Meze Means Mediterranean


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

When it comes to healthy eating patterns, I find the easiest to embrace is “Mediterranean.”   And there’s no better way to experience it than with a “meze meal” which I made recently for my family. 

It’s borrowed from the traditions of small plate dining of Greece, Turkey and the Middle East with Tzatziki, a yogurt-based dip or spread, to unify the platter of delectable choices for your plate. I forgot how fun it can be to eat in this casual way and how it inspires relaxation and conversation. 

There is lots of flexibility in foods for the platter– and not much work for the cook.  I include whole marinated chickpeas (The marinade is a simple dressing of 1 part vinegar to 1 part olive oil with finely chopped garlic, oregano or another herb and a little salt and pepper.) along with feta cheese, plump dried apricots, toasted walnuts,  tomatoes, bell pepper wedges, baby greens and arugula.  Romaine spears can be dunked in the Tzatziki or filled with other ingredients like little boats.  Alongside are whole wheat pitas and flatbreads that can be stuffed, dipped or rolled around the goodies. Or make a little salad with a base of greens with other ingredients sprinkled on top. Consider making a double batch of the Tzatziki because it marries all together so beautifully.

For a larger party I expand with more foods such as skewers of grilled boneless chicken cubes marinated with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and herbs.  A selection of olives and another cheese or two are nice to include, too.  You get the idea. 

What are the benefits of this wonderful style of Mediterranean eating?  Some 50 years ago scientists started looking into reasons behind the longevity and health, especially cardiovascular health, of people in Mediterranean regions.  Despite the cultural and regional differences, the dietary similarities were patterns based on vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil and grains with some seafood and eggs, small to moderate amounts of milk products and minimal meat.  Wine is often included at meals.  While the varied cuisines of Mediterranean countries are uniquely delicious, they all rely on locally produced, minimally processed and largely plant-based foods. 

A resource for consumer-friendly guides to Mediterranean and other traditional ways of healthful eating and the research basis for these diets is Oldways .  It was founded in 1990 to preserve cultural food traditions such as the Mediterranean diet that promote better health and protect against disease. 

Research continues to elucidate benefits of traditional eating patterns.  My favorite element of the Mediterranean way is well- stated on the Oldways website, “The Mediterranean Diet is grounded on the principles of enjoyment and pleasure. Foods, drinks and meals are best eaten with others, when possible, and savored.”

Let’s put this into practice at our own tables!


Serve as a dip or dressing with fresh vegetables, greens and whole grain pita bread or Mediterranean flatbread.

1 cup lightly packed shredded peeled English cucumber*

Fine sea salt

1 cup unflavored fat-free Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

1 small clove garlic, finely chopped or pressed to measure ¼ teaspoon

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Squeeze liquid from cucumber shreds and place in a colander set over a plate.  Toss with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside for 30 minutes.  With back of spoon, press moisture from cucumber. Spread cucumber on a clean kitchen towel (or a couple of layers of paper towels) fold towel over cucumber and press out more moisture.  In a bowl, combine cucumber with yogurt, mint, garlic and sugar.  Stir to blend well.  Taste and add additional salt, as desired.  Cover and chill for 1 hour or longer, for flavors to develop.  Drizzle with oil before serving.  Makes 4 servings. 

Copyright © Lorelle S Del Matto 2012

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


  1. what a great idea! I’m really trying to follow the Mediterranean lifestyle, and as far as foods, trying to find more meat free dinner ideas!

    Thank you!!

  2. You are very courageous to publish about this kind of topic but that’s what keeps me finding its way back to learn more. Maintain the boldness!

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