The similarities shared between Spanish Tapas, Italian Antipasto and Middle Eastern Meze is far more important than the differences. At the heart of these ethnically inspired dishes are the shared ingredients that exist throughout the Mediterranean and the simplicity in which these dishes are prepared and presented.
For me, the heart of these culturally inspired dishes is the following components; the apparent simplicity of preparation, a meal slowed down creating an environment for conversation, the infinite possibility of combinations of a few key ingredients in a numerous selection of small dishes, the lightness of the meal and the relative ease in which the meal is cleaned up at the end.
Despite the differences in origins, the meanings of the words and when and how the dishes are served; there is an underlying unifying concept and idea of these small dishes. In many instances, the dishes are prepared with one or more of the following five ingredients; olive oil, garlic, cheese, vegetables and meat in each dish. There are traditional examples for Meze, Antipasto, and Tapas, but the reality is that anything is possible.
At home, we typically enjoy Meze inspired dishes for a meal, but more often than not, it is what is in the refrigerator. It is a meal more known for a variety of offerings, then its complexity and effort of cooking. Our most recent meal consisted of a variety of olives, cheese, baked Lebanese sausage and sliced garden fresh tomatoes and cucumbers served with pita bread. The meal was finished with a plate of cold sliced watermelon. We follow no hard rules on what is to be served and the combination of plates to be used. It is more about providing a variety of options and enjoying the time spent as you select the next bite to eat.
I consider myself fortunate to have experienced all three of the meal in an infinite number of combinations. Raised in an Italian-American family exposed me to antipasto from a few simple ingredients on a plate to a platter overflowing with meats, cheeses and a wide assortment of prepared vegetables. Living in the culturally diverse city of Houston has provided me the pleasure of enjoying Tapas in a Spanish restaurant with friends where the selection of plates is so varied that even the pickiest eater can find something to enjoy. Being married to a Lebanese has exposed me to the infinite numbers of combinations of cheese, meats, spices and vegetables that can me put together for Meze.
At the end of the day, this Mediterranean inspired meal of small dishes is about the simplicity of preparation, not wanting to attend a hot stove or oven, the variety of flavors and ingredients available and when the meal is finished the speed in which the kitchen is cleaned. I enjoy these meals of small dishes any time of the year, but I myself wanting this meal most after working in the garden for most of the day.