Mezze – a Mindful approach to eating

Ever make a huge risotto and eat it for days? Some food is more mindful than others, I’m finding. 

Mezze

A little bit of every colour and flavour. © Laura Eades 2014

Istanbul was an amazing trip. Spice bazaars, with shovels of saffron and amazing-looking tea making ambitious aphrodisiac promises, loaded with rose buds and dried fruit.

Holidays always bring food to life. Why? Because you’re more relaxed. And when you’re more relaxed, and away from your computer screen, away from stress, and away from distraction, you really start to tune into your appetites, and savour what you have. If only eating were always this focused.

We love cooking, so our trips are always slightly food-oriented, and this one has proved a real influence. Of course we’re cooking the dishes we had there, but more than that, it was transformative to eat many small things rather than one big dish.

A little bit of everything you fancy

And above all – mezze: The dolls’ house selection of everything for the taster. We went to a mezze fish restaurant while our daughter slept in the buggy one afternoon – and took our time savouring about ten things. We swore to go back – of course, it wasn’t to be. I’ll always remember it though.

Even the biscuit shops were based around the tiny-morsels theme. It’s an awesome way to eat.

Mindfulness in eating

If you’ve been following my process, you’ll know I’ve been trying to incorporate Mindfulness into my eating. Trying to change who I am as an eater first and foremost (rather than focusing too much on what I eat, which is the other half of the equation).

Slow down, pause between mouthfuls, breathe before you begin, chew for longer, try to be present in your tastebuds with the food, admire and respect the food’s journey to your plate, become aware of the different hungers in you – a process of trying to be a more conscious and less hasty and numbed-out eater.

I’m successful a fraction of the time. I’m hoping that by keeping attempting it, in a year’s time that fraction will be greater.

New ingredients

One element of Mindful eating is a celebration of each raw ingredient. When you think of what goes into any one dish – the work of farmers, the weathers that allowed it, how food is nurtured and then transported and passes through many hands for you to mix with other ingredients – it’s beautiful and mind-boggling. I think the idea of this is to give you pause for thought, rather than to make your eating into a spiritual experience.

(Maybe an awareness of the larger dimension – the other people who’ve contributed to your mouthful – the forces of nature – is spiritual, in a way. I have quite a nebulous sense of spirituality, I guess. I’m curious though).

We came home with a string of dried hot peppers in our bag – we didn’t have room for it, but managed to get it back intact. Turns out brilliant if you tear them up and boil them for 5-10 minutes – the way to pep up any tomato sauce. They had strings of dried aubergine too, that we didn’t try. Oh, the regret!

Dried fruit and nuts used as garnishes transform boring salads into amazing ones (fig, chicory, pear, walnut and pecorino – not strictly turkish, but really delicious!). We also brought home sumac, hot red pepper flakes, and saffron. I wish we’d brought more. It was an incentive to restock our spicerack.

Mini Me Mezze

Our 2&1/2-year-old is the kind of eater who is like the hungry caterpillar. She has one bite of everything (if we’re lucky).

1 chickpea, 2 slices of apple, 5 pieces of pasta and pesto, 3 bits of cheese cut into a star shape… she likes her food quite simple and identifiable (she dismantles combined dishes with a kind of suspicion – like lasagne, for example). So in Turkey, we started to give her a tray with many tiny morsels, and she really tucked in.

She loves hummous, of course (not spicy). Dried fruit. Olives. She loves messing about, so naming things, dipping things and combining things on a forkful gives her a creative involvement.

A different approach to the table

Taking time to taste things: Mouth hunger, for me, is really strong, and it’s great to focus on it (and attempt to satisfy it) rather than just filling the stomach. Several flavours on the table gives plenty of time for deep-breath pauses I’m reading The Slow Down Diet (Marc David – so far so very good) – and it seems that oxygen is pretty important for your metabolism to make sense of food. And remembering to chew for longer.

Cooking smaller quantities: I guess I’ve got into the habit of cooking in bulk and freezing some – several trays of lasagne, say. Because sometimes, when it gets to 5pm, our daughter is too cranky to wait for me to mess about in the kitchen for ages. But you can freeze small amounts of several things too, really. It’s a mentality

Serving in sharing dishes: I would have abandoned this weeks ago if it weren’t for a dishwasher. But rather than serving a whole portion (I still find it very hard to beat the finish-your-plateful-regardless-of-the-portion-size psychology), I’m enjoying putting several things into dishes that you help yourself from. Which I know is hilarious if it’s, like, fish fingers and peas (a freezer-based fast food mezze!), but it does help me think through the ‘more’ decision a little more carefully.

And here are some lovely dishes I’d have in my fridge or pick up from the delhi any day to make a mezze with little effort: 

  • Home-marinated olives (chilli, walnuts, lemon rind, garlic, herbs…)
  • Meatballs, or little pieces of lamb or beef fried as a side dish
  • Aubergine, courgette, or flat green beans in tomato sauce with a bit of a kick
  • Hummous, of course
  • A few bits of bread
  • A jar of pickled chillies in a thin, runny tomato sauce
  • Simple salads –  like a bit of red cabbage, with yoghurt and walnuts, for example; or grated carrot with coriander seeds
  • A tabbouleh that’s mainly herbs with just a tiny bit of couscous
  • A piece of borek from the bakery

* * * What cultural approach to eating inspires your cooking the most? And what’s your favourite mezze dish? And how do you get a 2-year-old to eat a whole meal? And where should we go on holiday next for the ultimate cooking and eating journey? I’d love to hear from you. Click on the pale grey dot with a plus sign on it under the post to open up the comments section. If you’d like to read more about eating happits on Illustrated Guide to Life: