Delight Your Guests With a Mediterranean Grazing Table

Mediterranean grazing tables are a great way to entertain your guests during your wedding festivities

A Mediterranean grazing table is a great way to entertain your guests during your wedding festivities—the cocktail hour, the after party or gatherings before and after the ceremony. The goal of a grazing table is to serve a wide range of foods—a little of this and a little of that—with options that will delight all your guests and meet the needs of those with common dietary restrictions.

“Mediterranean cuisine” encompasses a large part of the world, so take some time to explore the regional differences. While Greek food is the most readily accessible variation, look for local restaurants that feature Israeli, Turkish, Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian and Moroccan dishes, then get to work finding new flavors to love!

Mediterranean foods are fantastic for so many reasons, including they are super healthy, the ingredients are easy to find, the foods are delicious and they pair well with wine. Plus, all of your guests will be able to enjoy, including vegans and those who follow a gluten-free or dairy-free diet, or those who have diabetes or heart disease.

There are many ways to organize a Mediterranean grazing table. It is worth taking time to try out recipes (or carry-out vendors, if you’re going this route) in determining which foods are especially appealing to you and your partner. Your enthusiasm for specific foods and the unique way it’s organized on the table will matter to your guests.

Figs make a perfect addition to a Mediterranean grazing board,

WHAT TO SERVE

Some folks prefer traditional Greek recipes all-around, while others may like Israeli, Lebanese and other Middle Eastern variations. Also great to explore are dishes with a Turkish flair. A few exotic flavor profiles are fun to throw into the mix. Be creative. Possible categories to organize on your grazing table are assorted dips with crudité, pita, lavash, crackers and/or toasted flatbreads; garnishes such as cheese bites, olives, marinated artichokes and fresh pickles; appetizers including dolma, kibbeh, falafel and spanakopita; veggie, protein and carb-based salads; meat, seafood and veggie shish kabobs; and fresh fruit and desserts.

Falafel should definitely be a category on a Mediterranean grazing baord.

DIPS AND THINGS TO DIP

There is an endless array of Mediterranean dips, which can be overwhelming to narrow down. The rule of thumb should be to include two to three dips that are commonly known, and then to throw in two to three for guests to explore.

There is an endless array of Mediterranean dips to complement grazing boards.

The most common dips in a Mediterranean grazing table are hummus, baba ghanoush, tzatziki and spinach-feta dip. This quartet has the perfect combination of flavors—creamy, garlicky chickpeas, smoky eggplant and tahini, tangy/salty spinach and feta and cool, herby yogurt with cucumbers. Other options for rounding out these cornerstone dips would be:

Muhammara: a rich, gently sweet and nutty dip with a deep red color; made from walnuts, pomegranate molasses, red bell peppers, tomato paste and sumac

Avocado hummus: a delicious California variation on this common dip

Zucchini baba ghanoush: this variation has a similar vibe to its eggplant counterpart (smoky with a velvety mouthfeel), but will be more appealing to folks who don’t like eggplant

Roasted beet hummus: beets add sweetness and color to this savory dip, which includes tahini and lemon juice

Three dips for Mediterranean grazing board

Romesco: an earthy purée made from roasted red bell peppers and almonds, parsley, sherry vinegar and garlic, spiced up with smoked paprika and cayenne pepper

Spicy cilantro pesto: an herby twist with heat, nicely contrasting with richer dips

Traditional basil pesto: Italian, yes, but it tastes fantastic in this lineup and is easy to make

Skordalia: this lesser-known dip consists of creamy puréed Yukon potatoes, almonds and roasted garlic with a bit of lemon.

Tahini sauce: not a dip per se, but certainly great for dipping and as an accompaniment to shish kabobs and grilled veggies

Harissa: a dip that packs some heat with its purée of dried chilis fragranced with cumin, coriander and garlic

Pita bread is a Mediterranean staple

Any of these dips will taste great with fresh pita (super fresh is key), pita chips, lavash or toasted/grilled flatbread. Though not Mediterranean, thin sliced baguette and other artisan breads also work well with these dips. And no Mediterranean grazing table is complete without an assortment of crudité: carrot sticks, bell pepper spears, thin sliced fennel bulb (stalks are too fibrous), cucumber rounds, halved radishes, snap peas, parboiled broccoli and cauliflower, and celery sticks. Cherry tomatoes are also popular. Aim for the multi-colored heirloom varieties, if available, as these are especially flavorful.

GARNISHES & PICKLES

Fresh pickled cucumbers are perfect for grazing boards

These bites add a bit of intense flavor to the mix, much like antipasto does to an Italian meal. Favorite items include Spanish, Greek, French and/or Italian olives (Kalamata is a must-have); cheese, including marinated feta, kefalograviera and/or kassen (Turkish); herb marinated artichoke hearts and marinated sundried tomato strips; and fresh pickled red onion, beets and cucumbers.

Spanish, Greek, French and/or Italian olives (Kalamata is a must-have) on a charcuterie board.

Also nice to offer on this section of the table is falafel, kibbeh, spanakopita and/or dolma (some with meat, some vegan). Turkish stuffed grape leaves are delicious with their tiny, dried currants, mint, pine nuts and allspice in addition to the usual rice, onions, parsley and meat. With smaller groups, one or two of these rich appetizers will suffice. Be sure to set tahini sauce and tzatziki nearby for the falafel and kibbeh.

SHISH KABOBS & SAUSAGES

Shish kabob and Middle Eastern sausages on a Mediterranean grazing table.

The easiest and most delicious way to incorporate meats and seafood into the grazing table is with shish kabob and Middle Eastern sausages. Nothing is more delicious than grilled meats, and kabobs have visual appeal and can be served at ambient temperature. Popular kabob meat choices include steak (sirloin is the best), chicken breast, lamb, shrimp or chunks of center cut salmon. And there is every manner of Middle Eastern sausage available, so if you want something unusual, you may want to order it online (unless you happen to have a specialty charcuterie shop in town).

On the skewers alternate meat with bell peppers, mushrooms, red onion and zucchini to achieve the best flavor and know that everything tastes better if marinated. If you are serving more than one of these proteins, choose marinades that are distinctively different for each. And be sure to include some vegetable-only kabobs for vegan guests. You’ll find great marinades and dry rubs for your kabobs in the condiment and spice sections of your local grocery store.

SALADS

Salads are an important component of any Mediterranean spread

Salads are an important component of any Mediterranean grazing table and there seem to be an infinite number of possibilities in this food genre. Select a mixture of salad types (veggie/herb, carb-based, protein-based) and as you did with the dips, choose one or two that are easily recognizable, expanding to more challenging variations from there. Aim for contrast in flavor, texture and colors.

Here are some possibilities that will go over well:

Tabouleh: The most popular Middle Eastern salad with bulgar wheat, fresh tomatoes, finely chopped onions and curly parsley, lemon and olive oil. It is a must-have on any Mediterranean table.

Greek salad: This popular salad is easy to make and includes cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, green bell pepper, Kalamata olives, crispy thin-sliced romaine heart, fresh herbs and feta tossed in a simple red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing.

Pearl couscous salad: Similar in many ways to the Greek salad but with the sweet, nutty flavor of the couscous and the earthy flavors of garbanzo beans, basil and artichoke hearts and finished off with a bright Meyer lemon and olive oil vinaigrette.

Tabouleh is a popular Middle Eastern salad with bulgar wheat, fresh tomatoes, finely chopped onions and curly parsley, lemon and olive oil.

Grilled zucchini with crumbled feta, plus toasted pine nuts, fresh oregano and parsley, minced garlic, tossed in olive oil. This is simple and amazingly good!

Orzo salad: A centerpiece on your buffet table with its harissa roasted eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, chickpeas, fresh herbs, mozzarella and walnuts served over greens tossed in olive oil and more harissa.

Mediterranean potato salad: This is a can’t miss with its chunks of red or purple skin potato, fresh dill, finely diced red onion, minced crispy veggies (radishes and lightly parboiled green beans are great) and capers tossed with a simple olive oil, Dijon mustard and garlic vinaigrette.

The trick with Mediterranean salads is to generously sprinkle them with fresh minced herbs. Fresh herbs are a signature ingredient in and on everything on the Mediterranean table. Try fresh dill, basil, oregano, cilantro, tarragon and parsley (flatleaf and curly), mint and spearmint. Keep other seasonings simple; garlic, fresh ground sea salt and pepper will do.

DESSERTS

An assortment of Turkish desserts

In keeping with the fresh and simple theme of your Mediterranean grazing table, consider one or maybe two desserts, all of which incorporate fruit. A visually appealing dessert choice that checks off all the boxes is a colorful fruit platter with assorted berries, fresh figs, small melon bites and citrus segments. On the side set out a large bowl of honey-infused Greek yogurt, plus small bowls of roasted pistachios and almond slivers for garnishing. Those needing the lightest of desserts can opt for fruit only, while those wishing to indulge can enjoy a dollop of the sweet, rich and creamy Greek yogurt on their fruit, rounding it out with a sprinkle of nuts.

A colorful fruit platter with assorted berries, fresh figs, small melon bites and citrus segments with Greek yogurt.

Other delicious dessert options include an assortment of Turkish delights, the ever-popular baklava (many variations), lemon polenta cake (gluten-free), ricotta brûlée with berries and blood orange olive oil cake. If you have a good Mediterranean bakery or restaurant in town, you may find other specialty desserts worth serving.

WINES & OTHER BEVERAGES

Sauvignon Blanc is one varietal that pairs well with a Mediterranean grazing table.

There is a wide range of wine that pairs with Mediterranean food, but because of its mildly citrusy, herby and gentle plant-based flavors, lighter reds and whites are best—and those with a touch of sweetness provide an especially nice contrast. Also good are crisp sparkling wines. Consider these varietals:

Moscato, Gewürztraminer and Riesling: great with everything, offset salty flavors
Pinot noir, Sangiovese, Gamay and Zinfandel: great with beef, chicken, lamb and dips
Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Rosé and Pinot Noir: great with seafood, chicken and dips
Sparkling wines, prosecco: great with everything

For beer drinkers, select light lagers and/or pale ales. Anything with a stronger profile will obliterate the Mediterranean flavors. Serve chilled and straight from the bottle or in pilsners.

The best non-alcoholic beverages to serve are simple and non-sugary. Choose plain still and sparkling waters and/or do a trio of self-serve spouted glass beverage containers with sun brewed tea (black) and agua frescas. Steer away from sodas as they do not complement these foods.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

A charcuterie board with a variety of dips, crackers, fruit, cheese and crudite

If it’s just a few of your friends getting together for an evening of fun prior to the wedding, you can likely whip together everything you want to serve in your own kitchen. A nice menu for a small group might be: three dips, olives and cheese bites, fresh pita triangles and crudité, skewers with marinated steak and/or chicken and veggies, one salad and then assorted baklava for dessert. Have a nice bottle of white and red and a chill bin with single-serve still and sparkling water.

Shish kabobs are also easy to make yourself and can be prepped and set in marinade the day prior. If anyone in the household is a BBQ master, put them to it on the event day. It’ll be great having these coming straight off the grill and guests will enjoy the aroma. If it is not a good day to stoke up the grill, skewers can also be done under the broiler, though use caution with bamboo sticks as they can catch on fire if too close to the flame. Stainless-steel skewers are great for broiling.

Items that are best to make from scratch are the more unusual dips and the salads. Catered salads are notoriously soggy, especially if more than an hour transpires between your picking up the catered items and guests eating dinner. Salads can be prepped in the morning, stored in covered stainless or glass bowls in the fridge (to keep things crisp) and then final assembly can be done 15 minutes before everything is set out for guests.

It’s also easy to put together the salad dressings and sauces in advance. Use mason jars, labeling all so there are not mistakes during final assembly. Be sure to wait until the last minute to cut up and add tomatoes or they will be mushy. And remember to never store them in the refrigerator as the cold temperature can ruin their texture and weaken the flavor. Yes, we are being fussy about the tomatoes, but they are an important component in this cuisine and are a bit delicate.

Many gourmet grocery stores carry freshly made hummus, baba ganoush and other dips. Try them out ahead of time and see if they hit the mark. Do not buy the readily available commercial dips you find in every grocery store chain. They are not up-to-snuff and tend to be bland. Guests will skip right over these, for sure. The exception to this rule are the Trader Joe’s products. You’ll find wonderful dips of every kind at Trader Joe’s that you can use those with confidence. They have fantastic fresh dips, jarred dips, excellent pickles and olives, fresh pita, pita chips and some of their stores also carry locally sourced artisan breads.

Whole Foods is another good spot for all the same. And many small chain gourmet food stores will also have what you need. Serve your dips in attractive ceramic bowls and garnish generously with a bit of olive oil, fresh herbs, pine nuts, a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, roasted garlic flakes or smoked paprika, etc. Experiment ahead of time to figure out which garnishes look and taste best with each dip.

For items that are best served warm (kibbeh, falafel, baked lavash with feta and spanakopita), have your oven stoked up and ready to go all evening. Don’t use chafing dishes on the table as they are notorious for drying out food. Instead, use large, flat baskets lined with a decorative dishtowel. Fill the baskets generously with the appetizers, cover all with another towel, pulling back a corner to reveal a bit of what is inside. Then set these baskets on heating pads. Don’t laugh! This works! It keeps the foods gently warm, is not a fire hazard and it’s easy to set up.

For larger gatherings like your cocktail hour or late-night bites after the reception, a combination of sourcing items and preparing some at home will make light work of your putting it all together. Start with your venue’s catering department or an outside caterer if the venue allows.

If you want to create your own grazing table, opt for a local Mediterranean restaurant that offers catering so you can order group-size portions of authentic dips, fresh pita, shish kabobs, large crudité platters and fresh fruit trays. Spruce up the trays with a few exotic items like multi-color heirloom cherry tomatoes, fennel, fresh figs, mangoes, pomegranate seeds or blackberries. Your venue or a local restaurant will also have items you need that are tedious to make on your own, namely pickled veggies, dolma, kibbeh, falafel, spanakopita and baklava.

Feel good that you are feeding your guests well with this Mediterranean spread and know they will thoroughly enjoy your feast!