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Meze – Part 3


Grilled Harissa Shrimp Skewers

These fiery Tunisian-inspired shrimp skewers are great as part of a meze feast or as an appetizer. Serve them with a simple salad, such as Classic Tabbouleh or Chickpea, Halloumi, Red Onion & Cilantro Salad. You will need four wooden skewers.

PREP : 15 minutes
MARINATE : 30 minutes
COOK : 6 minutes

  • 8 ounces (about 24) raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, defrosted if frozen
  • 2 teaspoons rose harissa
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • pinch of sea salt flakes
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve
  1. Mix the shrimp, rose harissa, fine sea salt, garlic, and half the cilantro together in a large bowl. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  2. Soak four wooden skewers in water for 20 minutes, then drain well. Thread the shrimp onto the skewers and brush them lightly with the oil.
  3. Heat a ridged grill pan or heavy skillet over high heat until smoking hot. Lay the skewers on the pan, reduce the heat slightly, and cook for 4–6 minutes, or until pink and cooked through, turning halfway.
  4. Serve the skewers immediately, sprinkled with the remaining cilantro and the sea salt flakes, with lemon wedges for squeezing over the shrimp.

Cook’s tip : For extra flavor, add the grated zest of an un waxed lemon to the marinade. Don’t add lemon juice, because it will “cook” the shrimp before they go on the grill pan.


Stuffed Grape Leaves

A plate of stuffed grape leaves is one of the most popular meze in the Middle East. The leaves (sometimes called vine leaves) can be stuffed with meat, rice, or vegetables, or a combination of all three. You could easily make a vegetarian version by omitting the meat and doubling the tomato.

PREP : 45 minutes
COOK : 1½ hours

  • 7 ounces drained grape leaves (about 28)
  • ½ cup basmati or other long-grain rice
  • about 3 cups boiling water
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces fresh ground beef or lamb
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  1. Separate the grape leaves and put them into a large bowl. Cover with water, then rinse with three changes of water. Cover with more water and soak for 25 minutes, then drain well.
  2. Meanwhile, rinse the rice in several changes of water. Put it into a saucepan and cover with 1¼–1¾ inches boiling water. Parboil for 3 minutes, then drain well.
  3. Put the rice into a medium bowl. Add the garlic, onion, tomatoes, meat, salt, oregano, and mint, and mix well using your hands.
  4. Put a steamer basket in a large saucepan. Line the basket with any torn grape leaves plus the smallest ones. Lay half the lemon slices on the leaves.
  5. Lay one of the bigger grape leaves, vein side up, on a work surface. Put a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center. Fold the top of the leaf over the filling, then fold over the two sides before rolling up the leaf into a cylinder, with the folded edge underneath.
  6. Put the stuffed grape leaf in the steamer basket. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling. Your basket should be full, with tightly packed layers. Finish with a layer of lemon slices.
  7. Pour 1¾ cups water into the saucepan, cover the steamer with a tightly fitting lid, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and steam for 1 hour 25 minutes, or until the rice and meat have cooked through and the grape leaves have softened.
  8. These are best served hot, but can also be served cold.

Cook’s tip : Vacuum-packed grape leaves, if you can find them, are easier to work with than those from jars.



This simple, traditional Levantine recipe of crispy meat-stuffed pita breads is a perfect snack. You’ll be hard-pressed to get any from the oven to the table—they’re too delicious not to be eaten straight from the baking sheet. For a vegetarian alternative, substitute finely chopped cremini mushrooms for the meat.

PREP : 25 minutes
COOK : 1 hour

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 8 ounces fresh ground beef or lamb
  • 2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 3 large pinches of sea salt flakes
  • large pinch of pepper
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 whole wheat pita breads
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over low heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook for 1 minute, until aromatic. Add the onion and garlic, increase the heat to medium–high, and sauté for 10 minutes, or until golden.
  2. Reduce the heat to low, add the ginger, coriander, and ground cumin, and sauté for 1–2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the meat, increase the heat to medium–high, and cook for 10 minutes, or until it is well browned, breaking it up using a wooden spoon.
  3. Add the tomatoes and a large pinch of salt and pepper, stir, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 20 minutes, then stir in most of the parsley. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  4. Halve or quarter the pita breads and carefully open the pockets. Stuff each pocket with a heaping tablespoon of the filling, then place on a baking sheet. Brush each pocket on both sides with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and sprinkle with a large pinch of salt. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and crispy.
  5. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the remaining parsley and a large pinch of salt.

Cook’s tip : The meat filling can be cooked up to a day in advance if covered and refrigerated once cool.


Beet Falafel with Pita Breads

Traditionally deep-fried, these ruby-colored falafel are flavored with cumin and sumac, then roasted. Serve in homemade pita breads with tzatziki and lettuce.

PREP : 1 hour
COOK : 35 minutes
RISE : 55 minutes

  • 1 (28-ounce) can chickpeas in water, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 raw beets, coarsely grated
  • large pinch of sea salt
  • large pinch of pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, for brushing
  • 8 lettuce leaves, shredded, to serve
  • Whole wheat pita breads
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour, plus 2½ teaspoons, for dusting
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt flakes, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • about ⅔–¾ cup warm water
  • Tzatziki
  • ½ cucumber, halved, seeded, and finely chopped
  • ⅔ cup Greek-style plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
  • pinch of sea salt
  • pinch of pepper
  1. For the pita breads, mix together the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and cumin in a bowl. Add the oil, then gradually mix in enough warm water to make a soft dough. Dust a work surface with 1 teaspoon of flour. Knead the dough on the surface for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Return it to the bowl, cover it with a clean dish towel, and put it in a warm place for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size.
  2. When you are almost ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425°F. Dust a work surface with 1 teaspoon of flour. Knead the dough gently, then cut it into four pieces and roll out each piece into an oval about the size of your hand. Let rise for 10 minutes.
  3. Lightly dust two baking sheets with the remaining flour, then put them in the oven for 5 minutes. Add the breads to the hot baking sheets and bake for 5–10 minutes, or until puffed up and lightly browned. Wrap them in a clean dish towel to keep them soft.
  4. Meanwhile, put the chickpeas in a food processor or blender, in small batches, and process into a coarse paste, scraping down the sides of the goblet several times using a spatula. Pour them into a bowl. Add the red onion, garlic, cumin, sumac, baking powder, and beets, season with the salt and pepper, then mix together, using a fork.
  5. Spoon the mixture into 20 mounds on a cutting board, then squeeze them into balls. Brush a large roasting pan with a little oil, then heat it in the oven for 5 minutes. Add the falafels and brush well with more oil. Roast for 20–25 minutes, turning once or twice, until browned and cooked through; break one open and taste to check.
  6. Meanwhile, to make the tzatziki, put the cucumber, yogurt, and mint in a bowl, season with the salt and pepper, and mix well.
  7. To serve, halve and open the warm pita breads, stuff with the lettuce, tzatziki, and falafel, and serve with any remaining tzatziki.

Cook’s tip : Make a double quantity of pita breads and freeze half the cooked breads in a plastic bag. Defrost at room temperature for 1 hour, then warm in a skillet for 2 minutes on each side.

Authentic dishes from the Middle East

Rukmini Lyer