We love a good party. Hosting parties, creating menus and preparing food was got us into this gig. We may be biased but we think that Middle Eastern food is great for gatherings at home.
Middle Eastern food is made for sharing, it is always served buffet style for people to help themselves whether it’s a brunch of shakshuka, a 3 course dinner or party food. Small plates are filled with dips and nibbles, bowls with salads and grains, and platters with rice stuffed vine leaves or slow cooked meats served alongside challah or pita breads.
Most of the food can be prepared in advance. When I was living in Israel and started going to dinners at Dvir’s parents’ house I was always surprised that everything was ready in advance (something I’m still working on!) and when we arrived we had time for chats before launching into eating (although Dvir did usually go straight for the pots on the hob to have a few samples before dinner). Most mezze (dips, salads and breads) are served at room temperature so it’s just a case of taking everything out of the fridge 10 to 20 minutes before your guests arrive. The main course should be something in a big pot or casserole in the oven that can be slowly heating while enjoying your starter and dessert of some sweet treats and nuts can be on the counter ready to be served.
Because Middle Eastern food is varied in the different dishes you make it caters for different tastes and diets. Guests can pick and choose dishes which work for them.
There is almost always leftovers! You need to remember that when preparing the number of dishes for your gathering, that you will reap the rewards the following days in tasty leftovers for lunches and dinners.
Planning the menu
This is my favourite part! I like to have dishes of different colours, textures and tastes for all our menus so something creamy like a hummus or whipped feta, a sweet dish with tomatoes or peppers, a fresh salad with crunchy vegetables and soft breads to mop everything up with.
Here are a few ideas depending on the event.
Shakshuka, hummus, green tahini sauce, zhug, chopped salad, garlic and herb flatbreads or pita breads. A fruit platter with seasonal fruits, nuts and dates can be served afterwards with coffee or mint tea.
The shakshuka sauce can be made 3 days in advance and the dips and sauces can be made the day before. If making the bread, make it that day for lovely bread smells in your house! The chopped salad is best the day it’s made.
Falafel, hummus, tahini, zhug, cabbage salad with poppy seeds, Moroccan carrot salad, roasted beetroot salad with feta, olives, garlic and herb flatbreads or pita breads. A dessert platter of stuffed medjoul dates with nuts, baklava, pistachios and some fresh fruit works well to finish your lunch.
The falafel patties can be made into patties in advance and frozen. These can then be fried from frozen when your guests arrive. The salads and dips can be made the day before (just leave off the feta cheese on the beetroot salad until serving).
mezze starter – 3 dips and 2 salads, pickles and olives with challah or pita bread
main course – roasted chicken/ cauliflower with ras el hanout seasoning and vegetable rice.
dessert – malabi – rose water flavoured pudding with raspberry coulis.
Your mezze starter can be ready to go on the table when your guests arrive or they can help you put out bowls and plates when you want to eat. Your main course in the meantime will be cooking in the oven creating gorgeous Middle Eastern smells. Your dessert can be ready in jars in the fridge and popped onto a serving tray or individual saucers.
Drinks & Nibbles
I like to create grazing boards for evening events with drinks. I take out my biggest wooden boards and platters and plan 3 main items to go on each e.g. a board with 3 dips, a board with 3 cheeses, a platter with falafel, pita bread wedges and hummus. Then I gather nibbles and vegetables that can be arranged around these 3 bowls or foods. My favourite grazing platter foods are:
- dips – hummus, matbukha, zhug
- cheese & pâté – labneh with za’atar, semi-hard Knockalara cheese, Plante veggie pâté
- Falafels – serve with pitas, hummus, tahini, zhug and salads/pickles
- kubbeh – semolina dumplings filled with beef or mushrooms spiced with baharat spices. These are great served hot with tahini sauce.
- crudites; carrot, beetroot, turnip, and peppers cut into sticks for dipping and munching
- cherry tomatoes
- roasted almonds
- roasted pistachios
- lavosh flatbreads, broken into shards
- pita breads cut into wedges
- medjoul dates
- fresh fruit & nuts
You buy a lot of these from our online shop
Create your shopping and to-do list
While planning your menu note the ingredients you’ll need to buy. Many of the Middle eastern ingredients you’ll need can be found in our deli or ordered from our online shop. You can pick up our dips, salads, falafels, breads or even main courses if you’d like us to help out with the food prep! (Of course we needed to do a plug here).
Plan what can be prepared ahead of time. Start with dishes that can be frozen like the falafel, or burekas that can be done well in advance. If you think that you won’t have time to prepare bread on the day but want to make it yourself then make us some garlic and herb flatbreads in advance, freeze them and freshen up in the oven as guests arrive. The dips, sauces and most salads can be prepared the day before. Think about what needs to be prepared on the day.
If making grazing platters, plan what will go on which platter with a list or I like to draw what it will look like with a rough sketch.
Setting things up
Plating up – Gather your saucers, bowls, plates, jars and platters in advance and choose which ones suit best so you’re ready to fill them and serve. We have some lovely Moroccan bowls and platters to buy in the deli if you want to go all out! I usually stick a note to each one so you know which you’ve chosen for what which also helps when delegating. You can fill and cover most of these and pop them in the fridge. Add some garnishes to your dishes before they go to the table – pomegranate arils, toasted almonds, fresh mint leaves, a sprinkle of sumac, or some rose petals and pistachios can add an extra bit of visual oomph.
Get our kitchen organised – you’ll be using a lot of crockery to serve and boxes to keep everything stored in the fridge. Make sure your dishwasher and sink are empty, draining board is clear and food bins empty so it’s easy for you and your guests to clear up afterwards. If you think you’ll have some leftover to box back up then keep the empty boxes in the fridge out of the way to refill so that you don’t end up cleaning them just to refill.
Flavoured waters – I like to fill a few water jugs up with glasses alongside for people to help themselves. I like to add lemon and mint or frozen raspberries with rosemary to the water so it feels a bit special.
Limonana – one of Israel’s favourite soft drinks is this lemonade mixed with mint. Make your own lemonade or buy a good quality one and add a few sprigs of fresh mint and ice to a jug.
Cocktails – Use the limonana above and mix with arak or pernod for a refreshing cocktail or juice some pomegranates and add to your prosecco
Tea and coffee – make a mint tea with fresh mint and boiling water or a Turkish coffee.
Serving – as the food is either placed on the centre of the table or buffet style then the table should be set up with the plates ready to be filled. In Dvir’s family most of the salads and dips are served without serving spoons, everyone just gets stuck in but in Ireland people start to look puzzled (and after the coronavirus they’d be appalled) so make sure each bowl and plate has serving utensils.
Music – Create a Middle Eastern atmosphere while serving your feast with our Mezze Deli playlist on Spotify or make your own.
When your guest walks into the house they’ll experience the Middle East through all their senses; the Middle Eastern music playing, the smells of spices cooking or fresh bread out of the oven, the sight of colourful salads and dishes and of course the touch and taste of all the gorgeous food.
If you need more tips on how to put together a Middle Eastern gathering, want us to put together some of the ingredients you need or would like us to cater the whole thing then get in touch with Nicola or call in to the deli to discuss.