In today’s restaurant scene, you can’t help but notice the growing number of restaurants that feature small plates, tapas, meze or antipasti on their menu. Bistros, wine bars, and gastropubs often suggest that you make a meal from several small, savory plates and forego an entrée altogether. If you are with another couple, your waiter may encourage your table to share several dishes…perhaps ordering two, three or four small plates per person to pass around family style.
Sampling beautifully composed, delicious little morsels of food that have bold flavors, surprising food combinations, or ingredients you might not have tried before, is a great way to judge the kitchen’s talent. Ordering a selection of small plates at a restaurant can often lead to a fun night of good food, good wine and stimulating food conversations.
You don’t have to limit this experience to a restaurant. Why not plan a party with small plates of food shared with a few of your friends. Select a country such as Spain, China, Mexico or Greece and serve several little plates based around the country’s cuisine. It is a wonderful way to introduce your “not so adventurous” friends to new foods and flavors. Whereas they might not want a full portion of something they haven’t heard of, your friends will more than likely be willing to try a small bite or two.
If you are thinking about serving Mediterranean food at your party, you might want to consider a small plate of keftedes, which are lamb meatballs seasoned with mint and oregano, served on a bed of tzatziki sauce alongside warm marinated olives and almonds. It would be a wonderful introduction into Greek food that some of your guests might not have experienced.
Keftedes (Greek Meatballs)
These recipes, as part of a small plate will serve four, adjust the recipes accordingly.
- 1/2 – 3/4 lb. ground lamb (beef or pork may be substituted)
- 1/2 small onion, diced small or grated
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs (I use fresh)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 Tbsp. finely chopped mint
- 1 Tbsp. finely chopped oregano
- 1 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil for sautéing the meatballs
Mix all the ingredients (except the oil) together until combined and form into meatballs about 1 inch to 1 1/2 inch in size. Heat the oil over medium high heat, add the meatballs and cook until golden. (They may also be baked in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes, depending on size, or until done).
- 1 c. plain Greek yogurt
- 1 small cucumber, peeled and finely diced
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh dill
- salt and pepper to taste
Lightly salt the diced cucumber. Let drain in a sieve for about 5 minutes, discard the liquid. Warm the olive oil and minced garlic (I do this to mellow the flavor of the garlic but it is not necessary) then let cool. Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate for 30 minutes while the flavors meld. Taste for additional seasoning.
Warm Marinated Olives and Almonds
Take a selection of olives (about 2 cups) such as Gaeta, Niçois, Kalamata or Picholine and rinse to remove some of the salt, then drain well. Skip this step if using oil cured olives. Warm 3 Tbsp. olive oil in a small sauté pan, add 1 peeled garlic clove that has been flattened , 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, 1 tsp. fennel seeds, 1 tsp. each of chopped fresh thyme and rosemary, and the zest of a lemon. Bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Add the olives (can be prepared ahead of time up to this point, refrigerated and then brought to room temperature before continuing). Add a cup of almonds and toss well. Heat for about 5 minutes until the mixture is warm and fragrant.
The recipes above can also be served as a regular dinner. Increase the size of the meatballs and serve them with orzo, rice pilaf or couscous. Add stuffed grape leaves, baba ganoush or a salad and you will have a lovely Greek dinner. However, for a change of pace, I suggest serving them at your next party. I believe that nibbling one’s way through several small plates of food will make for a fun evening for both you and your friends.
Now tell me, do you enjoy sharing little taste bites among friends at a restaurant? Do you like to start with an appetizer, go on to a main entrée, then end the meal with a dessert? Have you ever been to a tapas party? I would love to know your thoughts.