Purée and simple: Skye Gyngell's mouthwatering mezze dips

Sunday 27 June 2010 00:00 BST

When we opened Petersham Nurseries almost seven years ago, we had only three dishes on the menu and, if we could get around to it, one or two desserts. The menus were written up daily on small blackboards and hung on the wooden door. We had a four-burner stove, no extractor fan and perhaps a dozen plates that were bought from home.

These three little mezze dishes, simple and good to eat, were on the menu every day for almost a year – largely because it was something that we could manage to make easily in the tiny kitchen/staff-room we used to cook from.

The mezze no longer appears so often on our menus – not because it is not delicious but because I now have the luxury of a bigger kitchen and more work space. But I've missed it recently and so have put it back on the menu once or twice, made from all things in season right now. Serve with spiced flatbread (pictured below).

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com

Roasted spice mix

All of the recipes use this blend of strong, vibrant flavours.

1-2 cinnamon sticks
50g/2oz coriander seeds
50g/2oz cumin seeds
50g/2oz fennel seeds
50g/2oz mustard seeds
50g/2oz fenugreek seeds
5 cardamom pods
2-3 star anise (or cloves)

Place a dry, heavy-based frying pan (preferably non-stick) over a low heat. Break the cinnamon sticks in half. Once a clear smoke begins to rise from your pan, add all the spices and cook, stirring frequently, to toast them. Be careful not to burn them, though, as this will give a bitter taste. Once the seeds begin to pop, they are ready. Remove from the heat and grind to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Roasted tomato and red pepper purée

This rustic purée sits happily on the mezze plate, but is also lovely served with grilled, firm-fleshed white fish or chicken.

Serves 4

4 red peppers
2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
6 plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 red chillies, sliced
Bunch of coriander, washed
1 tbsp roasted spice mix
1 tbsp dried mint
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp good-quality balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
125ml/4fl oz plain yoghurt
1/2 bunch of mint, leaves only

Heat the oven to 100C/220F/Gas 1/4. Halve, core and deseed the red peppers, removing all the white pith. Put in a roasting pan with the onion, garlic, tomatoes and chillies.

Separate the coriander leaves and set aside; finely chop the roots and stems and scatter over the vegetables. Sprinkle with the spice mix and dried mint, then drizzle over the oil and vinegar. Season and toss to mix. Slow-roast for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the red peppers are soft and slightly caramelised.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature, then whizz in a blender with yoghurt, mint and the coriander leaves until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning – it will need salt.

Chickpea purée

This purée is only really good if all the flavours are strong and clear. It should taste vibrant, so be prepared to adjust the flavours as necessary. Although I most often serve it as part of the mezze, it also works really well with grilled or roast lamb.

Serves 4

250g/8oz cooked chickpeas
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large red chilli
Bunch of coriander, washed
Bunch of mint, leaves only
Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
1 tbsp tahini paste
2 tbsp Greek-style yoghurt
11/2 tsp roasted spice mix
50ml/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Drain the chickpeas (rinse as well if using canned). Place in a blender or food processor with the garlic and chilli. Chop the coriander roots and stems and add to the blender with the rest of the ingredients and blend to a purée (don't over-process).

Taste and adjust the seasoning, perhaps adding more lemon and a little more salt than you might expect. Salt definitely helps bring all the flavours together.

Beetroot purée

This vivid purée is a staple in our mezze plate. Its zing allows it to stand proudly on its own, too, so it's worth making extra. I love it simply spread on toast, and with griddled scallops. If you buy ready-cooked beetroot, make sure it is plainly cooked, not boiled in vinegar.

Serves 6

11/2kg/3lb cooked beetroot, peeled
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large red chilli
Bunch of coriander, washed
1/2 bunch of mint, leaves only
1 tbsp grated fresh horseradish
1 tbsp roasted spice mix
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, or to taste
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
125ml thick Greek-style yoghurt
Sea salt

Place the beetroot in a blender with the garlic and chilli. Chop the coriander roots and stems and add to the blender with the mint, horseradish, spice mix, balsamic and oil. Blend really well to smooth purée.

Add the yoghurt and pulse quickly, once or twice. Taste for seasoning – it will need salt to bring all the flavours together. You may also need a few more drops of balsamic vinegar – it needs a sharp edge.

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