I had on a recent work trip. We had a few hours to kill whilst waiting for the plane. So we decided to visit a Tapas bar, as you do. Look what turned up.
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We were completely blown away by this. Tomato brushettas with a gorgeous selection of meats. A mixed plate of fantastic cheese with a salad and a bowl of deep-fried onion rings, croquet and a dipping sauce. This was such a good morale booster after a challenging couple of days! Just in case anyone wants to know, the establishment is called Cafe Koss and can be found in Place St. George in Toulouse in the south of France.

Little Dishes
Usually, you will see this described as Tapas and Mezze in the Mediterranean and Middle East, but the way I see it these things are really quite commonplace. Side dishes, antipasto, skittle food, appitisers, finger food are universal. After all, is there a pub anywhere in the land which can’t produce a plate of chips and a bottle of ketchup for us to share with a round of beers? I think not.

I thought I would have a play and try a few things out. So here we are:

Pan con tomate y jamon
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Bread with tomato and cured ham. Inspired by my visit to Toulouse, obviously, and a Spanish institution that everyone should try I’m told. Brilliant with a obcscenely large glass (or two, or three) of a good Chenin Blanc.

Calamares Fritos
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Squid rings deep-fried in a tempura batter with lemon wedges served with a spicy tomato, onion and garlic sauce dip. This is so, so good. A taste of the sea. For what it’s worth, I make my tomato sauce roughly 50/50 tinned and fresh. Actually, I also threw in a few king prawns as well 🙂

Fried Mushrooms in Garlic Butter with Chorizo.
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This is just fantastic! If you do anything from this selection do this! The mushrooms are fried in olive oil and garlic butter. To make the garlic butter simply mash diced garlic into butter. Either whizz or use a pestle and mortar. You can’t beat the texture of a pestle and mortar though. As for proportions? Well, how much do you like garlic? How much do you like butter? I like lots. For myself, as a rule of thumb, if I think I have enough garlic I generally need to add a lot more! What really makes this work is to fry a little chorizo and onion along side. Finish with a little parsley, paprika and cayenne pepper. The cayenne pepper is essential. Don’t forget to serve with lots of bread to soak up the butter in the bottom. Trust me, this one is so good it’s to die for.

Patatas Bravas
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Clearly one of the great classics. Deep fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce. In my view, every pub in the UK should serve this one 😉 Par boil the potatoes, dry them off completely and deep fry until golden brown. I like to roughen mine up a little in the colander after boiling. A little salt and a little pepper on the top and add a hot, spicy tomato sauce to finish this off. Heaven in the mouth.

Roasted Peppers and Anchovies
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How simple is this? yet so tasty! Blacken the peppers in a hot oven and chuck in to a sealed bag. When cooled the skin will come away quite easily. The effect of roasting the peppers is wonderful. As for the anchovies? Open a tin. Add a drop or two of vinegar to the retained oil and drizzle over the top.

Shrimp and a dipping sauce.
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Ok, not classic mediterranean but simple and nice. Just a bowl of shrimp, diced onion and lemon wedges with a Chinese style dipping sauce. You could use aioli, tomato or how about a Thousand Island dressing? maybe scatter some diced olives across the top? What else could you do with this?

Deep Fried Onion and pepper rings.
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Another simple one. The onion and pepper rings were deep-fried in batter. The onion rings are classic of course and, in my view, the pepper rings should be classic too!

Olives, Cheese and Tomato.
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Finally, just a simple bowl of pimento stuffed olives with cubes of goat’s cheese with cherry tomatoes drizzled with a good virgin olive oil. Nice to pick at whilst cooking and blogging!

At the end of the day.
I realise I have not even begun to scratch the surface with this. This is something that could run almost forever. I’m certainly not finished. My imagination is running riot! No doubt I will post more in the future. In the meantime, what’s your favourite little dish?