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Meze gets all the attention at Turkish wedding

ISTANBUL, Turkey - My first taste of homemade Turkish meze - a delectable array of appetizers - was at my friend Huma Gruaz's home in Chicago. We had met and become friends on a business trip in Istanbul, and she invited me to her Chicago home for a Turkish feast.

One bite and I was hooked. Each dish in her lavish spread had a unique flavor and texture, yet many contained the same ingredients. I realized I was tasting the real essence of Turkish cooking and I wanted those recipes.

Gruaz, president of a public relations-marketing communications company, is a creative cook and an accomplished artist, so the table becomes her canvas, the food her palette. In other words, her presentations are as much a feast for the eyes as the stomach. She displays her foods both on the plate and buffet table with a visual eye to combining their color, height and texture.

When I received the invitation to her wedding in Istanbul, I couldn't resist. I knew she'd have her artistic hand in every aspect of the celebration. I was right. From the pre-wedding dinner boat ride on the Bosporus, embracing both Europe and Asia, through the nuptials at the Four Seasons hotel, her guests experienced her family's warm Turkish hospitality and traditional foods.

For the wedding dinner, the bride worked with the Four Seasons staff to create a menu highlighting Turkish foods, from traditional cuisine, including a meze selection, to more contemporary fare.

The main courses included a pasta cooking station serving rigatoni alla norma (eggplant with ricotta cheese), an Asian station with crispy sweet salmon in a chilly mango sauce, as well as roasted scorpion fish, beef tagliata with arugula and grilled lamb-loin rolls. Turkish wines, both red and white, complemented it all.

The reception was dramatic: Imagine a sumptuous buffet and dancing outside on the roof of the hotel under the nearly full moon, with unplanned fireworks lighting up the Blue Mosque on the skyline.

You can't reproduce that ambiance at home, but you can enjoy some of the food - especially if you make a meze selection.

Meze (pronounced mezAY) are just small plates of food, of the kind that are served throughout the Mediterranean, often focusing on the flavor of one or two fresh ingredients. (Meze by the same name are served in Greece; Spain's tapas are another Mediterranean variation.)

Turkish favorites include patlican ezmesi (smoked eggplant with yogurt), hummus, haydari (yogurt with mint), zeytinyagli fasulye (green beans in olive oil), fava with dill, and the classic imam bayildi (eggplant stuffed with tomatoes and onions).

All use wonderful Mediterranean ingredients available in your local market.

Here's how you can get something of the real flavor:

•While some Turkish cooks add only olive oil to the smoky flesh of grilled-until-charred eggplant for their eggplant salad, Huma adds some yogurt as well. For both texture and heightened flavor she stirs in diced tomato, olives and onion.

•Huma adds crushed cumin seeds to her hummus (chickpea puree combined with sesame paste) and garnishes it with pine nuts toasted in olive oil and sprinkled with cayenne pepper.

•Just mix fresh mint and minced garlic into thickened yogurt to make the haydari.

•For the zeytinyagli fasulye, simmer heaps of fresh green beans in olive oil on a bed of tomatoes and onion.

•Fava is a thickened puree of broad beans in olive oil, seasoned with dill.

•To make the classic imam bayildi, top eggplant halves with onion, tomatoes and, of course, olive oil, and simmer in more oil until thoroughly cooked.

Along with these, you might serve olives, a Mediterranean cheese tray, sliced tomatoes and-or grilled lamb or fish.

And don't forget the pita, warmed or grilled.

Patlican Ezmesi

(Smoked Eggplant Salad With Yogurt)

3 medium eggplants

Juice of 1⁄2 a lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 minced cloves garlic

2 tablespoons yogurt

1 large tomato, peeled and cubed

1⁄2 cup sliced pitted black olives

1⁄2 red onion, finely minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mince parsley for garnish

Pita bread

Cook whole eggplants on hot grill or over gas flame, turning occasionally until charred (blackened) and the flesh is very soft, about 20 minutes. Cut in half. Let cool slightly. Using a spoon, scoop out the warm flesh into the bowl of the food processor, being careful to avoid any flecks of the burned skin. Immediately add lemon juice to keep the flesh white.

Add olive oil, garlic, and yogurt. Pulse until smooth. Stir in the tomato, olives and onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Garnish with parsley. Serve with pita bread.

Hummus (Chickpea Puree) With Pine Nuts and Red Pepper

15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

3 to 5 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed

Juice of 1 lemon

1⁄4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Garnish:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1⁄2 cup pine nuts

1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Pita bread

Blend the chickpeas, garlic, cumin seed and lemon juice in a food processor or blender, or in a bowl using an electric mixer. Mix in the tahini. Season this to taste with salt and pepper, adding more fresh lemon juice, if desired. Spoon into a serving bowl.

For the garnish, heat olive oil in saute pan, add pine nuts and cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until almost golden. Sprinkle with cayenne; cook an additional minute or two. Garnish hummus with pine nuts. Serve with pita.

Haydari

(Yogurt Dip With Mint)

3⁄4 cup suzme

4 cloves garlic, finely minced

1⁄4 cup minced fresh mint or 2 teaspoons dried mint

1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

Roasted red pepper, cut into strips

1 tablespoon olive oil

Pita bread

Mix the suzme, garlic and mint. Add salt, taste and adjust seasoning. Place into serving dish, garnish with red pepper, drizzle with olive oil. Serve chilled with pita bread.

Fava

(Bean Paste With Dill)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, chopped

2 cups water

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Juice of 1⁄2 lemon

24-ounce jar or can fava (broad beans)

For the dressing:

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1⁄2 lemon

A few springs of dill, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook gently to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the water, sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Add the beans. Bring to a simmer and cook gently, uncovered, for an hour or more, until thick with little, if any, liquid remaining. Mash into a paste with a fork or blend in a food processor or with an electric mixer. To make hard fava: Spoon onto a dish, shape into a narrow wedge and let stand for 1 to 2 hours to dry out and harden. If you prefer soft fava, simply spoon it into a bowl.

For the dressing, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper. To serve, cut the hard fava into slices and top with dressing. Or pour dressing over the soft fava in the bowl.

Zeytinyagli Fasulye

(Green Beans in Olive Oil)

1 large tomato, peeled and sliced into thin rounds

2 onions, sliced into

rounds

1 pound green beans, trimmed

2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1⁄4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup water

Place the tomato rounds on the bottom of a large saucepan; cover with onions and then green beans.

In a small saucepan, cook the chopped tomatoes, oil, sugar, salt and pepper over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, and then add 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour over the beans, and then top with a heat-resistant plate (for weight). Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan. Turn up side down on a serving plate. Chill until ready to serve.