I love cigars! No, not the brown cylindrical things that stink up the house and that grown men smuggle from Havana. (In this new age of detente, do they still need to smuggle them?)
No, I love edible cigars, the kind you find throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East.
On a recent visit in Turkey, we enjoyed lunch in a lush garden under a heavy canopy of trees that provided a welcome cooling shade — just the ticket after a full, and baking hot, morning at Ephesus.
Lunch was a series of small dishes called mezze, the Middle Eastern version of Spanish tapas or Italian antipasto.
What I love most about mezze, aside from the variety of flavors and textures, is that partaking of the small dishes forces us to pace ourselves. As one who is often guilty of eating too fast, mezze is a reminder of the importance of slowing down and enjoying life. And, surrounding ourselves with congenial folks creates an atmosphere conducive to conversation. Social support networks are usually made of friends and family, but while the eight other folks at our table were strangers when we first sat down, they became friends over our shared dining experience. Food served as the WD-40 to smooth the mechanics of getting to know one another.
Although our menu that day was determined before our arrival, dining on mezze at a restaurant is also about enjoying the process of selecting the dishes. Mezze dishes use local products that highlight the wonderful natural resources of the area, and given the virtually infinite number of ways in which a few key ingredients combine to form the dishes, it could be very easy to over-order.
At our lunch we sampled hummus, several different eggplant salads, three varieties of olives, pita, and those wonderful sigara bouregi – cheese cigars. A refreshing dessert of watermelon and grapes capped off the meal.
Would that every meal were as slow and measured as that lunch in the garden.