Golden Time of Day

Little bites of Mediterranean life

hummus_pictureEveryone loves a good snack, but no one knows how to savor an afternoon better than those who live and eat on the Mediterranean.

Small-plate dishes served in between meals — merende in Italy, tapas in Spain, mezethakia in Greece, meze in Turkey and the Middle East, and mukabalatt in Maghreb countries of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria — can be hot or cold and are an important part of the region’s culture.

More than a quick bite to tide you over ‘til dinner, the dips, finger-foods, cheeses and sample-size servings of rich meats and fresh vegetables help ease the cork out of the wine bottle and bring together families and communities.

From the dark sweetness of a plump, ripe fig to the zing of garlic, the tang of lemon to the salty sting of olives, the sundrenched flavors of the region shine through in recipes from five recent cookbooks.

So, put off dinner, slow down and learn to relish your own afternoon with the following:

Tunisian Carrot Salad Web Extra!
Roasted Figs With Gorgonzola and Prosciutto di Parma
Dried Fig and Black Olive Spread for Crostini Web Extra!
Olive Profumate (Fennel- and Orange-Scented Olives)
Bocconcini di Mozzarella Marinata (Little Bites of Marinated Mozzarella) Web Extra!
Dolmades (Stuffed Vine Leaves)
Tzatziki (Cucumber and Yogurt Dip) Web Extra!
Alcachofas (Grilled Artichokes in Saffron Butter)
Tortilla Espanola Web Extra!

“The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook”
Published by Thunder Bay Press



1 cup dried chickpeas
2 tablespoons tahini
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
Large pinch Cayenne pepper
Extra lemon juice, optional
Extra-virgin olive oil, to garnish
Paprika, to garnish
Chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley, to garnish


Put the chickpeas in a bowl, cover with water and soak overnight.

Drain and place in a large saucepan with enough water to cover chickpeas by 2 inches.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the chickpeas are very tender.

Skim any scum from the surface. Drain well, reserving the cooking liquid and leave until cool enough to handle.

Discard any loose chickpea skins.

Combine the chickpeas, tahini, garlic, cumin, lemon juice, olive oil, cayenne pepper and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt in a food processor until thick and smooth.

With the motor running, gradually add enough of the reserved cooking liquid, about 3/4-cup, to form a smooth, creamy puree.
Season with salt or extra lemon juice.

Spread onto flat bowls or plates, drizzle with the extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with paprika and scatter parsley over the top.

Serve with warm pita bread or pide.

Makes 3 cups.


Tunisian Carrot Salad


1 pound carrots, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh, flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon harissa (see recipe below)
12 black olives
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered


Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a saucepan.

Add the carrot and cook until tender. Drain and transfer to a bowl.

Add the parsley, cumin, olive oil, vinegar and garlic. Season with harissa and salt and pepper. Stir well.

To serve, place the carrots in a serving dish and garnish with the olives and eggs.

Note: If the carrots are not sweet, you can add a little honey to the dressing.




4 ounces dried red chilies, stems removed
1 tablespoon dried mint
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
10 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil


Roughly chop the chilies, then cover with boiling water and soak 1 hour.

Drain, place in a food processor and add the mint, spices, garlic, 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Process 20 seconds, scrape down the side of the bowl, then process another 30 seconds.

Add 2 tablespoons oil and process again. Repeat and process until a thick paste forms.

Spoon the paste into a clean jar. Cover with a layer of olive oil and seal. Label and date.

Notes: To prepare a storage jar, preheat the oven to very slow 250 degrees. Wash the jar and lid in hot, soapy water and rinse with hot water.

Put the jar in the oven 20 minutes, or until fully dry. Do not dry with a tea towel.

This hot pepper sauce will keep in the refrigerator up to six months and can be used in tangines and couscous or added to salad dressings, marinades and pasta sauces.

“Fig Heaven: 70 Recipes for the World’s Most Luscious Fruit”
By Marie Simmons
Published by William Morrow

Roasted Figs With Gorgonzola and Prosciutto di Parma


8 large, firm, ripe figs, any variety, stems trimmed
8 cubes (about 1/2-inch) Gorgonzola cheese
8 thin slices prosciutto di Parma
8 radicchio leaves


Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Cut an X in the top of each fig, slicing about 1/2-inch deep. Pull the four corners open and insert a cube of cheese into each fig.

Wrap a slice of prosciutto around each of the figs, overlapping the edges.

Place the figs in a large baking dish.

Roast until the prosciutto is crisp on the edges and the figs are warmed through, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Place a radicchio leaf on each salad plate, and place a fig in the center of each leaf.

Serve hot.

Makes 8 servings.

Dried Fig and Black Olive Spread for Crostini


8 ounces dried Black Mission or Calimyrna figs, stems trimmed, quartered (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1-1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle or the side of a heavy knife
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Crostini, for serving
2 to 4 ounces crumbled feta or blue cheese, optional


Combine the figs and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Heat to a boil. Cook, covered, over low hat until almost all the liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly.

Combine the figs, olives, fennel seeds, garlic, orange zest and black pepper in a food processor. Process until pureed, stopping to scrape the sides of the container down once or twice.

With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil. Transfer the mixture to a container or bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, place the spread in a small bowl with a butter knife, and surround it with crostini.

Alternatively, spread it on the crostini and serve plain or with a little crumbled cheese on top.

Makes 2 cups


“Italy in Small Bites”
By Carol Field
Published by HarperCollins

Olive Profumate (Fennel- and Orange-Scented Olives)


1 clove garlic, finely sliced
Zest of 1 orange, cut into small pieces
1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 cups oil-cured black olives


At least several hours before you plan to serve the olives, mix the garlic, orange zest and fennel seeds with the olives.

Leave them at room temperature several hours, or cover and store in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Serve at room temperature by themselves or as part of an antipasto.

Makes 2 cups.

Bocconcini di Mozzarella Marinata (Little Bites of Marinated Mozzarella)


1 cup olive oil
3/8 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
About 20 grindings fresh, black pepper
Pinch salt
1 pound mozzarella, scooped into melon-ball-size rounds or cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes.


Heat the olive oil in a small sauté pan over low heat.

Add the red pepper flakes, garlic and grindings of black pepper. Leave over very low heat about 5 minutes. Cool and add salt.

Pour the marinade over the cheese and toss to coat well.

Let the cheese marinate at room temperature several hours or in the refrigerator several days.

Bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

“World Food Greece: The Food and the Lifestyle”
By Susanna Tee
Published by Thunder Bay Press

Dolmades (Stuffed Vine Leaves)


8-ounce package vine leaves preserved in brine
2/3 cup Arborio or other short-grain rice
3/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
1/3 cup pine nuts, chopped
1/3 cup currants
3 scallions, chopped finely
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh, flat- leaf parsley
Juice of 1 lemon


Place the vine leaves in a large bowl, add boiling water and let soak 20 minutes. Drain, soak in cold water 20 minutes and drain again.

Meanwhile, put the rice and a pinch of salt in a saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil, then simmer 15 to 20 minutes, or as directed on the rice package.

Drain well, put in a bowl and set aside to cool.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, add the onion and garlic, and fry 5 minutes until softened.

Add the onions to the rice with the pine nuts, currants, scallions, mint, dill and parsley. Season with a little salt and plenty of pepper and mix the ingredients well.

Place one vine leaf, vein-side up, on a work surface.

Put a little filling on the base of the leaf and fold up the bottom ends of the leaf.

Fold the opposite sides of the leaf into the center, then roll up the leaf around the filling. Squeeze the packet gently to seal.

Continue filling and rolling the vine leaves until the ingredients have been used up, putting any torn vine leaves in the bottom of a large flame-proof casserole or Dutch oven.

Put the stuffed leaves, seam-side down, in a single layer in the casserole, packing them as close together as possible.

Mix the remaining oil and lemon juice with 2/3 cup water and pour into the casserole. Place a large plate over the vine leaves to keep them in place, then cover the casserole with a lid.

Simmer 45 minutes.

Leave the vine leaves to cool in the liquid. Serve warm or chilled, with lemon wedges and yogurt.

Makes about 30 dolmades.

Tzatziki (Cucumber and Yogurt Dip)


1 small cucumber
1-1/4 cups authentic Greek yogurt
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh mint or dill
Salt and pepper
Warm pita bread, for serving


Peel then coarsely grate the cucumber. Put in a sieve and squeeze out as much of the water as possible.

Put the cucumber into a bowl.

Add the yogurt, garlic and chopped mint (reserve a little for garnish, if desired) to the cucumber and season with pepper. Mix well.

Let the mixture chill in the refrigerator about 2 hours before serving.

To serve, stir the cucumber and yogurt dip and transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with salt and accompany with warm pita bread.

Makes 4 servings.

“El Farol: Tapas and Spanish Cuisine”
By Chef James Campbell Caruso
Published by Gibbs Smith

Alcachofas (Grilled Artichokes in Saffron Butter)


Juice of 1 lemon
8 small artichokes, trimmed, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 cup butter
Juice of 1 orange
Pinch of Spanish saffron
6 cloves garlic


Bring 2 quarts salted water to a boil and add juice of 1 lemon.

Blanch the artichokes 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool.

Dry on paper towels. Toss with olive oil, vinegar and a pinch of salt. Let marinate at room temperature 4 hours.

In a saucepan, add butter, orange juice, saffron and garlic. Bring the butter to a boil slowly (don’t let it get too brown).

Remove from the heat without stirring and set aside. The butter solids will stay at the bottom. Pour the top layer of clarified butter into a bowl and discard the solids.

Light a charcoal or wood fire grill. Grill the artichokes at high heat about 3 minutes per side until well marked.

Transfer to a platter, pour on the clarified saffron butter and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Tortilla Espanola


1 medium-size onion, thinly sliced
1 cup olive oil
3 pounds (approximately 10) medium-size potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
6 eggs, beaten
1/4 tablespoon salt
Romesco sauce (see recipe below)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Saute the onion in 1/4 cup of olive oil until very soft and sweet.

In a small roasting pan, toss potatoes with remaining oil, cover and bake 20 minutes. Uncover the pan and spread onion slices evenly over the potatoes. Cover and bake an additional 20 minutes.

Remove the pan and pour off and reserve the oil.

Cool potatoes to room temperature.

Season the eggs with salt and fold the potato-onion mixture into the eggs.

Heat a few tablespoons of the reserved oil in a nonstick sauté pan over high heat. When hot, carefully add the egg mixture.

Allow the eggs to set on a high heat for a minute while gently shaking the pan so they don't stick.

Reduce the heat to the lowest temperature and cook 15 to 20 minutes, or until the mixture is firm.

Makes 6 servings.

Romesco Sauce


1 cup Marcona almonds, toasted
10 cloves garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 to 3 dried piquin chilies
2 cups charred, peeled and chopped roasted red bell peppers


Char the red bell peppers over an open flame, on a gas or charcoal grill, or in an oven broiler until the peppers are blackened on all sides.

Remove most of the skin and seeds from the peppers.

In a blender or food processor, puree the almonds, garlic oil, vinegar and chilies until smooth. Add peppers, replace the top and pulse until the sauce is just a bit chunky. Salt to taste.

The sauce will keep 4 to 5 days refrigerated.

Makes about 4 cups.