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Appetizers Arab-Style

posted on: Mar 12, 2024

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

Tidbits of food from the simple to the complex served with all types of drinks are a pillar in Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisines.  Called tapas in Spain and mazas in the Middle East, these finger foods, form the basis of gathering before a meal for a drink and the sampling of endless appetizers as to a prelude to the meal.

An enormous variety of tapas and mazas, from plain foods to sophisticated dishes are served in the homes or public eating places throughout these lands.  At times, people forgo the meal after nibbling on these appetizers that may range from a few dishes to, perhaps, as many as a hundred.  Visitors who become accustomed to these appetizers usually always include them when planning their invitation feasts.

On the other hand, tapas can be served, at any hour, as a repast by themselves.  Often when I travel to Spain or the Middle East I pass up the main meal and dine only on these tidbits of succulence.   Any type of food from pickled fish, shrimps in garlic, meatballs, olives, cooked meats, to a dozen different vegetable dishes can be found on a usual appetizer table.

For the lovers of fine food, the following dishes touch only on the fringes of that delicious world of appetizers.

Avocado and Tahini Dip

I call this appetizer ‘my Arab guacamole dish’ – for me tastier than its Mexican ancestor.

4 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste found in health stores)

1 large or two medium ripe avocados

4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Pinch of cayenne

1/4 teaspoon paprika

Place lemon juice and tahini in a blender, then blend for a moment and set aside.

Pit and peel the avocados, then cut into pieces. Add with remaining ingredients, except paprika, to lemon juice/tahini mixture then blend into a smooth paste, adding a little water if needed. Place on a flat serving platter, then sprinkle with paprika and serve, or chill covered and serve.

Potato/Anchovy Appetizer

In Spain various versions of this appetizer are often served as a tapa.

1 small can anchovies (1.75 oz 50 g), cut into small pieces and the oil reserved

4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

4 tablespoons finely chopped green onion

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 small hot pepper, very finely chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 medium potatoes (about 3 inches long), boiled, then peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and chopped

Place all ingredients, except potatoes and eggs, but including the reserved oil, in a salad bowl then thoroughly mix.  Add potatoes and eggs then gently toss just before serving.

Chickpea Fritters 

Chickpea flour is available in Indian and other Oriental stores and some supermarkets in large urban centres.

1 1/2 cups chickpea flour 

1 1/2 cups very finely chopped green onion 

1 cup stewed tomatoes 

1 medium potato, grated 

1 egg, beaten 

2 teaspoons baking powder 

1/2 teaspoon baking soda 

1 1/4 teaspoons salt 

1 teaspoon ground cumin 

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 cup water 

Oil for frying 

Place all ingredients, except oil, in a mixing bowl and thoroughly mix, adding a little water or chickpea flour to make a smooth, little thicker than pancake batter, then cover and allow to stand for 1 hour. 

Place oil in a saucepan, 1 to 2 inches deep then heat to medium.  Gently, drop tablespoons of the batter in the oil then deep-fry until fritters turn golden brown, turning them over once.  Drain on paper towels then serve warm.